Grant Keltner

The day my mother had high tea with Eric Clapton

The day my mother had high tea with Eric Clapton

My mother loved music, her name was Shirley Ann Keltner  Her mother (my grandmother) played the piano most of her life, my grandmother was the musical director of her church and she also played in an all-girl jazz band back in the 1920’s.  I have fond memories of my grandmother playing her piano whenever I visited her house through the years.

My mother loved her music, live theater, and film.  Throughout her life my mother saw many wonderful, talented musicians and entertainers perform, she watched a lot of great films.  She saw the Benny Goodman Band play at the old Jantzen Beach ballroom.  She saw Lionel Hampton, George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, Mel Torne, Tony Bennet, Dave Brubeck, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis and many other famous musicians perform live.

Her record collection included Frank Sinatra, Oscar, and Hammerstein, Pavarotti, Andy Williams, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Leonard Bernstein, Harry Belafonte, so many wonderful records, and memories.  She enjoyed listening to classical music as well, she had Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and other artists in her collection.

My mother loved live theater.  She saw live theater in both London and New York.  She saw Dame Maggie Smith perform in London, England; she saw the original Broadway production of Mary Martin in Peter Pan in the early 1950’s.  She went to theater whenever she could.

My mother loved film as well and looking back, she was like an encyclopedia with her knowledge of music, theater, and film.  She was the first one to watch Alfred Hitchcock films with me, I first watched The Wizard of OZ with her and the first one to tell me about Film Noir.  I was so lucky in having her as my mother.

My mother had a wonderful collection of jazz, and classical records, it included several wonderful songs.  She use to play her records for me when I was a kid, I always enjoyed listening to her record collections, and I have fond memories in remembering the music filling our home.  I remember staying up several rainy nights listening to her play her favorite songs.

I have memories of her playing the great Brazilian musician Antonio Carlos Jobim.  She played Django Reinhardt and Stephen Grapelli for me.  She played music scores from famous films and animated films as well, she actually bought me a record with the musical scores from all of the animated Disney films.  I remember listening to the musical score from Pinocchio, Johnny Appleseed, and Dumbo.  She played Arron Copeland from time to time or maybe might play something by Gershwin.  She loved Andy Williams and Bobby Darin.  She listened to Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell along with Willie Nelson.  She would sit with me and watch me do my homework or let me paint and draw while the music was playing, it was really great to have my mother as my music teacher when I was growing up.

When she realized that I liked her music she would leave records out so I would listen to them.  I guess it was her way with enlightening me about all the wonderful music that was being played.  She was always going to concerts back when I was a kid.  I remember the first time she took me to see my first concert.  She took me to see Dave Brubeck when I was eight years old at Portland’s Civic Theater.  My mother was always listening to good music.

Through the years she would buy me records or maybe give me tickets to go see a musician.  I remember going to see Tom Jones when I was 12 at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon.  It was a great show.  Tom Jones had a live show on television back then and it was quite popular.

My mother did not listen to too much rock and roll when I was a kid.  She was born in the 1930’s, I think it was a generational thing with her and rock and roll.  She listened to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, she liked some other bands that were popular through the years, but in the long run she was usually listening to her jazz and classical albums.

I remember that she liked to watch the Oregon Public Broadcasting station in Portland, Oregon.  She’d always watch the Boston Pops or she might watch a good classical musical show that might be on or maybe listen to a set featuring Dizzy Gillespie.  My mother’s house was always full of music.  I was lucky.

Through the years, when I was in high school and in college I started to listen to Rock and Roll.  I liked most Rock and Roll back then, I liked The Doors and Credence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead or maybe Eric Clapton or Jimmy Hendrix.  She listened to some of it, I will give her credit for that.

Well as the years went by, my mother would listen to her music.  My mother had worked in the airline business most of her life, she had traveled near and wide.  She had seen Europe and the Orient several times.  She enjoyed visiting the finer hotels in the cities she stayed at.  She often would stay at some of these fine establishments; dine at them and then recommend the hotels to her clients.  She stayed at some wonderful places with her travels.

She felt that Portland, Oregon needed to build more hotels in the future in order to have proper accommodations for people visiting the City of Roses, especially when the city built the Convention Center.  She dined at some of the finer hotels in Portland, Oregon while she lived and worked here.  She ate at Trader Vic’s at the Benson Hotel, went to the Heathman Hotel, and had high tea from time to time, she might have a meeting with the travel industry business at the Hilton Hotel located in downtown Portland.  She was always traveling and seeing new things that might help her in giving the very best service with her clientele.

I will never forget the day my mother had high tea with Erick Clapton.  This is a true story, no fiction with this tale.  She was probably 75 at the time when she met Mr. Clapton, back in the spring of 2005 or so if I remember right, a rainy cold Saturday afternoon in March.

She had met with a business client in the morning that day, promptly dropped off some airline tickets, then decided to have high tea at The Heathman Hotel that afternoon.  The Heathman Hotel is one of the finer hotels in Portland, Oregon, it’s adorned in the inside with fine wood and gold leaf decoration.  It has a separate dining room for high tea, they have live music from time to time, and the Arlene Snitzer Music Hall is located right across the street from the Heathman.  The Arlene Snitzer Music Hall has performances and concerts throughout the year, I’ve seen Jerry Seinfeld perform there and have seen several musical performers play there through the years.  Mom would have high tea from time to time at the Heathman, it was the way she would treat herself after a long week with work.

Well, mom went to have her tea in the afternoon that rainy Saturday afternoon.  She found a parking spot near the Park Blocks and walked in the rain a few blocks in order to get to The Heathman, it was dark out, there were big rain clouds floating about.  She walked through the entrance to the hotel and looked for a place that she could sit down and have her high tea.  A fire roared in the fireplace in one of the dining rooms to the hotel.  There were not many people sitting in the lounge or restaurant that day, it was in the mid afternoon.  My mother found a comfortable chair, took her wet coat off, and sat down at an empty table.  Soon a waiter took her order and came back with her tea pot and she poured herself a hot cup of tea.  She relaxed a bit and looked at the fire, she looked around the room.

She sipped on her tea and kept looking at a fellow that she thought she had seen before, maybe a famous musician or maybe some sort of celebrity.  He wore glasses, had a beard and mid length hair, a nice looking man.  She tried to remember, she smiled at the gentleman and he nodded to her and he smiled back.  He wore a pleasant smile, a smile that she remembered seeing somewhere before.

My mother looked at the gentlemen and politely asked, “My name is Shirley Keltner.  I know I’ve seen you somewhere before, would you pardon me in asking your name?”  He looked over at my mother and smiled, he started to chuckle.  “Why yes ma’am my name is Eric Clapton.”  My mother laughed and smiled, she giggled, she blushed.  He was performing that night at The Arlene Snitzer Concert Hall.  She smiled and looked at Eric, “Oh Mr. Clapton it’s a pleasure meeting you, I’ve heard your music and you are a wonderful musician.”  He smiled and nodded at my mother.  “Thank you, would you care to sit with me, have high tea and chat?”  My mother laughed and smiled, “Why I’d be delighted.”  My mother smiled, she always had a great smile.

She got up from her seat and walked over and pulled up a chair and had high tea with Erick Clapton that afternoon.  That was my mother, she had met famous people before.  She was a very kind woman.  Eric Clapton and my mother talked for about an hour, chatting about music, about England, they chatted a bit about Portland.  My mother had heard Derick and the Dominos, had heard Eric sing on television.  She always liked his music.  Funny to think my mother had high tea with Erick Clapton that day.  They talked about his upcoming concert, my mother told him about my grandmother playing the piano, about the jazz band she played in back in the early 1920’s.  They talked about soccer, about artwork, the conversation drifted back and worth, they got together wonderfully that day.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your son,” said my mother.  He looked across the room and smiled.  About ten years earlier Mr. Clapton had lost his young son.  He wrote the song “Tears in heaven.”  My mother loved the son and actually had the album.  They continued to have their tea and talk.

They got along wonderfully that day.  Soon it was time to excuse themselves.  My mother held out her hand and shook Eric Clapton’s had.  “It was a pleasure sir.”  He smiled and shook her hand.  “All the best Shirley.  It was a pleasure.”  My mother paid her bill and left a tip, she put her rain coat on and left.  She drove home.  She called me on the phone later that day.

“Guess who I had high tea with today at the Heathmen Hotel?”  I thought to myself a minute, “Ah you had high tea with John Wayne!” she laughed, “No, guess again.”  I thought a bit, “You had high tea with Margaret Thatcher!” she giggled and laughed.  “Come on mom who did you have high tea with?”  She laughed and yelled,” I had high tea with Eric Clapton!”  I paused and thought to myself and then I laughed, “Ah, What?”  She laughed and went on to tell me all about her historic meeting that afternoon.

“Grant, oh he was so kind to me, we talked about music, we talked about Portland, oh my it was wonderful, he’s such a kind person.”  I thought to myself, “Mom I can’t believe you had high tea with Eric Clapton at the Heathmen Hotel!”  She laughed and continued in telling me about her day.  She was so happy, she was like a child that day.  I’ll never forget how happy she was.

“He’s playing at The Arlene Snitzer Concert Hall tonight.”  I grabbed the Oregonian newspaper that was sitting on the kitchen table.  I thumbed to the Arts and Entertainment section and sure enough Eric Clapton was playing that night.  Wow, I thought how neat that must have been for my mother in meeting this great musician, how kind of him to go out of his way and be so friendly to my mother.  A world famous musician that night went out of his way in asking my mother to sit with him and join him for high tea.

The next day I met with her and she went on and on and on in telling me of her chance meeting.  She went into detail two or three times in telling me the story, she went into detail in telling me how he looked and what he was wearing.  My mother was impressed with him after that and went out and bought several of his albums.  She became a big fan of Eric Clapton the rest of her life, she kept a CD of his greatest hits in her car so she could play it from time to time, and she enjoyed his work.

I went and told my friends about my mother meeting Eric Clapton, they were surprised, and some kind of them thought I might be pulling their leg.

My mother had seen and met several great musicians and entertainers throughout her life.  I always wanted to thank Eric Clapton in being so kind to my mother that day.  My mother was really thoughtful, understanding and kind to people throughout her life, I think that my mother and Eric Clapton might have had a fine time that day, that they shared some thoughts with life, talked about music and art.  Crazy about my mother, she had a way in reaching out to people, touching them in a way that I can’t really explain.  I’ll never forget the day my mother met Eric Clapton.

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