Riki Turofsky is a survivor who has faced down the darkest of challenges to create a positive future. In her uplifting narrative about loss, disloyalty, self-preservation, glamour, success, and love, Turofsky chronicles her tragedies as well as triumphs as she journeys from childhood into womanhood and evolves from a young, insecure woman into a confident opera singer.
Turofsky begins by detailing a childhood overflowing with happiness and security, fun-filled family car trips, scrumptious food, and much music that unfortunately came to an abrupt and tragic end with the loss of both parents-one from suicide. As she describes her days living with a foster family where she somehow found solace and healing through music, two failed marriages marked by betrayal, her pursuit of an unlikely career while raising a child as a single mother, and unfathomable grief after the heartbreaking loss of her daughter, Turofsky offers hope and inspiration as she provides a glimpse into how she managed to push beyond her pain each time and rebuild her life.
Aria: Song of a Life shares the multi-layered, fascinating story of a beloved opera singer's life journey as she overcomes the odds, realizes acclaim, and discovers the power of love.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.47(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Aria song of a life
By Riki Turofsky
iUniverseCopyright © 2014 Riki Turofsky
All rights reserved.
Quartetto—My Family 1944–1952
I remember a childhood overflowing with happiness and security, fun-filled family car trips, scrumptious food, and much music. I also remember when all that came to an abrupt and tragic end.
"Isn't she adorable and clever!" our neighbours exclaimed when I stood on their front porches and sang I'm a Little Teacup and asked to be paid. I was three at the time. I loved the praise and the money. That certainly continued as I grew up to become an opera singer.
We lived in Toronto's Forest Hill, the Upper Village, which wasn't as classy as the Lower Village, but was a lot better than downtown near Kensington, where many other Jewish families lived.
My mother, Ruth, was a change-of-life baby. That meant nothing to me when I first heard that as a child, but it explained why her siblings were twenty years older. She had been a sad and lonely little girl, who sat on a stoop outside her family home on Montrose Avenue in Toronto. I learned that she had been born on Queen Street near the mental hospital, known then as an insane asylum. I tried to find some connection between that location and her depression that came when I was a teen, but it was a stretch.
She learned to play the piano by ear and could play almost everything. She once told me that her music kept her from being melancholy. When she played our piano, a Mason & Rich baby grand, my mother was in her element. It was always up-tempo lively music that held me enthralled. I sang all the time, and Mommy accompanied me, while Daddy listened to our rousing melodies. Music was my special bond with my mother. The other was food.
Ruth Rosalind Siegel married at twenty-nine, late in those days. She chose my father, Lou, who was a photographer mostly of sporting events. He was sixteen years her senior and an unusual choice, as most Jewish girls at that time married men in the trades like furriers, jewellers, or tailors or, if they were lucky, professional men like doctors, dentists, or accountants.
When she was young, my mother was blond and lithe, distinctly different in her Aryan good looks from the many European Jewish girls in Toronto. My parents married in 1937, only six weeks after the death of my mother's mother. Although she looks quite serene in a long white satin gown holding calla lilies in the formal sepia photos, there is an underlying sorrow in Ruth's eyes. I understand that she wanted to postpone or even cancel the wedding party, but it went on.
After her marriage, my mother gained considerable weight. I was skinny and when we cuddled in bed, my bony body found a nice cushion in her warm rich one. She talked about being stout and tried to diet. My mother was pretty and, no matter what size dress she wore, she could pull off looking splendid when she wanted to.
When she was depressed and sick years later, she lost most of the extra poundage, but I liked her better when she was heavy. I once called her a big fat horse, an expression I had heard on the radio. I thought it comical, but it obviously stung, as she sent me down to the basement as punishment. I learned a lesson then about telling the truth and how it could hurt people. I think carefully before I do that now.
My mother had beautiful pale blue eyes, silky fair hair, and high cheek bones. Her regular permanents each summer put waves in her hair, and she went to the hairdresser every Friday so that she could look her best for the weekend. I think she had manicures, but I am not certain. Her hands were not pretty, being rather thick with large unattractive thumbs. But she had style.
My father, Louis Joseph Turofsky, was born in Chicago but moved to Toronto with his family when he was a teen. My parents met when my mother went to him to get her picture taken, knowing Daddy was a bachelor. The rest is my history.
My father had an oval face with a very high forehead. He had almost black wavy hair, deep blue eyes, and a straight nose. He wasn't tall, about five foot seven, with slim legs, and he needed suspenders to hold up his socks on those legs. Proud of his hands, he had manicures regularly, as he hated the stain that the photo developer chemicals left on his nails. On his beautiful slender pinky, he sported a gold ring with a tiny diamond in its centre. There was always a cigar in the side of his mouth: He hardly ever smoked it, but he sucked on it a great deal, and it became his trademark. Old Spice was his chosen aftershave. Enchanted with the scent, I fell in love with a boy at a dance, just because he was soaked in it; well, fell in love for the length of one song.
I adored Daddy and he me. I would lie against his stomach, which was substantial, and he would tickle my back. We would often listen to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts together. He loved his Texaco Saturdays, somehow teaching me about music while I lay there enjoying the sensual touch of his fingers. Once I put on a kimono, placed knitting needles in my hair, and pretended I was Madame Butterfly, with an operatic soprano voice that I found somewhere. I pranced into my parents' bedroom and sang my heart out in some made-up language. Their delight was palpable.
Daddy arranged for us all to see the Metropolitan Opera Company on tour at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, a hockey arena transformed. It was a performance of Rigoletto with Roberta Peters, Robert Merrill, and Richard Tucker, a dream cast in an opera that I was to perform years later and one that would be the first for me to learn as a fledgling singer: My father would have been overjoyed to hear me sing Gilda.
Everyone knew and liked my father. Much of his working time was spent at the track, where he covered the horse races for the newspapers. He pioneered a Canadian version of the photo-finish camera, which precisely captured the horses speeding across the finish line. We were shown a Liberty magazine article about this, with pictures of him demonstrating how it worked, and how it was immediately used to determine the result of two close finishes at its debut in 1937. But he wasn't a businessman and lost the Canadian patent on this brilliant idea, which was the basis for the sensor called the electric eye, a device that automatically opens doors. We might have been millionaires, but we weren't. Not even close.
Daddy hung out with his younger brother Nat at their shared office downtown in the old Toronto Star building on King Street, where their colourful friends from the sports world would often join them. The office had a not-unpleasant odour of men, tobacco, and photofinisher. The walls were covered with massive black and white photographs of hockey players and horses, mounted on boards. But the Miss Toronto ones, with swimsuit contestants wearing banners across their chests and their long tanned bare legs ending in high-heeled pumps, absorbed me.
Daddy was known for sports, but he had an artistic soft side. There was a shot of a gawky young tattered newspaper boy asleep on a street curb, and another of a very old woman with hairy eyebrows and weathered skin, smoking a pipe. Those were magical. On the walls were photos of the Queen Mother, Roosevelt with Mackenzie King, and the Duke of Windsor beside his American divorcée; I loved the sound of that last word.
On the walls were a few shiny pictures of my father and uncle Nat with their cronies. I liked the ones that showed Daddy on an iceboat or, as a kid, in an old-fashioned baseball uniform or football gear. He was an outdoorsman and an athlete. I came honestly by my love of sports.
Next to the office was a cigar store that sold candies. At Christmastime, Daddy bought me Lifesavers in a silver box that looked like a thick book, which I could open and see the individual packages of all the flavours laid out in rows like sentences. My favourite was butter rum. Daddy knew I loved reading those books.
I wasn't fond of the bathroom in his office: It was dingy, with tiny cracked bits of soap and a shared towel. On one visit, I made a disapproving remark about the janitor who was cleaning it. Daddy stopped me right then and there. "Don't you ever think you are better than anyone else, young lady, just because you were born into a good home and have everything you want. You must always treat everyone the same whether they are royalty or a ditch digger." I never forgot that lesson.
My father made no effort to hide how much he loved me. I was his baby. Every night when I went to bed, he came to my room and kissed me. He would make this loud noise like boodger and blow on my neck until I giggled and quieted down. After he left, I would sing out, "I wanna drinka wataaa!" He would bring me a cup of water from the bathroom and say goodnight again. Daddy always came when I called, even though he knew I wasn't a bit thirsty. He made me feel safe. He smelled good. He was mine forever, or so I thought.
My sister, Carol Sue Turofsky, was three years and nine months older than me. She always stressed the exact age difference rather than rounding it up to four; she still does. She was blond, blue-eyed, and angelic-looking as a young child. She had fair skin and large white teeth, which we called buck teeth. As a teen, she never seemed to have an ugly or awkward stage. When she was thirteen, she looked like Grace Kelly, and was already very developed. As she grew older, she wore her hair in a French roll. Everyone said she was the beautiful one and I was the talented one. For some reason, that didn't bother me. My parents told us all the time that they loved us equally when we asked, "Which one of us do you love the best?"
Carol was voluptuous and wore clothes confidently with great panache. She had more dates than she knew what to do with, but she always ran late getting ready, so I spent time with the guys, chatting them up. I guess it was worth the wait, as they kept coming back. When we were young, our mother delighted in dressing us in identical outfits; unfortunately, I later inherited the same clothes from my sister. Carol and my mother were very close and enjoyed shopping together, while I traipsed after my father, delivering pictures to the newsrooms or going to a baseball game.
As the older sister, Carol bossed me around. She always assumed she was right about everything, and she often was; but as I grew up, I formed opinions of my own and started to assert myself. Nevertheless, I mostly deferred to her. That really hasn't changed much now that we are older and are best friends who share our deepest thoughts. We talk or text almost every day no matter where we are in the world. Best of all, we share the same humour, amusing-only-to-us sort of situations, that bring on gales of uninhibited laughter.
Carol was my idol. Dating from an early age, she always seemed so mature, wearing lipstick and a bra when she was twelve, the blue-eyed blond the boys loved. On the other hand, I had dirty blond hair and thick dark eyebrows that she plucked to almost nothing when I was thirteen. At that time, I started putting lemon juice in my hair so that it streaked blonder in the sun. She was well-built, and I was skinny. She had the best bedroom, and it seemed she had her way all the time, unless I was clever enough to get her into trouble with our parents. And I was.
My room was near my sister's. I liked mine because it had a pink wooden scallop around the ceiling and a ledge where all my dolls could be displayed. But I coveted my sister's enormous room. I knew that someday she would get married and it would be mine. I could barely wait. She even had a double bed with matching furniture that had a creamy glossy veneer.
I loved my home. Even now, it is our place at 113 Wembley Road that features in my dreams. Our kitchen was large enough to have a table and later a Bendix Duomatic washer/dryer combination that I marvelled at. We didn't have a television then, so watching the clothes go around through the glass window in the door was mesmerizing.
We ate most of our meals in a separate yellow breakfast room. A canary once had his cage there and sang along with the radio. Teddy Bears' Picnic was his favourite. I don't remember him, but I often heard that song on CBC radio. It started out rather scarily in a minor key, "If you go down in the woods today, you're in for a big surprise...." Then, there they were, all the teddy bears sitting around having a picnic and enjoying themselves, and it ended cheerily in a major key.
I really wanted a pet of my own. "There will be no more pets in this house," my mother said tearily. I wondered why she couldn't just replace that little bird with a dog or something, but years later I understood how she felt when I lost my first beloved pet, Clara the cat. Mommy was so attached to a bird; how would she react if some person she loved died?
We had wall-to-wall carpet everywhere in the house, except in the big bathroom, where there were tiny white and black tiles on the floor and on the walls. Our mailbox was actually a milkbox by the side door. I loved getting letters. Every morning we would hear a tenor voice sing "Mailman" and know that the day's news had arrived. For years, I dreamt about that milkbox bursting with letters all addressed to me.
Below the landing, more stairs led to the basement. The walls had some sort of ridged woody veneer, and there was a bar that we never used. The smell was not musty exactly downstairs, but cool and unfriendly. A cedar cupboard, housing most of our winter clothes, exuded an aroma that I savoured when I opened the heavy double doors. A creepy furnace room with an uneven cement floor contained an old locked trunk; I always wondered what was in it but never found out. The cold room stored bottles of ginger ale and canned goods. Hating to be sent there at night to fetch things, I would go down carefully step by step and grab what I needed, and then race up the stairs, certain that some creature was following close behind. I still don't like going down to my basement at night, although I am now a very big girl. I convince myself that there are no more bogeymen, but I never linger.
We had two bathrooms, one for all of us that had a large tub and shower combination, and a smaller one with just a sink and toilet, near the maid's room. We didn't have a maid, but I had heard that, many years before, Orma lived with us and helped out. She came from Manitoulin Island, wherever that was, and I saw a picture of her. She had a big mole on her face with a long disgusting black hair attached. I wondered why she just didn't take a scissors and cut it off. I used to play under the brass bed in her room. My friends would join me, and we would amuse ourselves with my dolls and our imaginations. It was our secret place.
My mother was a terrific cook and hostess. When I came home from school for lunch, the smells from the kitchen would waft through to the front door. Mommy made the best kreplach in the world. She prepared them with meat from leftover roast that she ground by hand with a steel meat grinder attached to an ironing board, which magically came out of the kitchen wall. I loved to see the squiggly bits of meat falling into the bowl and getting stuffed into little packets of dough, before they were dropped into hot chicken soup. As I write this, I can almost taste them. I would gaze with hunger and desire and beg, "Mommy, let me try some to see if they are any good." She always let me sample them because I was thin: I think she made extra for just that reason. If I am sick now, all I want are kreplach and chicken soup. My sister usually gets me some in the Jewish neighbourhood where she lives today. They are not like my mother's, but they satisfy me in a very primitive way.
My mother made all kinds of delicacies—thick vegetable soups filled with soft carrots brewed in a deep kettle on the stove; savory ground veal, rice, and tomatoes in silky cabbage rolls; cheese blintzes with just the right amount of cinnamon served with chilled sour cream on Thursday nights when we didn't eat meat; meatballs with simple boiled potatoes and French's mustard on the side; the best crispy southern fried chicken with honey; meat pies made with home-ground steak topped with mashed potatoes and then baked in the oven in a pie dish until a crust formed, which I make today with lamb and call shepherd's pie. I salivate as I remember those meals. Her baking was outstanding, too. We would wake to the intoxicating smell of yeast rising to become puder kuchen/ cinnamon buns, or sometimes she'd surprise us with luscious apple pies filled with vanilla and brown sugar.
Friday nights for Sabbath dinner, Mommy fixed something very special, like broiled chicken with pineapple slices on top and a maraschino cherry in the middle, and we ate at the dining-room table set with all her finest china and silverware. Covering her eyes with her hands, she would say a prayer over the candles; then Daddy would say one over the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine that we had to drink; and finally we said one over the soft fresh chewy challah from Louis's bakery. After the prayer rituals, we would eat.
Excerpted from Aria song of a life by Riki Turofsky. Copyright © 2014 Riki Turofsky. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Quartetto—My Family 1944–1952, 1,
Scherzo—Happy Days 1952–1959, 15,
Movement Triste—Sad Times 1959–1961, 23,
Chaconne—Many Changes 1961–1965, 32,
Divertimento—New Adventures 1965–1967, 48,
A Capella—The Singer 1967–1968, 63,
Da Capo—Back to the Beginning and Onward 1968–1970, 85,
Accelerando— Moving along Rapidly 1970–1972, 98,
Minuet and Trio—The Family Gels 1972–1974, 112,
Allegretto—Time Passing Quickly 1974–1981, 120,
Rubato—Changes 1981–1984, 129,
Lamento—Sorrowful Time 1985, 147,
Continuo—Life Goes On 1985–1987, 155,
Postlude —And Beyond June 2012–2014, 176,
Appendix—Career Highlights, 183,
About the Author, 191,