Once upon a time, many years ago, my papa bought for my granny a beautiful, upright Baldwin piano. It lived in their living room and was a part of countless memories. There are oil stains from the hurricane lamp that lived on its lid. The music stand is falling apart from countless years of music books at it’s back. It’s keys know the touch of many fingers, its strings the sound of many tunes.
When my granny died my papa came to live with us. Most of his things came with him. The piano made the adventurous trip from Missouri to Minnesota to live with us as well. It joined my mom’s much larger upright piano in our house. Her upright was severely out of tune and in need of much repair. I learned to play on my granny’s piano. I rode my bike 1/4 mile up the gravel road every week to my piano teacher’s house. Then I would ride back home and practice on that piano, channeling my granny with each note played.
We moved several times throughout my years at home, each time the piano coming with us. It found its place in each home until my sister graduated from high school. My parents moved to Arizona and the piano was not going with them. My sister took temporary care of it until it could come to live with me. As the oldest I had claimed ownership of the piano when my mom was no longer able to keep it. Somehow or other the fragile Baldwin made it out of my parent’s 2 story home and into my sister’s apartment above a storefront. The staircase up to her apartment was no wider than the average couch and was steep as a roller coaster. The steps made of rickety wood were reminiscent of the wooden bridges in Indiana Jones movies that always fall apart about 6 steps in.
A few years passed and it was time for the piano to make yet another journey. It, amazingly, found its way safely down the stairs of doom and into the back of a small U-Haul trailer attached to the back of a small, stick shift pick-up truck. My sister drove the long way to my apartment to avoid the hills and curves of the short way. She got confused when crossing the state line and had to pay the toll. She wasn’t certain if she should go in the manual or automatic lanes. She decided for the manual since she was driving a stick shift. That’s just the kind of girl she was ;). She made it safely to me and we transferred the piano from her trailer to our much larger U-Haul moving van for yet another journey.
Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and finally Ohio. This little Baldwin upright had returned to its state of birth in a historic journey.
The first year that it lived with me my honey gave me the best birthday present of having the bass strings replaced. The piano tuner who replaced the strings tried to buy the upright off of me. He said it was worth thousands. No, Mr. Craig, this little beauty is priceless and now it’s sound was amazing. I started to play again, rediscover the joy of hearing the sound vibrating off the walls.
Since it came to live with me I have worked to replace all of the Reader’s Digest music books that I grew up loving. I play every Christmas for the entire month of December. I took a break after my sister died. There were so many memories of she and I sitting next to each other on that bench, the two of us singing in harmony while I played the melody. I played our favorite song at her funeral. The strings of my Baldwin have not carried the tune of that song since before she died, until this weekend.
Since the boys were born and old enough to sit up, they have sat with me on that same bench. They have touched the keys and pushed the hammer to the string to produce that vibrating sound. They have been taught not to pound. They have heard me play and they have sat beside me to sing. Their pictures line the lid, only slightly covering the oil ring that still resides on the corner. Every so often one of the boys will sit on the bench, open the cover and tickle the ivories for a moment. The sound delights me. They encourage me to play for them, usually the Pink Panther theme.
Keegan has been found sitting on the bench a lot lately. He stares intently at the keys and watches his fingers move across them as the sound produced begins to mimic music. He pulls out the metronome and plays eloquently to the beat. He is constantly tapping out a beat with his feet and/or clapping his hands. He has worn out the toe of his right shoe with his incessant tapping. The time has come to truly foster his need for music, his need to feel that beat.
This weekend he was playing his tune and getting a little frustrated that it didn’t sound like he wanted it to. I stood behind him and brought my arms around his side and rested my hands on the keys. I fully intended to play the “firetruck” song – one of the first songs I learned to play with both hands moving at the same time in opposite directions. Instead the song from my sister’s funeral came out. My hands moved across the keys on their own. I had no control over them. Keegan looked up at me the moment I was able to stop my fingers from striking the keys. From that moment on he has been diligent about being at the piano and working on his tune.
Tonight he asked me to sit and play the Pink Panther Theme song for him. I sat on the bench and began to etch out the tune. I can almost do it from memory, so many times they’ve asked me to play it. I got the first few chords out and he stopped me. Show me how to play it mommy. I placed his fingers on the proper keys and he mimicked my movements. He stuck with it until it was close to sounding like what I played. He then asked me to sit down and play the next few chords. He wanted to know just how to do it. He was asking about the letter equivalents of the keys so we did a beginner lesson. He kept at it for another 30 minutes, just trying to get it right.
I will start with him myself at home, begin his lessons of learning the keys and beginning to read the music. We will find him a teacher who will help him thrive and move him forward, if that’s what he wants. I will find beauty and love in the history of this moment with my granny’s piano and the tradition that is being carried on.