Winters, we took refuge on the red velvet loveseat that was pressed against the windows of the front room of the piano teacher’s house. I would run my thumbnail against the grain of the fabric, drawing pictures in velvet, listening to the warm-up scales of my sister. On the table to the right there was a wooden box, which I felt entitled to open. Inside there were dried rose petals—yellow—that must have held some great significance for the piano teacher. But I considered them only for their entertainment value as I opened the box, inhaled the memory of scent and thoughtlessly poked a tiny index finger into fragile recollections.
On the coffee table in front of the velvet loveseat, there were all manner of magazines: Woman’s Day…McCall’s… the scandalous Cosmopolitan… and it was this magazine that presented the first contradiction: How could such a proper woman—a woman whose constant uniform was a dress and nylons and heels; a woman whose first name was Evelyn; a woman who loved Beethoven and Mozart and Liszt—have any interest in Cosmopolitan? No matter. I studied those magazines intently, wondering whether this marriage could be saved and reading serialized fiction, paying particular attention to the photographs and the saucier articles in Cosmo.
To the left of the red velvet couch, there was a recliner—green vinyl. And next to that recliner was an ash tray on a tall stand. Those two items looked as out of place in that room as my sisters and I looked in the dress shop down the street. Perhaps in deference to Mrs. F’s sensibilities, the ash tray was gold. It had a lid, also gold, and a black push button that spun the lid around and down, winging the ash off the lid and into the hidden depths below. Every week, the ashtray was clean and new and I would pass a few minutes pushing the black button, watching the lid spin and descend before rising again.
The last chair in the room had lace doilies along the back and arms and a needlepoint footstool in front. This chair belonged to the piano teacher’s mother, Mrs. T: an ancient woman with watery eyes behind bifocals. She was shortish and fattish and had a head full of tight white curls. Mrs. T would slowly come down the dark wooden stairs, grasping tightly to the heavy banister. “Hello, girls,” she would say, sighing gently into her chair and waiting for her daughter to bring her a cup of coffee.
Sometime in the middle of the second lesson, the piano teacher’s husband would arrive home from work wearing his blue coveralls. “Afternoon!” he would roar.
“Oh, Bud.” Mrs. F would look up and give a disciplinary frown.
He’d stomp into the kitchen with his big black lunchbox then head to his bedroom, the stairs protesting beneath his heavy tread. A few moments later, he would descend again, wearing his at-home uniform: jeans, a tee-shirt, and always a cigar. Mr. F was loud to his wife's quiet. He was large to her small. In his own gentle way, he was rough. He’d sit in his recliner and call to the hound dog, who would jump into his lap. And while he rubbed that dog’s ears, Mr. F would talk to us about life.
And if an ambulance or a fire truck should happen to pass by on Main, that old hound dog would leap from Mr. F’s lap and onto the red velvet loveseat. He’d put his paws on the backrest, raise his head to the sky and howl piteously. Mr. F would laugh and Mrs. F would frown merrily and my sisters and I would cover our ears and smile.
And after I was summoned to my lesson, I would smooth down the drawing in the red velvet couch and rise to my feet.
Note: To read the first part of The Permanence of Elephants, click here.
Labels: Community, Country life, Girls, Growing up, Piano Lessons, Treasures