The piano sits silent in MawMaw’s dining room. It collects dust and knick knacks and is all but forgotten by everyone who visits.
As a long-legged, scabbed-knee little girl, I was fascinated by that piano, spent countless hours sitting on its bench, exploring its secrets. I would caress the slightly yellowed keys, press up and down on the squeaky pedals with feet that just barely reached. Sometimes, MawMaw would join me on the bench, and together we’d play chopsticks until the whole household would groan in collective annoyance.
MawMaw can play by ear. She has no need for music; she can just magically find the notes on the yellowed keys, some inherent skill for rhythm and tune that still escapes me to this day. Her skill fascinated me as a child. To be able to sit down at that lovely instrument and just play was something I yearned for, and MawMaw yearned for one of her grandchildren to follow in her footsteps and love the piano as she did.
“She has the long, graceful fingers of a piano player,” I remember her telling Mama and Daddy, a hopeful tone in her voice. Looking down at my stubby, fat fingers now, I wonder how they might have ever appeared long and graceful, but in Mawmaw’s eyes, they were.
Because of her and my keen interest her piano, Mama and Daddy decided to pay for piano lessons for me. Luckily, my Aunt Dera taught lessons. Two nights a week, I went to my aunt and uncle’s house in Tallapoosa to receive the lessons and put my piano-playing fingers to work.
Their glossy black piano was much different from the oak upright that MawMaw played. Its keys were whiter than white and gleamed as my fingers danced across them. Dera patiently sat beside me on the bench and introduced to me the unfamiliar language of music.
Notes and scales and music books cluttered the desk stand above the keyboard, as well as my mind. Happily, and it took plenty of long, frustrating hours of practice, I finally learned a couple of songs. I could pound out a decent “Jingle Bells” and “Jesus Loves Me,” but my specialty by far was the celebratory notes of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
When I sat down at MawMaw's piano last weekend after gorging myself on her yummy roast and potatoes, my fingers found the notes of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." It took a couple of tries and a few missed keys, but the song came back to me, hesitantly at first and then stronger. The piano seemed to remember me.
Unbidden, tears filled my eyes as I reacquainted myself with this old friend from childhood, its keys and pedals as familiar to me as any doll or toy that I ever played with. The knob was still missing from the key cover where I had twisted and turned it a million times in play. The keys were still yellowed and older than when I last touched them, but as beautiful as any instrument I had ever seen.
After my impromptu reunion, MawMaw sat down with us and reminisced of times when PawPaw had asked her to play for him. She would oblige and play for a long while; when she’d return to him in the living room, he’d be propped up in his recliner, sound asleep. We laughed, as she told us how she’d ask him if he was listening, and he would smile and say he heard every note, that he was just resting his eyes.
I can almost hear him say it, eyes closed, big grin on his face. The piano was a gift to her from him, an outward sign of their shared love. I guess that's probably why I love it so, because when I look at it, I see PawPaw's heart, and when I play it, I hear his heart.
It's true that the piano may sit silent in MawMaw’s dining room now, but in this girl's heart, the memories attached to it will play on forever.