The Piano

During my childhood, I was allowed to visit a classmate after school precisely two times. Two different classmates. Two different years. Two different reasons why I was never allowed to go there again.

In 4th grade, I received an invitation from a classmate named Judy. She had been my kindergarten comrade and confidant, and we stuck together for a few more years. Judy was acceptable to Mummy and Daddy because she was an honor student like I was, and so they approved my request to visit Judy’s home  one day after school.

Judy’s mother was a real estate agent who dressed like Beaver Cleaver’s mother except with a briefcase. She picked us up at school in her shiny new 1959 Ford Fairlane station wagon with the wood trim on the sides. When we arrived at their home, Judy and I went in through the kitchen, hung our jackets on the coat tree in the hall, and proceeded to the dining room. Judy’s live-in grandmother had placed two servings of milk and homemade oatmeal cookies along with paper napkins. We didn’t use napkins at our house. The cookies were even placed on china plates!

As I politely nibbled my cookies, I saw through the dining room picture window that a lake was close by with a shady patch of woods between the house and the waterfront. Judy’s house had lots of windows— it was a big house—and I remember the golden autumn leaves falling from the trees that lined the slope, and twirling into the dark water near the shore.

After the cookies, we did our homework. When we were finished, Judy said, “Let’s go in the living room.”

I followed shyly, a couple feet behind her.

Judy’s living room stretched from here to there with islands of thick oriental carpets laid upon the wall-to-wall carpeting and it’s centerpiece was a piano that stood across the room. It was a well-waxed baby grand piano. I had never seen a baby grand piano. (I had seen Liberace play a larger one with a candelabra on The Ed Sullivan Show while my father snorted at Liberace’s costumes.)

I drifted onto a carpet and marveled as my feet sunk into the pile. Judy’s grandmother was settled on a sofa with a cup of tea in her lap.

Judy approached the piano with me close behind.

When her grandmother nodded, Judy pulled out the piano bench and sat down to play. I stood by as she lifted the cover off the keyboard, and I watched her fingers dancing lightly over the keys. She effortlessly played some simple songs that I immediately wanted to learn. I went home that night talking excitedly about piano lessons, but Mummy shook her head back and forth. She said “No. Definitely, not.”

“You just want to play piano because Judy does,” Mummy said. “I don’t want to hear another word about it. And don’t you mention it to your father.”

If I had said I wanted to play the accordion like my cousin Marilyn, that might have been different. If I said I wanted to play polkas on the accordion and march in the Fourth of July parade wearing a traditional white Polish dress with a black velvet vest embroidered with flowers, and a ring of flowers and velvet ribbons in my hair—they might not have been suspicious of that. But I didn’t want to play the accordion.

I only wanted to play the piano.

They wouldn’t have to worry about driving me to any parades because I was pretty sure you couldn’t haul a piano to a parade. And they wouldn’t have to buy me any fancy costumes.

I only wanted to play the piano.

But, no. I was defeated as swiftly as a hammer blow, and furthermore, I was never allowed to visit Judy’s house again, lest I get any more bright ideas about piano playing.


Fifty-five years later—fifty-five years!—I was sitting in my mother’s living room with my mother and my brother Dicky aka Dick. Of course, by then he was no longer known as “Dicky” to anyone except Mummy. She’ll always call him “Dicky”, even if he’s eighty years old. My mother was sitting absentmindedly in her chair near the fireplace. Dick was telling me about how he hoped to learn to play the piano during his approaching retirement years.

I shared with him the story of the piano at Judy’s—while noting my mother’s rejection in a quiet aside from behind my cupped hand—and I sighed as I admitted that I also had always wanted to play the piano.

Suddenly, my mother awakened from one of her more frequent lapses into dementia and began to speak from across the room.

“My sisters and I loved to play the piano,” Mummy said.

“The three of us would play side by side at the same time. It was so much fun! I sure did love playing the piano!”

Dick and I just looked at each other. There was nothing left to say.



Lest this end on a wrong note (groan), let me share the John Smith & Partners Christmas Ad 2018 that brought back this memory and inspired this evening’s blog post. (John Smith & Partners are a high-end UK department store.) Maybe you’ll get goosebumps, like I did.

I suggest that you view this Full Screen.

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I’m in New England for a month, hiking and writing. Climbed Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield the other day—before the snow came. Now I’m hoping that there’s some snowmelt so I can climb The Cobbles on the Appalachian Trail in Dalton MA. Cheers! L.

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