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April 1965  Happy Memories, By Helen Sousa Abert

As Father was away touring most of the time, it wasn’t often that we could all gather around the dinner-table, and I look back on those occasions as high spots in my life.
   Sometimes we had well-known people as guests, such as Blanch Ring, trying over the “Glory of Yankee Navy,” which she was going to interpolate in a new musical. And there was the very successful librettist, who sat next to my sister at luncheon, and when she said something clever, asked, “May I use that?” Getting her consent, he shot out his cuff, produced a pencil, and jotted it down.
   The times I liked best of all were when we were alone, just family. With the books of reference piled high on the floor at Dad’s place, until they reached as high as the table. For the talk would range all over, one night it started with George M. Cohan and ended up with a discussion of religion, having followed many by-roads getting there. I am sure Father liked these evenings, also, for he was very much of a family man, which probably not many people realized.
   I always think of the five of us with Dad at the head, and Mother and my brother, Phil, lined up on one side, and my sister, Pris, and I lined up on the other. Father’s little joke was to introduce us as his children by his first wife. Later on, he’d add “only wife.” I think it was recognition of the fact that Mother was so young and lovely, that it didn’t seem possible that my 6-foot brother, not to mention Pris and me, could be her children. She certainly looked just as young as we did.
   We spent many summers at Manhattan Beach, where Father gave two concerts a day at the amphitheater. The bicycle craze came along while we were there, and in the mornings the whole Sousa tribe took to their wheels for a spin on the Coney Island cycle path. Father rode on a shiny nickel-plated Columbia, looking very smart in white knickers and cap. Mother was in a white, divided skirt, and a pale blue ribbon around the crown of her hat. I have a picture of her in that costume hanging on my wall. Pris and I were young enough to wear bloomers; I remember mine were red, with black bicycle boots laced up to my knees.

The Player Piano

   Another summer we spent at Atlantic City in a rented house with a pianola in it. Father walked home with a friend from his concert one day, and they stopped at the gate for a few last words. Through the open window came the strains of the Moonlight Sonata “My daughter,” said Dad. His friend listened in amazement. “A marvelous technique,” he said. Then Dad explained, and they had a good laugh, together.
   One of the engagements father particularly liked was at Willow Grove, outside Philadelphia. He was there in August through Labor Day. He lived in a country club, and his concerts were so arranged that he could have a ride (horseback) in the morning, then luncheon with friends in the neighborhood, or guests for dinner. All of us arranged to come over to Willow Grove during his stay there, so that there was usually one member of the family with him at all times. We enjoyed it for it was country life at its best.
   Until Dad’s accident, when his horse, Charley, threw him, he al
ways managed to get in some riding between his tours. And a favorite trip was from Virginia Hot Springs to Washington. I made two of those trips with him, and it was delightful just moseying along back roads through the spring greenery of the countryside, with time enough to see everything as you went along.
   Father rented everything from one of the livery-stables at the “Hot.” The set-up was a surrey with two horses, which took the luggage. The owner, whom we’ll call Mr. A., always went along, and one of his boys drove the surrey. The team of horses was interchangeable with the riding-horses, so that if one of the latter got a sore back, he could be put, pulling the surrey, and one of those horses would be ridden. About 25 miles a day was covered, though once we made it from Warrenton to Washington, which, I think is about 34 miles. The whole trip took 6 days and usually, we’d arrive in good time for supper at the little inns where we’d spend the night.
   Supper was simple at these little inns and invariably of eggs, cooked in some style. Father was never a fussy eater, but he liked his food to be good, and Appropriate for the time. One trip, when he and Mr. A arrived in Washington, Dad’s mind was very much on what he was going to have for dinner. When they sat down in the dining room of the old Willard Hotel, Dad quickly consulted the menu, and gave the waiter his order. Then he turned to Mr. A., who cast a long lingering look at the bill of fare and said, “I think I’ll have ham and eggs.”

Touring with Dad

   We often toured with Dad, one at a time. Mother would go out for a month, then my sister, and then I would go. Of course, if it were a long trip, all three of us would join him. It was on one of these trips, when he was playing in Boston that I decided to go with him. The violinist and I were old friends as we had gone to the same school, and I knew I’d have a good time. It was there in the old Touraine Hotel that I took dictation for a magazine article Dad was writing.  His method of dictating was to walk slowly up and down the room while he talked; and it was in that article that he coined the expression “canned music.” It has been credited to many others, but I know that Father originated it.
   All three of us were on the round the world trip, and a book could be written about that. The smallpox scare when the Ionic came into port at Capetown. The restlessness of the members of the band on hearing this news and my declaration “that I have no intention of getting on that boat and catching smallpox.” How it all died down when Dad saw the ship’s doctor, who explained that they hadn’t had a case of smallpox in Capetown since 1870, so the port doctor didn’t know what it looked like; that actually it was only a heat rash engendered by more meat in the die of the steerage passengers than they were used to, especially when crossing the Equator. So in the end we all embarked meekly on that boat. That was the kind of man Dad was. By his own actions, he quieted our fears.
   The trip from Capetown to Tasmania was a cold, rough one as the boat swung south near the Antarctic Circle. But we decided we must have a ship’s concert just the same, and Pris and I hit on doing a Spanish dance in costume. There was no gathering place except the dining salon, and there the tables were in the way, so it was given on deck. The canvas was rigged to keep out the wind and the performance began. I don’t remember who else took part, but I do remember how we went through our steps; with the deck canted at a sharp angle, we labored uphill and must have looked a lot more like agile goats, than graceful gazelles.
   Looking back at that trip, I marvel at my Father’s equanimity, for there were many problems. He surmounted them all, and as the Australians and New Zealanders took us to their hearts, I suppose that must have made up for everything. 

Helen Sousa Abert is John Philip Sousa’s only living daughter.