No 743

When I was a kid growing up in a small town in Southeast Arkansas, we never had much culture. If we did, I never knew it. Now that I am older and have moved to a much larger community, I have gotten a little more sophisticated and semi-prosperous. At least I know what culture is and can recognize it.
You can understand why I was thrilled when we had a little culture at our Lions Club Christmas Party this past December. A lady in our club in charge of the program, Barbara Matchett, invited Mr. Israel “Izzy” Getzov, director of the Conway Symphony Orchestra, to perform for us. Izzy, as he likes to be called, is originally from Chicago, and he played a few numbers on the violin, but mostly gave us “Symphony” talk. He was a delightful person and a wonderful musician. Everyone enjoyed him very much.
A few days ago I got to thinking about my lack of culture and remembered a story that the late Bob Murphy told about Van Cliburn, the only classical musician to receive a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York City. Bob was from East Texas, and it seems a lot of people were kidding him because people in his part of the country did not have any culture. This is when Bob told the story about Van Cliburn being from Kilgore, Texas, about 50 miles from his hometown. Van Cliburn was a classical pianist who went to Russia in 1958 to enter the Tchaikovsky Competition that included the best piano players from all over the world. The prize was $100,000 and 23-year-old Van Cliburn was the surprise winner.
After he came back home to America, he played the concert stages all across the nation, from California to Maine, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. After things settled down, it was decided that Van Cliburn should give a concert for his hometown people. They rented the auditorium on the campus of Kilgore Junior College, the largest one in town. Tickets sold out in about an hour and a half, as everyone was hungry for culture. The booking agent even sent a Steinway Piano from up East, and a man with it to keep it in tune over there in the humidity.
However, the day of the concert, a “blue-norther” blowed in. The temperature dropped about 60 degrees in less than two hours. It began to snow, it hailed a little and ice began to collect on the roads. The pine branches were popping from the weight of the snow. It was a terrible day in East Texas. That evening at the concert there were only about 30 people in that big auditorium. At the appointed time, Van Cliburn came through the curtains, had on a black tie, tux and tails, lots of hair. He said, “I want to thank everyone for coming. Of course, you realize that there will be no concert this evening, as the weather is prohibitive. We will give you a rain check for when we reschedule the concert later in the spring. Again, I deeply appreciate your coming tonight and good evening.”
There was an old country boy and his wife on the third row, the only ones on that whole row. You could tell he was from the country, because his coat had hung in the closet so long that it had those coat hanger marks that you can’t press out. He said, “Mr. Cliburn, just a minute. Mr. Cliburn, me and my wife went to a heap of trouble to come to this thing tonight. We came over here from Gladewater. I got up early this morning and put chains on the pick-up. I got about 500 pounds of feed over the back axle to give me traction. We slipped and slided all the way over here, and I ruined a pair of Florsheim shoes pushing out of the bar ditches. Mr. Cliburn, can’t you just ‘sang’ one song?” Yes, culture is a wonderful thing.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)