Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Toothpicks and The Nutcracker

It's odd what people remember about you when you're gone. Take, for example, what we remember about Laura Ellen Pearson Caviness and the great Peter Tchaikovsky...

My Thanksgiving week was weird and wonderful. The week started with a grand performance of E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker as set to music by Tchaikovsky. My aunt and I bundled up and drove to the Strand in Shreveport, Louisiana, to catch the night performance. It was spellbinding, and I didn't take a single breath during the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. (If you ever get a chance to see the Moscow Ballet, go. Even if they're doing a ballet rendition of Hee-Haw. Go. Those Russians know how to dance.)

I got home from the performance and went to bed. Then I got up. I'd read The Nutcracker years before, but I was suddenly curious about the author. What was his story? How did he meet up with Tchaikovsky? The dork in me had to know.

So I found out. Turns out E.T.A. Hoffmann was a civil servant turned composer/musician who nearly starved to death before publishing The Nutcracker and the King of Mice in 1816. His version was much darker than we know it today. It was so twisted, in fact, that Tchaikovsky refused to compose for the piece until a French writer edited the story and added a Sugar Plum Fairy. (I should add, too, that Tchaikovsky was bribed with the promise of the production of his opera Iolanthe should he complete the ballet.)

Anyway, Tchaikovsky finished the music for The Nutcracker in 1892. He hated it. It was "all ugliness," he wrote. The public at the time agreed. His opera was deemed a success, but the newspapers poked fun of his ballet.

Odd how 100 years later that's all the average person remembers of Tchaikovsky. Bet he never would've guessed it.

Just like my own Great-Great-Grandmother probably never would have guessed that in 2006 she would be remembered for her toothpicks. My family made a quick trip to Paris to clean out my Great-Grandmother's home, and my Grandmother returned with a "surprise" for me. From behind her back she produced a tiny, cut-glass toothpick holder. "This used to sit on the dining room table in Paris when I was a little girl," she said softly. "Your Great-Great-Grandmother, Laura Ellen Pearson Caviness, kept it stuffed with toothpicks," she added.

I took the toothpick holder over to my Grandmother's picture of Laura Ellen Pearson Caviness, trying to put a face with a toothpick holder. Laura Caviness reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Weird. I could just see my Laura running through the prairie with a handful of toothpicks.

On my way out the door this morning, I reminded myself to grab some toothpicks. You know, to stuff my new toothpick holder. It can't just sit on my dining room table all empty-looking.

I'd hate to be remembered in 2206 as the girl who bored people with the history of The Nutcracker yet couldn't remember to fill her own toothpick holder....

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