Our first piano was a basement piano: an ugly old upright painted thick with orange. Many of its teeth were chipped; some were missing their enamel altogether, and on these keys, someone had penciled in their names: C..D…E
Once a day, I’d go down the basement steps, gray with black stick-on treads and cross the orange tiled floor and seat myself at that old piano, fully intending to practice. But instead, I’d find myself pretending I was the piano player at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bonanza—banging the keys on that upright mercilessly without regard for sound or rhythm. I’d end my performance in a magnificent glissando covering the entire span of white keys before spinning around on my bench to face my invisible audience—the ping pong table, too—for the thunderous applause that only I could hear.
And then my mother’s voice would float down the stairs. “Is that your lesson?”
Well, no. It wasn’t. But it was a whole lot more interesting than A Dozen a Day and Scales and Chords are Fun.
My sisters and I pursued this lackluster approach to our lessons as long as we could, gamely faking our way through our weekly lessons, occasionally causing the old hound dog to howl at our efforts.
And then one day, we were invited to the piano teacher’s house for tea.
Oh, how lovely, I probably thought. Mrs. F enjoys us so much, she’d like to have us to tea.
The table was set. The tea was poured. The cookies were set upon a plate. The piano teacher’s mother and husband were nowhere to be seen. Even the dog had seemingly disappeared. I was too pleased with myself to be suspicious. I felt suddenly grown up, sitting there, drinking tea—real tea—out of fancy cups with saucers. And then Mrs. F, petite, gentle Mrs. F began to lecture. “You know,” she began, sweetly enough, blowing upon her tea. “Your parents work hard to send you to these lessons.”
I set down my tea. The liquid suddenly tasted bitter.
“And you’re not keeping up your end of the bargain.” She stared intently at each of us in turn.
I pushed away my tea. I refused to eat my cookies. I would punish Mrs. F with my steely gaze.
“I cannot continue to teach you girls if you're unwilling to practice. I can’t take your parents’ good money.”
Within five minutes, she had the three of us in tears. Our tea grew cold in the pretty cups. The cookies were ignored.
I hated Mrs. F that day.
But the three of us practiced long and hard that week and we continued to practice long and hard until we were back in her good graces again.
And, I’m happy to report, we were never invited to tea again.To read part two of The Permanence of Elephants, click here.
Labels: Community, Girls, Growing up, Piano Lessons, Teachers