I wish I had some pictures of Grandma playing the piano with all of us kids gathered around. She loved to play and she played well. As a child, I did not appreciate her skills, nor that we were made to sit and sing songs of an era long since passed. A time of waltzing; men in tuxedos courting women in fancy hoop skirts and silly hairdos. Looking back, I find those times at the piano to be some of my best memories of Grandma. She was in her element.
Grandma was a strict Methodist and we knew we had to be on our best behavior while staying with her and Grandpa. There were so many rules to abide by. No screaming, no arguing or fighting, no playing in the barn, no getting out of eye-sight or ear shot. We could not say “shut up” to each other – that was difficult. The bucket of toys contained old relics, nothing like our fancy, bright-colored toys at home. We did like playing with the marbles. That was allowed as long as we didn’t get too wild with them. The best times were the board or card games we played after lunch. If someone managed to outwit Grandma at Flinch or knock her marble back to the doghouse in Wahoo, her exclamation was always, “Well, ACTUALLY!!!” which delighted us. Grandma was a fierce game player and the expression “actually” was as vulgar as she got with words.
Most of the time though, Grandma suggested singing at the piano. None of us could sing very well, Grandma included, and none of us really wanted to sit there and sing old songs. She always started out with religious songs or hymns. “This Little Light of Mine” was a favorite because we all knew that from Sunday school. We sang a few hymns, but our voices were fairly wimpy. We didn’t know the hymns all that well, nor did we know how to read notes. Jodi was always entertaining because she wasn’t old enough to read yet, and crooned out the melody, attempting to sing without knowing the words. That would get us to giggling uncontrollably… until Grandma put the skids on that action.
Eventually, Grandma got to the more lively music which entailed, “Yellow Rose of Texas”, “Blue Skirt Waltz”, and “Lonely Little Robin”. Grandma was in her element. It was as if the person she was expected to be and worked so hard at being was reflected in the religious songs, but her real personality shone in the waltz’s. I marveled at how her fingers danced over the keys and her hands moved ever so swiftly along the keyboard. She sang out loud, which made us a bit braver to belt out the words as well. In time, we sang from memory and we all smiled at each other… maybe a bit embarrassed at singing as a group because we never would do that at home. Somewhere along the way, we grew to love the melodies, and actually enjoyed singing those old songs.
Christmas last year, FD and I made the long trek to Nebraska for the sole purpose of transporting the piano to its new home in Oklahoma. Grandma passed away back in 1997. Jodi acquired the piano, moved it to her home and taught herself to play. Grandma would have been proud. Years later, Jodi moved to a home not having room for the monstrosity, so it sat in storage for many years. Last fall, when the person storing the old piano asked that it be moved, a plea was made for someone in the family to take it. I didn’t really want it, but FD couldn’t see just giving it to a stranger. He’s sentimental about family heirlooms.
We didn’t have the best weather conditions, nor means to move a piano. Winter in Nebraska can be brutal, and despite praying for good weather, we were blessed with a good old ice storm two days before the scheduled trip home. FD and a Bro-in-law managed to place it in our truck with a loader. They cushioned it with blankets and strapped tarps around it. We carefully skated across the state line into Kansas, where soon, the weather grew sunny and warm.
A brave friend helped us unload it from the truck, to the utility trailer, and finally down to the storage building floor. I cleaned it up, washing years of dust and dirt away, not to mention a little splash from transporting on ice and slush. I gave it a coat of polish, covered it with blankets, and rolled it to an area amidst gardening tools and shelving. FD thought some day we would refinish it and put it in our home.
A couple of weeks ago FD’s Mom announced her piano was in bad shape. The piano tuner said it was not worth fixing. I asked the tuner fellow to come over and take a gander at Grandma’s old piano. He looked it over and declared it was in pretty good condition and for around $200 he would have it in decent working condition. Not up to standard, mind you, but good enough to play for pleasure. So, it appears we only have to find a way to move it across the yard and into her home. It will be nice to know it will once again play music and come to life. Maybe our family will gather around singing, making memories for yet another generation. Mom tends to enjoy the music of Johnny Mathis, Robert Goulet, and Andy Williams. I am sure the kids today will snicker and laugh at the songs she will play just like we did with Grandma’s waltzes. I know that I will enjoy hearing it play beautiful music once again, and I’ll remember… Grandma in her element.
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