Somewhere around 1900, Eleazar Thomas migrated from Wales to settle in the coal-mining community of Dickson City, Pennsylvania where he met his wife Martha and had four children: Mary, Benjamin Llywellen, David Wesley, and, my father, “Buddy” (Arja Worthington) born in 1917.
Buddy’s two older brothers, Ben and Wesley, had each begun to work in the mines at the age of nine but Martha refused to allow Buddy, her youngest son, to join them, or so goes the official family story. Martha took her children to her sister’s boarding house in Newark, New Jersey; Eleazar joined them sometime later. It was there that my father met Helen Edna O’Connell, cousin of his friend Terry Foy, Jr. and they were married in 1940. I was born in 1942, and my brother Glenn in 1944.
Bud was a self-taught amateur pianist who deduced the laws of harmony and melody from observing and analyzing piano roll performances. His mother, Martha, and sister, Mary, sang duets to his accompaniments at home. He was deeply attached to the musical traditions into which he was born. He and his brother David Wesley (“Wes”) exchanged records, listened to music together, and clashed noisily over their often conflicting musical convictions and opinions. I grew up listening to Buddy’s piano playing and record collection which contained classical and romantic music and also the great master piano stylists of early 20th century American jazz. My mother too loved music, her taste indicating a slightly more adventurous sensibility, Errol Garner and Reinhold Gliere, for example.
The first books I read were in my parents’ library: Taylor Caldwell, John O’Hara, Daphne DuMaurier, Ben Ames Williams, the Rubaiyat, Oliver Goldsmith, the Psalms of the Bible, Deems Taylor’s essays on music, Shakespeare, poems of Shelley. My mother took me to the Public Library early and when I was old enough, I eagerly began to explore it on my own. In the beginning reading was a kind of competition I engaged in with myself. Norman Mailer’s Naked and the Dead, was the first grown-up book I completed (followed very quickly by The Young Lions) and I was very proud. I loved air war adventures such as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. I joined the Civil Air Patrol still in post-war operation. I was sent a Directory of Silhouetted International Aircraft which I dutifully carried up to our roof, searching the New Jersey skies for Enemy Aircraft.
Buddy started me playing piano when I was three or four years old. I was able to improvise music at the piano early. I know he taught me this but I have no recollection of how! Maybe I just knew. Piano lessons followed in 1948 when I was six from Gladys Ogden who instructed me in the rudiments of reading music, practicing, and playing piano pieces.