Keeping Up With the Joneses

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

My name is Greer. I rarely talk about myself, because then I need to explain about my sister, my twin Greta, and our older sister Claudette. We think our little brother, Taylor, got off easy. No one notices anything unusual about someone named Robert T. Jones, Jr. He could have been so rotten, but Tay Jones is amazing.

Our mother is beautiful, tall and slender. She was an actress in Hollywood—a musician, singer, and dancer. She never told us when she was going to show up in a particular movie, but would make sure we kids were watching when one of her movies played on television. She was so pleased and delighted when we spotted her.

She met our father during a USO show in Vietnam. He was a pilot on the carrier USS Kitty Hawk. Bob Hope asked for a volunteer to dance with this gorgeous redhead and Dad was there so fast, no one else had a chance.

Dad couldn’t dance very well, but he said that she could have followed a mule on hind legs. Mother said it was love at first sight. Tay, when he studied biology, said it was a chemical reaction—and because Dad was named Robert Taylor, that was a big help, too.

You’ve figured out by now, who Mother’s favorite movie stars were.

Rob Jones asked Jan Smith if she would write, and she did, filling her letters with colorful chatter about what movies she was working on, and tidbits of star gossip and stuff about Hollywood.

When his Phantom went down over North Vietnam, she went into shock, and couldn’t work. Her roommates took care of her. She couldn’t eat, and he nearly starved to death. It was three harrowing months before he escaped and made his way back. The first thing he did when he could call home was ask her to marry him.

After Dad got out of the Navy, he and Mother came back to Texas with Claudette. Greta and I are four years younger than Claudette, and Tay is four years younger than us. Just like they’d planned it, but Dad says they didn’t, because who could have planned on Tay.

We lived at the farm for a few years, then they bought a house in town. Not long after, Dad built on an addition as big as the original house. One part was a den finished in wood paneling and deep carpet, but in the other half he laid down a fine hardwood floor, installed floor-to-ceiling mirrors and a barre, and sky lights. A studio for Mother, and a party room for the rest of us.

Dad brought home a used upright grand piano that was scratched and scuffed, but Mother sanded and sanded, then painted on endless coats of thin red enamel. Soon it looked like something you’d see in a movie, which made sense, of course. She’d probably been in a movie with a red piano.

The piano tuner drove over from Abilene—said he’d never seen anything so pretty, but he was looking at Mother when he said it. When he finished tuning the piano, he banged out a show tune while Mother sang and danced all around the room. We kids stood there with our mouths hanging open.

Soon our lessons began. Mother played simple songs, teaching us to feel the beat. Claudette didn’t much care for tap, but liked ballet. She really loved the piano though, and was already good at math, so understanding music came easily to her. Tay was still little and fidgeted a lot, but he liked doing anything that made noise. He liked to sit beside Claudette on the piano bench, and she let him because it was the only time he was quiet.

Greta and I took to dancing like a duck on a June bug. There wasn’t much call for dancing twins in our little town, but we danced anyway, to our adoring audience of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and assorted cousins, who danced with us sometimes.

Mother taught us piano for a few years, and then a professional teacher moved to town so Mother sent us to her. Greta and I were good, but Claudette was exceptional. Dad kept asking when she was going to play like Dave Brubeck, but Claudette would just smile and say, “No one can play like Dave, Dad.”

One Saturday morning a big box truck pulled up at our front door. It was from the music store in Abilene, and soon they were unloading a baby grand piano. It was black and so shiny you could see your face in it. Saying thank you was hard for Claudette and she couldn’t even say it this time, but she threw her arms around Daddy’s neck and cried until her tears soaked his shirt. Mother quickly rearranged the living room furniture so there was room in front of the bay window for Claudette’s piano, because make no mistake, it was hers.

As before, Claudette’s tastes leaned toward the classical and the front part of the house filled with sounds of Mozart, Mahler, and Chopin. Back in the studio, Greta and I vibrated the walls with rock and roll, and picked our way through the Elton John song book, and choreographed elaborate dance routines. Dad sat in the den, and listened to jazz.

Taylor didn’t need sheet music to play anything. It made the piano teacher so mad; when he was twelve the teacher said that if he wasn’t going to practice his recital piece the way it was written, then there was no point in continuing. Tay didn’t need to learn the piece, or memorize it; he could play it after he heard it the first time. But the piano teacher didn’t believe in “playing by ear.” When Tay asked if he could play the drums in band, Dad said, “Why am I not surprised?”

When we weren”t making noise of some kind, we rode horses and rounded up cattle, swam in the cow tanks, and worried when it didn”t rain enough. We went to church, football games and movies, and gave terrific parties because we had the perfect party room.

Claudette went off to college in Lubbock to get a teaching degree. But in her second year, a guest conductor heard her playing and said she needed to be back east. So she and our parents went to see all the right people, and that’s how she landed at Juilliard.

Eventually it was time for Greta and me to go off to college, and I have to tell you, neither of us could stomach the idea. Why in the world would we go to college, when all we wanted to do was sing and dance? We weren’t real smart, but we knew it was time to split up, and our parents let us go. Greta headed east, and I drove into the sun. Before the year was out, and without the other knowing, I started acting school in Los Angeles while she did the same thing in New York.

Only Taylor went to college the conventional way, and he got a degree in business because he thought it would be useful in managing the farm and ranch. But all that changed in his last year of college when he nearly flunked out, because instead of studying, he wrote a book.

Claudette is now a symphony conductor in a town in Connecticut. She wears stunning silk gowns, always black, that rustle delicately when she conducts. She pulls her white blond hair into a glorious chignon high on the back of her head, and her neck glitters with diamonds from her adoring husband. They have two enchanting children who look perfect, but Claudette assures us they are typical Jones offspring.

Claudette stunned the music world last year with her elegant jazz symphony, To Bob Hope, With Love. Now every musician in the country is playing a cover of something from With Love.

Greta J. Taylor lives in New York and is the female lead in a Broadway revival of Yankee Doodle Dandy. She told the director she’d been doing the part since she was eight. She altered her name, liking the double-T sound of Greta Taylor, and since we are identical, this would distinguish us. She looks like a model (she’s easily 20 pounds lighter than me), and heads turn when she walks down the street. Her off-stage uniform is skin-tight jeans, skinny sweaters and cowboy boots. She cleaned out a western-wear store of every boot in her size last time she was in Abilene, because she said you can’t buy real cowboy boots in New York, and nothing protects her feet like a pair of boots.

Taylor Jones lives on the end of Long Island, in a tiny wood-shingled cottage that sticks its face into the Atlantic. His first book was a best-seller, and now he writes wildly successful books about achingly real characters that you would know and love if only you had the chance. His only extravagance is a horse he keeps stabled nearby, a pinto mare named Comanche Girl.

The red piano takes up half of his living room, and when he has a party he delights his guests by doing dead-on imitations of Paul McCartney, Elton John, or Lionel Ritchie. When he gets writer’s block (which I think is just an excuse), he goes to Claudette’s house in Connecticut and writes while she rehearses. He says it works every time.

I got the lead in a film about a musician, so I have to look like I know what I’m doing. I’ll never play like Claudette, but I practice for hours every day with a criminally insane piano teacher. Claudette tried to give me advice on how to act temperamental, but I said I just pretended to be her. She sent me an armful of pink roses.

A voice coach is beating Texas out of me, and another one is teaching me to speak with a Hungarian accent. They’ll dye my strawberry blond hair a deep red for the movie, which means I’ll look like my mother. That thought propels me into another dimension. I miss Greta so much it feels weird (a bit like being short of breath all the time), but we talk on the phone every day.

The famous author Tay Jones was on Larry King’s show not long ago because his new book is number one on the best-seller list, again. Larry asked if others in his family were creative—his parents, and how about his brothers and sisters?

So Tay told him about his mother and father. He spoke a little fast, but the question caught him off-guard and he wanted to get us all in. Said his sister Claudette was the conductor and composer who wrote To Bob Hope, With Love. He explained about his other sisters, the singing and dancing twins—Greta J. Taylor on Broadway, and Greer Jones in L.A. making a movie.

Larry King was thunderstruck. No one knew we were related. Well, why would they?

So the phones started ringing coast to coast, and that’s how this part of the story began. For the photo shoot, it was easiest for us to gather at Tay’s cottage; he has the red piano, after all. They found studio photographs of Jan Smith, and Navy photos of Robert Taylor Jones. Mother gave them who-knows-what-else. She’s loved every minutes of this, and Dad just cruises in her slip-stream.

People magazine has their own writers, but I asked to tell this particular bit of the story, because I wanted you to understand that we are just an ordinary family, and none of us ever thought this would happen. But I guess if you combine a woman with zeal and talent, and a man with strength and determination, something extraordinary can occur.

It would have made sense for Taylor to write this, but he can write the next part.

Topics: Short stories

3 Responses to “Keeping Up With the Joneses”

Kelly Says:
May 10th, 2006 at 4:41 pm

Delightful. K

Eric Says:
May 15th, 2006 at 9:47 pm

Claudette tried to give me advice on how to act temperamental, but I said I just pretended to be her.

You must have a sister. ;-)

Very well done!

Lori Says:
May 30th, 2006 at 9:36 am

Splendid story! lori


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