I said good-bye to an old friend on Saturday.
When I was about eleven years old, My auntie offered me the old piano that had been at their house for years and years. I wanted to learn to play piano. My desire was to get as good as my cousin, Bonnie, who could play for crowds while they sang, and it looked so wonderful. I was probably just looking for the attention, more than anything else, but when my Aunt Freda said that I could have their old one, I was elated.
It rode from Wilmington to Greenwood on the back of a truck. Not an easy or gentle ride. It was big and black and ugly, but it played, and the tuner said that it was a “diamond in the rough” and that was enough for me. Especially after my Sweet Mama and Oldest Brother spent a day with paint remover and uncovered a beautiful piece of furniture under all that black paint.
I tried to learn to play it. I took lessons from old Ami Hamstead, and I think I was a sore trial to his orderly soul. I early learned to play by ear almost anything that I knew well. The melody line was usually accurate and the harmony wasn’t the notes, but more like the chords. Oh, and I never figured out many complicated chords. I found my twelve bass accordion an accommodating friend as well, and I spent many hours squalling away on that or plinking my own versions of familiar songs on the piano. I spared poor Mr. Hamstead some anxiety by quitting the lessons after about a year. And the years passed.
Then I got married and moved to Ohio. The heavy old piano had stayed at the old home place, and been relegated to the closed in porch. Through the heat of many a summer and the cold of many a winter, it was pretty much just a space occupier. But then Youngest Sister and her husband bought the home place and by that time, Certain Man and I were back in Delaware.
“Mary Ann,” said my little sister one day (probably in 1985), “If you want that old piano, you had better get it. If you don’t want it, I’m getting rid of it. It can go to the dump for all I care.”’
I was alarmed. Not my piano! “No, don’t do that,” I told her. “I want it.”
“Well, if you want it, you had better get it. I want it out of here!”
And so I went to my patient and loving husband and prevailed upon him to line up some help to move the heavy old piano from Youngest Sister’s house to our house. It was just a short trip – maybe two miles. Again they brought it on the back of a pickup truck, and heaved and groaned and shoved and pulled until they had it almost into our big green room. And then it happened. Don’t ask me how, because I truly don’t know, but some how, Certain Man managed to set it down on his toe.
This piano weighed 560 pounds. Setting it down on a toe is not advisable, either in consideration of the toe or the disposition of the one to whom the toe is attached. Certain Man writhed in pain and made great unhappy noises. If he hadn’t been in the company of watchful beings, the piano may have suffered bodily injury as well. I have often said that Certain Man had a grudge against that piano from that moment on. This is a subject which comes up frequently in the discussions about the piano. But the piano was in the house by the time the toe was injured, so it stayed. And when we moved from Andrewsville Road in 1989, Certain Man looked at it darkly, hinted that this might be a good time to get rid of it, but he and his trusty helpers eventually loaded it up on the back of a really big truck and took it 15 miles to Milford, where it was unloaded into the living room at Shady Acres. It has been here ever since.
We have a great many happy memories surrounding the old piano. We used it for many a year for the inspirational and energetic singing that our small group loved to do together. Friend Karen has made the old piano do things that made some pretty pitiful sounding people sound (actually) pretty good. The families from Certain Man’s office have come every Christmas for almost seven years and one of the things we always do is sing the songs of Christmas with the glorious music that Karen was able to produce out of the century old instrument.
In the last few years, the tuner has been warning me that the days were numbered. He would sigh and try to once again get it into some resemblance of tune to see us at least through the holidays. Last week, he came out to the kitchen where I was making a pot of soup and told me that it was just useless.
“If you gave me $10,000.00 and told me to fix it,” he said sadly, “I couldn’t do it. There is just nothing left. The hammers are moth eaten and the screws won’t stay tight. I’m so sorry, but I cannot conscientiously charge you to tune this piano when I know it isn’t any use. What it needs is an international prayer chain for its healing, but I’m afraid that even that isn’t going to do much good.”
I reasoned with him, reminded him of its wonderful tone, its gorgeous woodwork, and the memories that we have. He was very understanding, and he offered to try to get it through the holidays again, but he said that it really wasn’t a good investment of time and money.
“What should we do with it?” I asked him. I thought that maybe there was a place just looking for old pianos like this. I mean, I loved it so much, I could hardly bear to think of it not being worth something.
“I can tell you the place,” he said firmly. “It’s down at Hardscrabble (an actual place in Delaware where our most famous landfill is located). It’s called the DUMP. It’s the best place for it. Yes, it’s a beautiful piece of furniture, but it is useless as a piano. And old pianos are a dime a dozen. There are so many of them around, and there just is no use for them.”
I like my old piano tuner. He is a little like my piano. Old and worn out, but precious because of a rich history, and because someone loves him. And he is a person. Not a thing, and as a person with a great deal of earnest emotion, he told me these things in the presence of the Man with the injured toe. And it didn’t take Certain Man very long to decide that if the piano was really not worth repairing, that the best time to get rid of it was NOW.
So, once again, he rallied his troops around him, and called up the swarthy forces that involve Beloved Son in Law, Eldest Son, and friend Joel, and they showed up on Saturday around noon and they took that old piano out of here. For good. Before they all descended upon the house, I went in and sat at the old piano one more time. I looked at its intricate woodwork, and played a few of my familiar old songs. I thought about the need that it filled in my life, and the memories that are so full of warmth and hope and laughter and music. And I cried some silly tears.
They dismantled part of it to try to make it a little easier to load, and I rescued the intricately carved front piece/hymnal holder. Middle Daughter has a strong artistic imagination, I was certain that she could think of something that would be an interesting use for that almost perfect piece of antique wood.
I couldn’t bear to watch as they slid it out of the living room and onto the waiting pickup. Yes. It rode out on the back of yet another pickup. “Aw, Mom,” said Oldest Son tenderly. “You really feel bad, don’t you?” He hugged me against his strong chest and patted my shoulder. “You’ll be okay, Mom. But I know it is hard.” That made me cry some more.
I felt like I was betraying a friend, and it tugged at my heart more than I ever dreamed that it would. I kept telling myself it was all so silly. After all, It was just a piano. All over this world, there are far greater losses than an old piano that isn’t worth fixing. And that causes me to think about what is really important to me. What are the things that cause me to bend the proverbial knee of my carnal heart? Why can’t I recognize those behaviors and things that make me want more when so many people in this world have so little?
I don’t think it is wrong to enjoy things that make memories, bring us pleasure, allow us to share, etc. But this old piano has made me do a lot of thinking about holding things dear to our hearts that aren’t eternal. What we’ve been given can become so important to us when in fact, it is a tool, entrusted to us for the sake of the Kingdom. And it is right to use things to make memories, draw people in, share with them the good news of Salvation. But things should be a means to an end, not the stuff we hang our hearts on..
“You can get another one,” say the soothsayers.
“No, I can’t,” is my standard answer to that. “There isn’t any other piano that is worth the money when it doesn’t have the history, the memories that this one did.” Maybe I need to rethink that. I don’t know. That old piano isn’t somewhere feeling rejected. It isn’t troubled by the way Certain Man felt about it or the decision to get rid of it. It bothers me, but it doesn’t bother the piano. It won’t shed a single silly tear if we decide to replace it. And the things we always used it for are still a part of our lives, of our plans for the future.
I guess there is a place for another piano at our house. I just don’t know if there is space.