Friday, February 17, 2017

The Piano

I spent today sorting through and listing many things from my many long years on worship team. I have scads of sheet music going up on Ebay along with a metronome, microphones and assorted rhythm instruments. I gave my son my guitar some years back so that just leaves my piano.

This day was coming, I knew it was for quite a long time, and I feared it, thinking it would be hard and I would be am emotional wreck. Today I listed my antique piano on Craigslist and a couple of antiques lists online. The piano represents my childhood to me and a whole lot of unpleasant back history. My mistrust in people.

It's an upright grand, one of the first ones made, custom made for a 'gentlemen's club' in the Chicago of the 1800s. It's solid mahogany, filled with pretty insane amounts of ornamentation. Ostentatious actually. Even tiny things like the knobs holding parts of the sound board are all carved and gilded. It's an instrument that screams luxury.

It came into my family's hands during World War II when my grandmother wanted her eldes daughter to learn to play the piano. During the war it was nigh on impossible to get a new piano and quite costly. My grandmother purchased this one from Wurlein's music on Canal St. in New Orleans.Wurlein's had purchased the piano from the lady that used to run the gentleman's club. She got religion in her older age, left Chicago for New Orleans and sold off her fancy possessions to start an orphanage in New Orleans that still exists to this day. I believe it's the same orphanage that my ex husband was placed as a small baby.

Small, small world isn't it?

The piano went from my grand parent's home to my parents home when I was about six years old. My older aunt never played more than a few years, and her younger sister now did play as a teen, but she had her heart set on a fancy new spinet for her 18th birthday. So the piano ended up in our home.

I remember sitting on the cypress bench my great uncle made in his wood shop with cypress harvested from a nearby bayou, and running my fingers over the ivory keys, being amazed by the sounds it made, the cool weight of the keys pressed against my fingers, but not fully understanding the science behind the magic of the music.

It was years later, when I was in the latter years of elementary school, that my mother insisted I take piano lessons from a nice man who taught undergrads during the week at LSU. I spent many a long Saturday morning at his home awkwardly cranking out simple tunes like 'Greensleeves' or 'A Taste of Honey' or the theme from 'Mash'. Not thrilling stuff.

I wasn't in love with the lessons or practice, it didn't help that I turned into a spaz, freezing like a deer in the headlights at recitals and competitions. My preteen awkwardness was real and humiliating. Once I got into that giggly preteen stage the very last thing I wanted to do on Saturday morning was go to piano lessons because it cut into my social life with my friends. I couldn't spend Friday night at slumber parties, or go to the mall with friends because I had piano lessons. I wasn't that good, I didn't care enough to be better at it. It ws just one of those things I did because my mother decreed it would happen.

When I was 13 I finally stood up to my mother, babbling out that I didn't want to go to piano lessons, I wanted to be able to spend the night with friends, go to the dances at our middle school and sleep in on Saturday morning. A battle royale of the wills. I won.

But something strange happened. Now that I wasn't being forced to take the lessons or practice I found myself playing that piano more than before. I worked my way through the next couple of books in the series, finishing the entire series finally. Playing was enjoyable when it wasn't forced and I didn't have to deal with lessons, recitals or being trotted out to play every time my parents had friends over.

The piano had always been a sore spot between my parents. It was huge, hulking and took up far too much room in the living room. It was seriously Victorian in design with carved curliques  and flowers and didn't fit with our decor at all. My mother had tasteful New England style decor and this thing did not blend with the tasteful beiges and reproduction furniture.

During the time after I stopped all lessons my parents separated and my mother filed for divorce. The divorce was ugly, lots of brutal vocal fighting carried out loudly in the middle of the night with me cowering in my bedroom with my pillow over my head. I was a nervous kid to start with and the combat between my parents added to my worry. My father didn't want the divorce, he was in love with my mother.

Side note: My parents decided to break the news to me about the divorce immediately following a family vacation to the newly opened Disney World park in Orlando, Florida. They told me on the drive home. Don't ever do things like that, it's a serious mind screw to do things like that to your kids. I know they thought that they were softening the blow, but it didn't. It just made the announcement feel just so much odder.

Eventually the divorce fighting escalated to the point where my father forced my mother into selling our house. In retaliation my mother demanded my father remove each and every item from the house that his parents had purchased and gifted to them.

As plans were made with the moving company to take our things to our new apartment I voiced my worry about the piano. We were having it moved, right? My mother told me yes, that the piano was coming with us. The Saturday before the move my father came out to our old house to remove his things with his parents and they told me that they were there to pick up the piano.

I was devastated. I finally loved playing it, was assured we would be taking it with us only to find out that this was a lie. My father claimed my mother told him that he had to come get the piano because she was not paying to move it. My mother claimed that she's made arrangements, paying the movers to cart that piano with us, but my father and his family demanded the piano back.

This situation did a real number on me. I didn't know who to believe, both of them were telling completely different stories about the piano. I decided right then that I could not trust either of them, or anyone else. The echos of that painful day have played out through the years, leading to me having a terrible time trusting in people, or believing anything anyone said. I date my slide into drugs and bad behavior to that time. It was a pivotal moment for me.

I do remember going full tilt Captain Insano on my father and his parents, ranting so hard against everything they stood for and valued. It felt good to explode and tell them all what I thought. I know I shocked them all, but it was no more than the shock I myself had received.

Many years later when I was recounting that day to my therapist and my difficulties with the issues of trust she asked me to talk to both of my parents and ask what the truth was. I did. My mother said she 'didn't remember' the details, and what she did remember wasn't the same as what she'd originally told me. My father said the same thing he'd been saying since that day, that my mother insisted that the piano go back to his family with the rest of the things. I still didn't know the truth, not for sure, but it gave me a good idea who the liar was.

That Christmas I was down in South Louisiana visiting my parents when my father told me had a big surprise for me. It was my piano! He got my piano back as a Christmas present for me. He'd purchased back my piano from the family member who'd eventually ended up with it. I could not have been happier!

It's lived in my not too large living room all these years now, 22 years now. I've played it. I taught my son how to read music and the rudimentary of playing of piano. My husband has played 'Moonlight Sonata' on it for me. During my worship team years I loved to play it in worship. My piano has been a deep part of my life. Getting it again brought me a measure of healing, allowing me to move past that parental betrayal I'd carried for years.

Jim, he of the budget and being tight with a buck, didn't even object when I had my piano restrung and restored to concert upright grand tone, new hammers, new works nearly twenty years ago. He didn't complain over the large expense having it carted up to Virginia from south Louisiana.

When we first started talking about the Costa Rican move I started to grief for all the things I was going to have to give up. One of those was my piano. It cannot stay in the house for the rental. Just getting it into this house involved removing the back French doors and five guys with a piano dolly.

None of my kids want it. It's a huge old beast.

Today I listed my precious piano on Craigslist and I'm feeling no mourning whatsoever. I haven't played in a long time now, and letting go feels more like another phase in healing, in letting go, than anything else. Feels like a piano-shaped weight has come off my chest. I don't know why that is, but it cannot be a bad thing, can it?

I hope it finds a good home with a small child more excited to take piano lessons than I ever was. I hope it's loved and appreciated.

Why do we hold on so tightly to the things of the past? I'm letting all of that go after too many years now.

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