The piano, I retrieved from an evangelical church out by the highway. Free to anyone who would come take it away. I recruited five guys from the Freaks and Geeks lunch club. One, The Engineer of Pain, a hyper intelligent computer engineer who had several side careers including children's book author and amateur heavyweight boxer, bore half the weight of the cabinet grand. We've hired movers twice since, and every tuner is surprised at how well it's weathered all the stress. It's not easy for my son to understand why I like it. He tells me every week after his lesson, how nice the music store's piano sounds, how much better he would play if we got one of those. But I prefer Howard.
How many others have loved Howard? Perhaps his first lover was the daughter of a paper baron, a stout man who stood primly at the doors to his salon, unable to restrain a smile or to take his eyes off his golden girl in the silk dress and the leather slippers as she played Chopin for his guests at the annual company ball.
But the girl broke her father’s heart and moved away, and the Baron divorced and the house was sold at an auction. Who knows why they bought it, whoever they were, because the house remained empty for many years. There was the squirrel who thought that Howard might be trustworthy enough to store nuts in. The squirrel’s first steps onto the keyboard sounded a minor bass chord that so startled the squirrel he tumbled right off and fell to the floor. Hours later, when he grew brave, he scaled Howard’s other side, cheeks stretched full with nuts. When he struck the highest keys, he was startled anew, but this time kept his balance and scampered down the keyboard. He leaped off the bass keys to land on the music stand, his heart thumping out of his skin. He held very still, twitching his tail. After a long while, he stretched a single paw, but not being quite long enough, reached too far and his hind end crashed onto the keys. As he scrambled to get up, his leg repeatedly hit middle C.
He learned to not only not be afraid of the piano, but also to look forward to running back and forth across the keys as he went to store his nuts, inexplicably delighted by the sounds. Each time he crossed the keys, he lingered longer and experimented more. It is a shame that no one ever heard him play because he got pretty darned good for a squirrel.
But then one day, the doors flew open, the squirrel ran off, and the sun poured in. Howard warmed to the occasion. Two movers wrestled him onto a dolly and took him to a windowless damp room in a church’s basement where children with sticky fingers banged and climbed on him while their parents were upstairs praying for them. Howard missed the squirrel.
And then the piano sat in our house for three years before someone played it. My husband kept threatening to get rid of the damn thing. He thought it took up too much room. Just wait, I urged. Wait and see.
When our first child was seven, I took him to his first piano lesson. The teacher told him that the piano is a percussion instrument. Then she invited him to play the black keys in any order. “However you please.”
Something inside me that had never sprouted, suddenly bloomed. I went home and played the black keys for three hours, however I pleased, until my husband begged me to stop.
At some later date, I tried the white keys. And one courageous evening, I played both.