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I recently added more music to our house. Well, sound, anyway.
My mother moved from her mobile home in Florida to a smaller, more manageable, apartment. In doing so, she had to downsize her possessions. One major item that would never fit in an apartment was the piano that had belonged to my grandmother, Mummo.
Mummo’s baby grand piano was the one she tried to teach me to play on. It’s a lovely, dark mahogany, Stodart piano. It had its own special niche in the front room of Mummo’s home. The technician who came to check it out and find out what repairs were necessary said that she is from the 1920s. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
As a bit of background, Mummo (whose first name was Marion) was born in New Jersey in 1891. She was the next youngest of five children. Her upbringing was extraordinarily Victorian, but she was always something of a rebel. She told me stories, in whispered tones, about sneaking the horse out of the barn, walking it over the hill – out of sight of her parents – and then riding off bareback and ASTRIDE!!!! Imagine, the indignity of a “lady” straddling a horse. She kept some the things she was taught as a child, though, all through her life.
One of her closely-held beliefs was that there were only a very few occupations that were suitable for ladies. Those were – teacher, pianist, or piano teacher. Nursing was off limits because – HORRORS – you would see naked people (even men). My desire to be a racehorse trainer was met with disbelief and a firm dismissal that a racetrack was no place for a lady. Actually, up until the past few decades, Mummo was not alone. There was a widely-held belief that women could not train or ride racehorses. So, Mummo determined I really had to learn to play the piano.
God bless her, Mummo tried. Unfortunately, I was only seven or eight years old when she tried to teach me piano. It was a lost cause – at that time.
She was so gifted! Not only could she play the most intricate and complicated pieces, she composed glorious music that was all her own. I remember her sitting at her piano making it sing the most remarkable songs. Her house was full of music. There was classical, sure, but there was also more popular tunes and Christmas carols. She just could not understand why her wayward granddaughter would rather be out climbing trees or riding horses. What she didn’t realize – nor would I until this past year – was that her granddaughter really was paying attention. I was just too young and too scattered to sit and practice an hour or more every day.
In her late years, Alzheimer’s (although it hadn’t been named, yet) stole Mummo’s mind. She retreated further and further into a world where she couldn’t communicate with words. Sometimes, though, she’d find her way to the piano. Her piano was her voice. It was so incredibly sad for us that this was her sole way to express herself. Even when she was finally moved into a nursing home, they would occasionally find her at the piano in the common area. There she was – a very tiny, sad, old woman making the whole place ring with music.
When the time came to move Mummo’s piano, a dealer came to my mother’s home and told her he would buy the piano and “give” her $500. Once I was told that, I realized that there was no way I could allow “Voce Marion” (Marion’s Voice – the name I’ve given to the piano) to go to someone who would never know my Mummo. No one else could ever know how desperately she loved that piano – nor ever hear the beauty that came from her fingers. I had to bring it home to be with me.
I still can’t play “her,” but I’m going to learn. I probably will never be able to make that instrument sing like she used to. She will, however, be loved and cared for. I will remember the way she used to sound when a true musician touched her keys. The technician who came to give her a checkup is a talented musician and he sat and played her. That same, rich tone came tumbling out for the first time in probably 40 years. For those few minutes, Voce Marion was in her glory again. The tears just couldn’t be stopped. I could almost feel Mummo standing over my shoulder smiling.
Poor thing, she’ll probably have to put up with some awful clunkers to begin with. I guess the learning curve will be steep as I’m no longer a kid, but I’m going to persevere. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to bring the music that still resonates in my mind to my fingers. I think Mummo would be very proud.