The Piano Lessons

Several unconstrained dogs lived between our house and Mrs. White’s.  I was wasting my breath as I begged my older sister, Sue to slow down as we walked to piano lessons.  I was deathly afraid of strange dogs.  Justifiably, my begging was sincere, prolonged, and truth be told, annoying.  

My whining lasted the entire 15-minute walk.  

“Wait.  Stop leaving me,” I begged. “Slow down.”

Then pleaded. “Don’t leave me. Please.”

Complaining, “You’re walking too fast.” 

You get the idea.  

Sue looked back over her shoulder at me and uttered two words through clenched teeth.        “Shut up.” 

Sue had left home in a temper because she hated taking piano lessons.  Evidently, the angrier she became, the faster she walked.  We covered the five blocks to Mrs. White’s house in record time.  

Unfortunately, this scenario was a weekly occurrence.  Why our mother insisted that Sue take piano lessons surpassed the logic of my nine-year-old mind.  The piano confrontations went beyond just taking classes.  As beginning students, Mrs. White recommended that we practice 30 minutes a day.   

Both Sue and I objected to the practice time.  We had more exciting ways to fill that 30-minutes.  I practiced without complaining but with a standing objection.  Sue, on the other hand, refused.

The recurring battle of wills over piano lessons ensued.    

After serving my 30 minutes, it was now showtime for Sue.  Mama would lead the way into the living room, where she stood beside the piano stool, waiting.  And, waiting.  And, waiting.  Finally, Sue appeared, literally dragging her feet, trying to run out the clock before practice began. Who was she trying to fool?  Our mother?  Ridiculous.  Give credit where credit is due.  She tried.   

Sue took the piano stool after glaring at the piano in disgust.  Mama sat on the sofa as she checked her watch and noted the time.  Let the framming begin.  Looking back, why I stayed in the room is a mystery.  Even more mysterious is that Mama fell asleep while Sue banged away on the innocent keys.  

Suddenly, the playing stopped.  Sue turned around and realized that Mama was dozing.  I nervously watched as Sue prepared to leave.  But not before covering her bases.  With nerves of steel, Sue tiptoed over to the sofa where she gently lifted Mama’s left arm and advanced the hands on her little black Timex watch.  

Watching her in action made me extremely uneasy.  I wanted no part of this.  And then she looked at me and said in her most menacing voice, “You better not tell, or you’ll be sorry.”  Being sorry could mean many things when dealing with Sue, who could be both scary and convincing when making threats.  

“She’ll know.  You’re going to be in trouble,” I said in a timid voice.  

She whispered.

“No, she won’t.  Unless you tell-and, you had better not.” 

She left.  

I immediately shook Mama awake and gave a play-by-play of what had transpired as she slept. Then, of course, I mentioned the dire threats which were utmost in my mind.  Looking at the small grandfather clock which sat on the top shelf of the bookcase, Mama re-set her Timex, assured me Sue wouldn’t hurt me, and headed to the kitchen to cook supper. 

Sue never went back to piano lessons again.  The battle was over.  I continued to take classes for the next couple of years.  Although, I practiced for 30 minutes, at least twice a week, I never became a great piano player.     

Frequently, my granny would ask me to play from an old worn Baptist Hymnal – “The Great Physician” and “In the Sweet By and By.”  Both hymns were challenging for me, but I tried.   I played, and Granny sang.  We were quite the pair—me, with severely limited piano skills, she with a worn singing voice.  But the misplayed keys and a voice that could no longer reach the high notes were of no significance to either of us.   So today, when I think of my granny, these times of making “a joyful noise, unto the Lord,” immediately comes to mind.  

Often, it’s the small and seemingly insignificant things in life that shine through with clarity in later years that reaffirm that every single moment of our lives has meaning—even piano lessons.