$Id: bio.01,v 1.7 2013/08/12 04:17:00 kline Exp kline $

My father was very upset to hear my claims that my ring and little finger, right hand was going to stop my playing piano.

“Do you have any idea what we've got invested in your lessons over he past two years?” he said. “I don't think you know. Or care.” He snubbed out a cigarette in the sink and reached for another.

We were all in the kitchen. We had just finished supper; Daddy had just been told this news and was pacing around the tiny room. Barbara was itching to get away from this argumentation; it made me uncomfortable too.

Mother said, “Mrs. Myers is going to be so disappointed! She sounded disappointed when I talked to her this afternoon.”

Mother had made a long distance call into Mansfield earlier to arrange for a brief appointment when Barb and I went for our lessons the following day. This was a Friday evening.

I played an imaginary C scale on the table; when my ring and little fingers were to tap on the A and B note, they stuck stubbornly to my palm. “See , Daddy? See!”

He was unmoved. “You goddamn little ingrate! Someday you're going to look back and say 'Why didn't you beat me'.” He took a drag, reached for a beer in the refrigerator, then stalked away. Down into the cellar to be with his workbench.

I dreaded having to tell Mrs Myers the following morning, but Mother insisted that I tell her in my own words.

The city bus let us all off on the corner before the large house; ten minutes later I was demonstrating on the Myers' grand piano that my two last fingers really didn't work.

“See?” I said to the elderly woman. “They just stick.” My eyes brimmed with tears.

Gently, Mrs. Myers took my right hand in hers and examined it closely/. After the longest time she patted my palm and said, “Well, possibly you'll get back to your lessons one day soon. ....I hope.”

Mother said, “We've got an appointment to see our doctor. We'll get to the bottom of this.” To me she said, “Dr. Butner's probably going to stick you with needles for all of his tests.” She may have said something else. All that I remember is of leaving my sister and going back downtown with Mother. I felt terrible. The only good thing was that the worst was over.

There was one physician in Shiloh, a Dr. Charles O. Butner. Mother took me to see him about a week after I had stopped my piano lessons. Doc gave me a check up and examined my right hand. The ring finger and little finger were normally locked to the palm of my right hand. When Mother held these two fingers tho, they would often relax. And now, when Doc examined my fingers, the constant spasms relaxed.

After a couple minutes, Doc said, “Well, cowboy, I don't see anything wrong!” he smiled and patted me on my shoulder.

When mother was paying the nurse, I heard Dr. Butner say, “Keep him busy, Helen. Let him enjoy the summer. Then we'll see.”

By the middle of August my middle finger had begun to cramp under with the ringer and little fingers. The cramping wasn't constant; it was intermittent; it happened most often when I went to use my hand. I simply accepted the quirk and went on with life. Besides, very great changes were about to occur to the entire family. Against the advice of many people, my dad had decided to open a restaurant.

Before Jenny Kline died of bone cancer in 1939, my father split his parents up. He took his mother to the farm and nursed her until she died. Daddy despised his own father who was left on his own until he died in 1944. The stories of his loathing for his father became legend; he told and retold them at least weekly if anyone would listen to his rage.

Three years after my grandmother's death, he split up my mother from her family in Toledo and returned to where Jenny and her many siblings lived. The move to Shiloh and having to work in Mansfield after the War meant working for the son-in-law of the founder of the Kobacker Dept Store dynasty. Dad admired the founder, Jerome Kobacker, in Toledo. Out in the boondocks of Mansfield, things proved radically different. J.M.'s son-in-law was a short, portly man who stood around 5'4 in elevator shoes. Danny Lichentenstein had a slight stutter and a Napoleon Complex. I remember him automatically back-stepping several paces and standing rigidly, hands held behind him, whenever a taller person approached.

Working for Danny must have been hell, given the stories and jibes Dad told about his boss. After eight years my father couldn't endure another moment. By the spring on 1954 his energies turned increasingly to becoming his own boss. And eventually, to opening a restaurant, a small drive-in (with car hops). The whole bit.

He leased a 40x40 cement block building on US route 42 and somewhere found an old, green trailer-trash 24' house trailer for us to winter in while our ranch-style house was being build about half a mile from the place that would be our restaurant.

Barb and I spent our final 6-weeks at Shiloh Public schools. Many of daddy's cousins on his mother's side had gone to Shiloh. Other than not generally liking school, it was all right.


The grand opening was in mid-September, and the place was packed., There were dozens of cars for the car hops and inside every b// all nine booths and seven tables were occupied. The machine that smoked the barbecued chicken and ribs was going non-stop.

I watched from a stool at the counter near the salad table as Mother made salad after salad . The grill and fryers were immediately behind the counter where the cook slapped hamburger patties onto the grill at one side while turning other, then managing to turn other cooked burgers into finished sandwiches.

Dozens of family friends came in that afternoon and evening. Danny Litchenstein and his new wife showed up late. When the couple was finally seated, beet-faced, Danny heartily congratulated my father and then said loudly, “So, Loren! Tell me, is this stuff kosher?”

Mother called, “Yeah, Danny. The rabbi just left.”

Danny gestured to the barbecue machinery. After a brief laugh, he said, “Aw, heck, I'll have a plate of barbecue pork ribs.”

Running any restaurant can be and usually is a nightmare of long, long, brutal hours and grinding physical labor. Seventeen to twenty hours a day turned out to be the norm for the seven years my family owned the restaurant. Because of the time sink, driving the 20 miles to and from the farm quickly became untenable.

My parents found a live-in housekeeper to stay with Barbie and me pending our move into Mansfield/. That worked out fairly well. What bothered me was the knowledge that in a few months we would have to change schools. If we lived within half a mile of the concrete-block place (as the restaurant came to be known) we would be in the Lexington, Ohio school district. That looked more likely as my father became friends with a builder and real estate broker who lived near the restaurant.

I was conflicted about becoming a “city slicker” as I thought of it. But honestly not that conflicted considering the grief that Mrs Stroup was giving me in school.

A week or two after I entered fifth grade, I discovered that my right wrist had begun to cramp under. The cramping wasn't constant by any means, however, it did force my right hand off my notebook paper or whatever else I was writing on. The solution I came up with was to steady my right hand with my left. This worked flawlessly until Mrs Stroup caught me one morning.

“Why are you writing like that, Gary?”

Startled, I fumbled for a reply. Finally said, “My hand doesn't work right.”

My teacher briefly examined my hand, then said, “Please stop your childish behavior.” And went on.

I tried for several days to rite without using my left hand to steady the right when it would spasm into a cramp. In the end, if I was going to write I had no choice.

A day or so later Mrs Stroup caught me again. This time she poked fun of me to the class. She tapped her ruler on the desk several times and said, “Look, class: Gary Kline is behaving like he's a big baby!”

Somehow I managed to tell Mother the next morning before she left for Mansfield.

“I'll call your teacher. Don't worry, sweetheart.”

That stopped all taunts and teasing in school. But by now I wasn't all that concerned. the big move would happen in October. Until our new house could be finished we would live in a small house trailer that would be parked immediately behind the restaurant. The sewer line wasn't connected.

We moved from the farm sometime early in October, though. We wanted to get settled into the trailer before the second six-weeks of school because Barbara and I started at Lexington then.

I had some reservations about becoming what I called “a city slicker” and more regrets about leaving the farm, though. Shortly before we to leave forever I remember walking around the back yard. Around the half-acre garden and way up to the path the led to the Free Road where our property ended, and back to the maple where I had played so often. By this time my biceps were starting to spasm in infrequent bursts of energy--the spasming lasted no more than two or three seconds. I didn't realize that in six months, my biceps and shoulder muscles would be affected almost completely. As I stood looking toward the gate and lane, I bent down and grabbed a small stone; threw it far afield. It went sailing into the acre-and-a-half garden. There was a big lump in my throat; it wouldn't go away.