My friend Ruth wrote a blog at ruthinmanart.com about the challenges she is facing in trying to sell her second hand piano. This got me thinking about the two pianos in my life.
The first one came very, very used from an elderly friend of my mom’s. Madge was moving to an old folks’ home and couldn’t take it with her, so when I was ten we took custody of her huge 1902 Jacob Doll upright.
My brothers had already taken up guitar, so it was decided that I should learn to play the piano. Our next door neighbor gave me lessons for a dollar a week. I studied for about two years, and learned to read music, but didn’t have much drive for perfection. The piano was more a noisy member of the family than a fine musical instrument, anyway. Here it is, getting banged on by Cousin Lynn in 1969.
My father loved to hear me play, or maybe he just thought I ought to. When I ignored it for too long, he would say, “Well, I guess it’s time to give that Ol’ piano away…” and I’d sit down and bang away for a while. I’d play country songs for him and the Moonlight Sonata for Momma. It made them happy.
Still, once I was in high school, it was cool to be able to read music well enough to play the songs from Jesus Christ, Superstar. When I went away to Long Beach State University, the old piano stayed at my parents’ house. I played it on weekends when I would visit, and when I married Grandpa Nelson in 1974, they bought us a Wurlitzer spinet piano as a wedding present. The old upright, they said, was too heavy and fragile to move around as much as college students do. Besides, the spinet fit into our tiny apartment better.
The spinet followed us from Long Beach to Eugene to Salinas, where it was played by your Daddy David and Auntie Katie, and much later, by you!
And when Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett found us a home here in Portland, they found one with room for the spinet. I don’t play very often. I am painfully aware that it sits against a wall we share with our neighbors and I resist inflicting my playing on them. But it is there, in tune and ready whenever I am. It reminds me of my folks. It is a part of me.
And I’m glad to still have it.