Saturday, May 13, 1967. I was a 13-year-old eighth grader. For several years in the mid-1960s the Philadelphia classical music radio station broadcast The Ring of the Nibelung, a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas — The Rhine Gold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung — composed by Richard Wagner, on four successive Saturday afternoons beginning the next to last week in April. On this Saturday Aunt Zelda let me listen to my favorite opera, Götterdämmerung on the expensive stereo system in her home. She and my mother left me alone in her house all afternoon so I could enjoy the four-hour opera.
One of the crucial junctures in Götterdämmerung occurs in the first act when the hero, Siegfried swears an oath of blood-brotherhood with Gunther, King of the Gibichungs. Siegfried and Gunther drink from a horn filled with red wine mixed with drops of their blood, signifying an eternal fraternal bond. Later in the action, Siegfried breaches the oath and is murdered in vengeance by Gunther’s half-brother, who cries out in a rash fury “I have avenged perjury” at the moment he thrusts a spear into Siegfried’s back.
While my mother and aunt were out for the afternoon I got hungry and ate a can of my aunt’s baked beans and drank a whole bottle of her red cranberry juice. When my mother and aunt returned, my aunt went into the kitchen and, spying the empty baked bean can and juice bottle in the trash can, became seriously riled. She rushed out of the kitchen impetuously, yelling at me: “You couldn’t wait! You couldn’t wait! What’s the matter — did you think I wasn’t going to feed you when I got home?” At first, I thought she was joking. I thought “how could a person become infuriated about a can of baked beans and a bottle of juice?” But no, she was serious and she was fuming. My mother was penitent and said to my aunt, “I’ll pay you back for the baked beans and the juice.”