January 10, 2011

In Memoriam -- The Man in the Straw Hat

A couple of months ago I received in the mail the November, 2010 edition of the Easton and Martyr Worthy News (Edition 462). It is filled with charming stories of local interest to inhabitants of England's seemingly idyllic Itchen Valley. My attention was directed by the cover letter to the following essay, describing an unforgettable evening in Wawona; here's that essay.

The Man in the Straw Hat

We seemed to bump into the man in the straw hat, an elegant piece of headgear with colourful feathers in the band, wherever we went. We spotted him by the pool, on the veranda and in the bar and restaurant of our hotel in Wawona in the Yosemite National Park, California. He was clearly in his eighties, shortish but with twinkly eyes, a straight back and a neatly trimmed moustache; a very dapper figure indeed. But what marked him out was that he never took his hat off, even when he was having dinner.

And here he was again in the hotel lounge, where guests had gathered to hear Tom Bopp. Tom is a pianist and singer who has been entertaining guests at the hotel for over thirty years, performing an amazing range of nineteenth and twentieth century American songs and ragtime tunes with enormous style, grace and versatility. And when he learned that there were English guests in the room, he immediately broke into Flanders and Swann, Noel Coward and Vera Lynn songs.

Suddenly, the man in the straw hat was standing next to the piano with his wife beside him. Someone announced that the couple, Dmitri and Barbara, were celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary and had stayed at this very same hotel sixty years earlier, on their honeymoon. Appreciative oohs and aahs filled the room. Then he started singing, to Tomís accompaniment, in a light but clear tenor voice, gazing all the while straight into the eyes of his bride of 1950. His chosen serenade was the Indian Love Call from the musical Rose Marie.

People were overcome with the romance of it all and when he reached the climax of the piece with the words "Youíll belong to me and Iíll belong to you" the whole room was on its feet, stamping and hollering with tears running down every cheek. It was the most touching of declarations. Weíll never forget the man in the straw hat.

Steve Percy

Postscript (by Tom Bopp):

Not too long after reading this, I noticed that the family of The Man in the Straw Hat had posted a video from that evening on YouTube. Because the performance described above happened spontaneously, nobody was prepared with a camera, so we were requested to do an encore performance. Here it is:


 Today I received the sad news:

I'm sure you remember singing with Dmitri, last September. He and Barbara were celebrating their 60th anniversary, and they had met at Yosemite. Sadly, Dmitri passed away yesterday, surrounded by family. There is a YouTube of he and you doing The Indian Love Song. Here you go http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i88ZIPPtwR4

I will always remember him singing with you.