The Piano

Article 10.09.2012 01:30

Childhood recollections of a grand piano left to decay in an abandoned house

Music had always been an element in the home life of my parent’s families. Both of my maternal grandparents could play the piano. I had several chances to hear my grandmother play while she was living, but I never had a chance to hear my grandfather at the piano. However, I did hear my grandfather sing many times (he was also an accomplished whistler with an incredible range). He also fashioned flutes from the bamboo that ran wild when his neighbor's nursery was abandoned. My grandfather used a template to space the finger holes. Typically, he would play hymn tunes on these flutes. My mother and father sang in the church choir. My father made up his own absurd little songs with rhyming verses that featured the names of Wilmington streets – he was a clerk at the post office, and that was his way of remembering the city route schemes.

Very little seriousness took place while I was growing up. My mother played her collection of 78 rpm records while drawing. My father carried my brother and me around town exploring abandoned buildings, fishing, and watching trains come and go at the station. My first exposure to the piano was due to my father’s penchant for exploration. One day while walking home from my grandfather’s produce market at the corner of Oleander Drive and Forty-Second Street, my dad took a shortcut on Strawberry Avenue. It was merely a dirt path that cut from Forty-Second to Forty-First. On this particular occasion the door to the neighbor's abandoned house was wide open. (I believe I was about five or six years old at the time.) The front parlor of the modest house looked as if somebody was still living in it. Pictures were still hanging on what I think was a pastel yellow wall, and the room was completely furnished – lamps, sofa, and chairs, but a grand piano dominated the entire room. My parents and grandparents didn’t have a piano at this point in time, so this was the first one I had ever seen. I didn’t even know what it was! My father explained what it was, and played a few notes. I then cautiously played a few notes on the low end of the keyboard. I was in awe of the resonance of the rich bass tones. Then we closed the door and left.

Years later, as a teenage, I went looking for the old house in the jungle of bamboo that had grown up around it. The house had collapsed, and the ground was littered with piano keys, hammers, and shattered wood.


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