I was just 9 yr old when music entered my life in the form of a restored walnut upright piano, made in the late 1800’s by Lindeman & Sons, NYC.
photo from Lindeman catalog. 1900
It was a classic piece with real ivory keys that were soft to the touch, with only 2 small chips on the edge of 2 or 3 that were positioned in places seldom used. It came with an antique claw-footed adjustable stool.
It had a tone that was rich and deep. It was perfect; and it was mine.
Sometime in the fall of that year, I had expressed an interest in taking piano lessons from the music teacher at my school. During lunch breaks, I got permission to wander down to the music room in the school’s basement with a few girlfriends, where I learned to play simple piano duets, like “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks”. (think…Tom Hanks in “Big”)
The nun who ran the program convinced my dad that I really should have a piano to practice lessons at home, and we were off in the search. It was a time of relative calm for the family; everyone was reasonably healthy again. Mom had delivered him a much-wanted baby boy that year; the steel mill was again open after the strike; there seemed to be more cash in the money jar. I suppose in any other given year, it may not have happened for me. Timing was everything.
Since my father had connections all over town, it was no surprise that he found a man who restored old pianos. We found one I loved, the price was acceptable to Dad, and it was delivered to our home. This was, quite honestly, the only thing of any value that was purchased specifically for me; a fact that was never lost on me and added to my appreciation.
I took lessons for 8 years, right up until high school graduation. I was not exceptionally good, but I had a lot of passion. My favorite piece, and one requested by my mother, was “Ave Maria”; simple, elegant, and to this day, elicits special memories and real tears.
In the turbulent years of my mother’s mental illness, this piano was a place of comfort and solitude for me. Under the guise of required practice, I could sit, play, and tune out the noise of madness; the harsh untempered words and actions of an untreated manic-depressive; the reactions of my siblings, sometimes belligerent but mostly tearful; the disgusted rant of my father as he stormed out of the house and away from the tempest.
Music rescued me. That piano was so much more to me than the piece of furniture it became to the family when I left home; a place to store a few books and framed photos; a huge, heavy and immovable object which they had to dust and decorate around.
It was always my intention to go back and retrieve it one day. My dad often jokingly asked when I was going to come and get it out of his house. We lived far away and it was too expensive to move. Once we were closer to home where the move was possible, Dad had become sentimental about it. His grandchildren and his new wife all liked to play a bit. So there it stayed, and sadly, I went about getting my own.
Fast forward a decade or so.
A few months after Dad passed away, we were gathered at Christmas time and his wife passed out invitations to a service at the local Hungarian church; a service in our honor to thank us for the donation of the piano. She never knew how I felt about it. I was devastated. I could not show up for the church ceremony, making excuses I don’t remember.
It made me realize that Dad never had the conversation with her about its origin. She assumed that several of my siblings also played. They did not. She believed she was being fair by giving it away to the church my ancestors had supported when they settled here from eastern Europe; a nice gesture that was lost on me.
She had given away the only thing in that house that I had ever wanted; the thing that was purchased especially for me; the thing that saw me through some very difficult years. The years of Mom’s depression, with a capital D.
Without knowing it, she had given away a piece of my soul.
Here it is, with the first lesson book I ever had. I took this photo as a young adult, about 20 years prior to the donation, when my mother was dying of cancer. The last piece I played for her ever….”Ave Maria”.