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The Calico Pen: Piano tales from Marlene to grandson

by Carol Holoboff
| October 1, 2009 12:00 AM

Marlene had a piano. Marlene had everything.

She had a picture in her room that glowed in the dark and a rocking horse with a tail made from real horse hair. Her mother didn't work and she gave us warm homemade bread after school. However, the thing that Marlene had that I was most envious of was a piano.

My mother stopped working and we had to move to an apartment building across town. The landlady in the apartment had a piano. When my mother and I went to her apartment I would literally tremble with the desire to play with her piano, but I couldn't get up the courage to ask.

Then one day, close to Christmastime, the lady asked me if I would like to play her piano while they drank their coffee. By the time mother was ready to leave, I had picked out "O Come All Ye Faithful."

There was a piano in the dayroom of the orphanage where I went to live after mother died, but the nuns wouldn't let me play it because I couldn't read music. But at the State School for Girls, where I lived when I was a teenager, the girls could sign up for one hour a week in the piano room. I discovered that I didn't need to read sheet music. My music was in my head.

There were other pianos in my stops along the way to today, but the first piano I owned was an old upright that had a few missing keys and lots of scratches and dents in its huge frame. It was free for the taking, but the taking wasn't easy and I still have memories of that move in the lower part of my back when the weather changes.

That piano and I were together for many "Happy Birthdays to You" and "Jingle Bells" until the divorce. When the children and I left, we had to leave the old upright behind.

With a new love, came a new piano. My new husband's work took us all over the Northwest and when we stopped at bars and restaurants where there was a piano, I sometimes played for the customers. He gifted me with what I had pined for my entire life, my very own brand new piano.

We moved many times but no matter the configuration of the steps, porches and entryways, we moved my piano with us. When the children began leaving home the piano went with them to campus dorms and apartments, and suburbia, but none of them ever really learned to play and it sat unused and unappreciated until the next sibling wanted it.

When I learned, the piano was in a musty, cob-webby, storage shed; we brought it home again. Although I was unable to stretch my arthritic fingers across an octave I found a place for it on an inside wall and soon it shouldered the photographs of my growing matriarchy.

Then one day, I saw that look of wistful longing on the face of my youngest grandson as he fingered the keyboard.

"Would you like to learn to play the piano?" I asked.

His face lit up from cheek to cheek and he clapped his hands with joy when I told him I would pay for lessons and that he could come to my house to practice after school each day.

The next spring, at his first recital, he surprised me by playing a duet with his teacher and then played a small composition that he had written. He was a natural.

We moved the piano to his home and now the aged instrument has new purpose. From deep within the old frame comes a new sound. The sound of the future.

(Carol Holoboff is a former Libby resident who now writes her column from Great Falls).