How my mother paid for the old piano is somewhat of a mystery. With a fresh leg of lamb? A pair of newborn kids? In trade for my pony? One thing is certain, I started playing piano around age nine – later than my farm-country peers whose fingers zipped up and down the keys at recitals in our Oregon church’s airy sanctuary while mine trembled.
Music brought joy to my mother, a single college student raising my brother and me while running a farm. In my earliest memories, she sang folk songs and played her Appalachian mountain dulcimer, made from an old fence post, which she balanced on one leg crossed over her knee. She also played the harp, penny whistle, organ, parlor pipes and nose flute (look it up).
As a child, I dreamed of being a country western singer or starring in the musical Annie. However, I spent far more time playing with my model horses and riding my fat pony, Mr. Favor, around our sheep pasture than practicing scales, which is why I never progressed far beyond the First Grade Book of John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano (Something New in Every Lesson).
When my mother sold our farm and drove my brother and me across the country to Maine, our hefty mahogany upright rattled across the country after us in the back of a moving truck driven by a family friend. My piano playing never improved as much as my mother probably hoped, but over the following four decades, that old piano followed me from my grandmother’s house (where we lived for a year) to my mother’s house to a house of my own.
Five of my six children learned to stand by clinging to the sturdy keyboard. As their fat fingers pressed each key, their round eyes gleamed and they squealed with delight. Two of them eventually learned to play it. The youngest, Asher and Ezra, I began teaching to play during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Ezra, 8, stuck with it.
Now, nearly two years later, Ezra’s ability has outgrown the piano (along with my husband’s ability to fix it). The pedals don’t work. Several keys don’t play. And a wood panel is peeling away from one side. And so for Christmas I found a good used piano that my husband, Dana, and three strapping volunteers plan to lug home this week. But what to do with the old one, the piano that has anchored almost every home I’ve ever lived in?
“We could drive it downtown in the middle of the night and leave it on a sidewalk for public music performances,” I suggested to Dana. “Or roll it into the woods for the raccoons and deer.”
“We could burn it,” he said.
“For everything there is a season,” the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to harvest. A time to kill, and a time to heal” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NLT).
I suppose that if Solomon had owned a piano, had dragged it across the country and up and down countless flight of stairs from one home to another, he would have included “a time to rehome an old piano.”
In hope that someone may want it (for an exhibit of ageing instruments?), I plan to post a free listing online. “Sturdy and out of tune piano,” Ezra suggested I write. “Comes with a free bench.”
To which I would add, and a whole lot of soul.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Backward Easter Egg Hunt and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. If you’re looking for a new old piano, connect at www.meadowrue.com