When my oldest sister Luisa was born in 1919, my father bought a piano out of the blue. We were never quite sure why, except that he must have thought it would be something nice to have in the house as she grew up.
It was a sturdy upright, brown and shiny, and it was equipped to be a player. It had two sliding doors under the keyboard that opened to reveal pedals that fell forward and into place, the area above the keyboard also had two sliding doors which covered the paper roll. Once the roll was attached to the turning mechanism, and the pedals were pumped, the piano would begin to play. It was a really ingenious mechanical feat, the small openings in the roll would move over the corresponding pins and engage the keys.
My older sisters used to talk about my father, on a Sunday afternoon, when the store was closed, sitting at the piano, playing popular songs such as “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” and everyone singing loudly while eating peanuts in the shell.
During the course of my sister’s early years, they all took piano lessons for a time. Unfortunately, it was only my sister Mary who really enjoyed playing and took it seriously.I can remember as a child, the weekly visits from Miss Booker, her teacher who we all thought of as a special person.
Whatever else happened with our family, the piano was always a standard fixture in our apartment. It was moved to different locations around the room, but it was always there, covered with family photos on the top shelf.
During my childhood, the piano was a source of interest to me. I liked to play with tunes and harmonies and little finger exercises, but
I never learned how to play. I’m not sure why I wasn’t offered a turn with the piano teacher, but it never happened. When I did take music lessons, it was a clarinet that was offered, and truth be told, I never really enjoyed playing the reedy licorice stick.
When the time came for us to move from Chapel Street, we looked at the large piano and thought it was just too big and cumbersome to bring to the new house. It didn’t fit in and besides, no one played it or even tickled the keys as I used to do. What would become of this part of our family history, going back to the day when Luisa was born, we wondered?
The answer came from Luisa herself, she would take it to her basement and give it safe haven. The piano would go to the person who my father had bought it for. It seemed fitting. The piano sat in the basement for many years, a quiet reminder of days gone by. Luisa’s family grew and when Mel and Joyce, her son and daughter-in-law, bought a house of their own, they made a very important decision to rescue the forlorn piano from the basement and give it a place in their home, as a homage to its place in our family history.
We were all secretly relieved and elated to know that the piano would continue to be a part of our family. Mel and Joyce had it restored, polished it up, whitened up the keyboard and shined a light on it. Each visit there would bring back memories for all of my sisters and myself of the happy memories with that piano.
So last week, on Saturday, we gathered for a 100th birthday celebration for the indomitable relic of my father’s impetuous decision to buy a piano for his new baby. How happy he must have been to do something so unpredictable. We also celebrated Luisa as the symbol of the piano for all of us, and the rest of the family members who sat and listened to its melodious noise, or fingered the keys, or who sang “Yes We Have No Bananas” on a Sunday afternoon while eating roasted peanuts in the parlor.
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