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Tickling the Ivories

July 13, 2013

‘Aunt Vickie called today…a lady from her church is looking for an older piano and she thought you might be interested in selling yours.  What do you think?’ Mom asked.

‘How much is she willing to pay?  I asked.

How about asking fifty dollars? I think it’s worth that much.’

‘Sure…that sounds good. Thanks, Mom,’ I replied.

At one time, my piano had been a player, but those parts had been removed long before it came to me. Since I was the kid who’d inherited the creative and artistic talent from my grandmother, it was decided I should learn to play.

I took lessons. Never really got any good at it, but I went to Mrs. Benson’s for an after school lesson every Monday for several years. Paint, pencils, and fabric were more my style.

This was an interesting piano, though. My brothers and I passed the time by exploring it, inside and out. One of us would pull a chair up to the side of the piano, stand on it, lift the lid and look down inside while another opened the front panel which once held the player music, and the third would sit on the floor under the keyboard, lift the catch beneath and open the front panel. Then, we could really see how it worked. We would press different keys and see the inner workings in action. Occasionally, we’d try to make our own music by plucking the strings with our fingers, but that didn’t work very well.

We were fascinated by my piano and we showed all of our friends; they were equally intrigued. No one had ever seen the inside of a piano.

After many lessons, I did learn to play a little…it wasn’t something that came naturally to me, but I tried.

As I grew, I began to take my frustrations out on it’s keyboard. Whenever I was angry, frustrated, or just out of sorts, I pounded those old keys…usually to the occasionally recognizable melodies of ‘Way Down Upon the Swanee River’ or ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic.’

Pounding on that old piano soon became a daily habit, and my family began to complain. No one could hear the television above my music. Everyone’s nerves quickly frayed as I played.

Finally, the piano was moved into my bedroom and I was firmly told to shut the door before I began to play. That worked fairly well…I could still vent my frustrations and the rest of the family could hear themselves think.

As a teenager, my music slacked off and I discovered other ways to deal with the frustrations of daily life. The piano remained in my room, but served me in a different way…

For most kids, teenage years are a time of exploration and experimentation …and I was no exception. I began to drink and smoke. And that presented a dilemma…how was I to hide the evidence? I couldn’t just throw it in the trash.

My mother smoked in the house, so my smoking would go undetected. But what was I to do with the ashes and cigarette butts?  Mom smoked Salem’s. I smoked Marlboro’s…the filters were different colors.

That posed a problem…one I quickly solved. I found an empty coffee can which I used to safely stash the contents of my ashtray. After making doubly sure that the ashes were cold, I emptied my ashtray into the can, sealed it, and stowed it in the bottom of the piano. Same with my wine bottles.

After high school, I moved across the state with my best friend. We rented a small apartment and landed jobs at the same facility. We couldn’t wait take the step from adolescent to adult…

I didn’t give my old player piano another thought until Mom called me back a few days later.

She seemed miffed. And it didn’t take long for me to figure out why…

Aunt Vickie’s friend bought my piano, and she and her husband came to pick it up that afternoon.

Everyone noticed a muffled tinkling sound as they pushed the instrument through the house to the front door and into the awaiting Ford pick-up.

Dad gently lifted the lid and peered inside. He quickly pulled my mother aside and told her what he’d seen in the bowels of that old piano. Empty green bottles, lots of them, and coffee cans. He recognized the wine bottles instantly, but was a little perplexed about the coffee cans.  Why would I hide coffee?  He wondered.  Then he opened the cans and found ashes and butts.

My parents were mortified!

They quickly swallowed their pride and apologized profusely to the faithful couple. Mom served coffee while dad cleaned out the piano, cursing under his breath, no doubt.

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From → Growing Pains

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