My mom’s piano was a source of comfort for her, as well as a source of income. When she purchased it a few years before my birth, she never thought she’d end up being a piano teacher. Our family lived in East Lansing. My mom and dad ran a small business auctioning rare coins. When my mom told me the story about the piano, I assumed it had always been in the family, that it was Grandpa’s and was passed down to Mom. My grandfather loved to play show tunes on their piano and had a fine voice as well.
No, my mom, said. It wasn’t Grandpa’s piano. It was a Saturday morning and I was up early. I just sat down with my cup of coffee and the newspaper when I spotted the ad in the classifieds. This was before Craigslist and I’d always take a look to see what was for sale. Your brothers were still asleep and I was so excited, because I knew it would sell fast.
I wondered, mom said, how early could I call them?
At this point, I think my mom left my brothers with our dad and went to look at the piano.
Mom said, it was covered up with a tarp in an old carriage house. I had to drive down an alley where I met a man and a woman. The piano was wonderful. It needed tuning, of course; but, it was exactly what I’d been looking for. I asked the two about the piano.
Well, the woman said, our grandparents bought the piano; but never played it. Our mom was in love with a jazz musician and our grandparents didn’t approve. They tried breaking them up and finally told our mom they’d buy her a grand piano if she ended things.
Did she, my mom asked?
I imagine the two smiling here. Perhaps, the man and the woman share a looking.
No, the woman said, the jazz musician is our father and Mom ran away with him to Chicago. Her parents had bought the piano, but just had it set in the carriage house when it was delivered. Never even came into the house. So, you interested?
How it was moved, who moved it, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that baby grand piano was an outlet for my mom. I’d wake up on a Saturday morning to the sounds of sonatas played with emotion, as if in the music she could either escape or reconcile the death of her husband, the slide from middle class to poverty, the weight of three boys that she alone needed to carry. At the time, I couldn’t have seen that. A child of seven or eight, I heard the power in the music and waited for the song to finish. Then I’d walk into the living room, the light from the picture window shone on my mom. It was like a spell ended. My mom returned from wherever she’d gone. Her arms around me, a feeling of warmth.