Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mom's Piano


It was 1938, and an idealistic young couple decided to get married.  America was suffering through a depression, and Europe struggled into war with the rise of Hitler in Germany. The couple's love blossomed.  She was a  teacher in Rochester, NY, and he an aspiring businessman in Buffalo.  She loved music; he loved tennis.  She remembered that they played tennis for their first date. "I was terrible," she laughed, "but he was gentle and kind."  He remembered that she played the piano for him.  They married in January 1939, and the handsome man with black hair and a loving heart gave his bride, her green eyes sparkling, the gift of a lifetime: a beautiful ivory Baldwin piano. My mom and dad.  Young love.  The gift of music. 

I came along a year and a half later.  Then my sister Andy, and eight years later, my brother Loren.  Life moved on: World War, the 1950s and '60s, business, family, transitions, changes. 

The piano was the centerpiece, the heart-stone, of our lives.  My mom's playing the piano and singing, practicing arias from the whole Opera repertoire, are among my earliest memories.   Mom continued to take voice lessons at least until we were through high school.  I later called her my Madama Butterfly, which she found amusing and, I think, gratifying.  I took piano lessons with eager young piano students at the Eastman School of Music. My mom would threaten to take away the lessons when I misbehaved, or didn’t practice enough. I cried terribly at the thought, although I was no prodigy. My sister took lessons, too, and did so well she graduated to a real teacher at the Eastman.  I felt  embarrassed when my parents asked me to play for relatives and friends who visited our home on Landing Road South.  My sister loved performing, as I remember it.

That piano traveled with my mom wherever she was.  In Buffalo, in Rochester, to Toledo after my dad died in 1977,  to Tallahassee, Florida in 1984, when she moved to be closer to my sister and her kids, and my brother in Orlando.   After mom died in 2003, the piano had a precarious existence with me, my kids and friends and others.  But I always knew that piano belonged in our family.  I held on to that thought even after the piano was “temporarily” stored in the Toledo home of a kind-hearted babysitter for at least 4 years, when I lived in a small condo in St. Petersburg, Fl, and then while I was with the Peace Corps in Ukraine for two years.  Neither of my daughters had room for it at the time.  Nan the babysitter said the kids loved it.  To me the piano, although it has a very heavy harp, floated for some time.

Recently, now living in Sylvania, Ohio, I asked my daughter Michelle if she’d like to have mom’s  piano in the lovely home she bought a year ago, when she was expecting Chase.   I was thrilled when she said yes, and “I have just the spot for it!”  I called Nan, the nice woman who had taken care of the piano, to arrange to have it moved to Michelle’s. The harp weighs a ton, especially for an Art Deco spinet that’s not a grand piano.  But to me the piano has always been grand, and I was happy to supervise while wonderful friends of Michelle's and my grandson Josh moved the piano from the back of a pick-up, up the steps, into the house.  

Mom’s piano is now gracing Michelle’s dining room, sitting across from a pretty Craftsmen built-in sideboard with leaded glass.  The eras, the architectural styles, match perfectly! Michelle immediately placed photos of my mom and dad, her beloved Nana and grandpa, on the piano.  It seemed just right.  The piano, seventy-three-years-old, has come home.  Just like me, I thought to myself!

Kyle, Chase and Philip enjoy banging on it.  Who knows?  Maybe one of them will want to take lessons and play one day.   But  no matter.  I feel my mom and dad are happy that the piano has come home, still in the family where it belongs, a gift of love and devotion, of youthful dreams and undying hope.            
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