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A-One and A-Two-A Macadamia Nuts
By Maxine Lapiduss

Did you ever have the experience of seeing your mother go from being your average parent who makes you grilled cheese sandwiches and runs around the house in her girdle and dress-shields -- by the way, do you even know what dress shields are, I ask? Show of hands please... thank you -- to being something much more in your eyes?

A strange thing happened when I was nine, which catapulted my mother, Esther, from being the average nightmare parent, to dare I say it, almost heroic in my eyes. How could this have possibly happened? Did she tell off Mrs. Bergad, my heinous third grade math teacher, or rescue Farfel our kitty from a burning building -- or make my annoying sister Sally go live with some other less fortunate family?

Alas, no. For me, the life-altering change in how I saw my mother was getting an eyeful of her for the first time, as a woman. In a flash, she went from being a 1960s squeaky-clean Hadassah version of Laura Petrie to a voluptuous, Sophia Loren-esque sex goddess dripping with a sensuality that makes men weak.

What accounted for that immediate thunder bolt-like transformation? I can tell you in three simple words. Lawrence Welk, Live!

When I was a little tyke… I said tyke… my mother was an actress in Pittsburgh, doing plays and revues around our tri-state area. She, having delusions of grandeur and a shrewdness about the "public's curiosity for celebrity," never left home, even to gas the car, without being perfectly and stylishly coiffed, lest her public see her, and I don't know… try for a photo op.

If Mary Tyler Moore and Bea Arthur had a love child it would be big Es. Tall and shapely, she always wore Mary's Capri pants, and a colorful Pucci patterned turtleneck. It was 1970 -- she had the Mary flip behind one ear, and Bea's height, striking salt and pepper tresses, and deadpan hysterical delivery when she wanted to.

In the '50s she had been an MC at the Concord Hotel, a big resort in the Catskills, where she'd perform dialect stories, song parodies, and then when she had you right where she wanted you, she'd break your heart with a ballad. She packed 'em in at B'nai Emunah, let me tell ya. By the '70s she was performing at the big time local nightclub called the Holiday House.

She opened for Henny Youngman, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, The Manhattan Transfer, Vic Damone…and it was there one night, that some suit from WIIC-TV, channel 11, saw Esther and gave her a shot as the "entertainment reviewer" for the nightly 6 o'clock news. Her job was to spotlight whatever interesting show or act was in town that week.

My Dad was Willy Loman at this point, a salesman schlepping cases on the road. He'd leave town Monday mornings with his men's shirt and belt lines, then return each Friday for supper, traffic permitting. My sister was away at college so during the week it was just Es and me.

After trudging home from Colfax elementary and fortifying myself with a hearty snack of Tab and Pretzel Rods, most days I'd accompany Esther on her trek to Channel 11, listen to her "copy" on the drive out, rewrite and punch her up, consult on wardrobe, then sit behind the cameras making sure they lit her flatteringly and shot from above. I may have been ten, but I was reading Daily Variety and preparing my own career as a network executive. I'd watch each broadcast, and beam proudly as Es filmed her "Entertainment Corner with Esther Lapiduss" segments.

The big perk was that she got free tickets to see EVERY SHOW that came through town and since my Dad wasn't around, and a sitter was expensive, I got to be her date.

Once she had to interview Three Dog Night at Three Rivers Stadium. It was a Saturday afternoon concert, and we were walking through all the tie-dye and afros and anti-war posters to get to our seats. The air was thick with an odd burning rope smell I had not known before. We took a seat in a long row. Every unkempt, bell-bottomed college kid took a puff off a funny cigarette then passed it down the line, followed by what looked like a sheet of tiny candy dots on paper. As I reached for the dots, Es politely intercepted them from my grasp then passed the Window Pane LSD and the joint to the teenager on her right, dragging me off in search of more appropriate seatmates. After the show, I recall hearing one of Three Dog Night -- I don't know if it was Three, Dog, or Night, saying how square my mom looked in her MTM pantsuit. But the following week, boy did Es ever look cutting edge in the same outfit as she took me to the Civic Arena to see America's most beloved bandleader and TV superstar, Lawrence Welk.

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