Like everything else of importance, the piano teacher’s home was on Main Street. The house was small and painted a light gray and full of mystery and contradiction. A huge magnolia tree shaded the path from the sidewalk to the three concrete steps leading to the porch. Formed into the risers of the first step and the third were identical images of a fat elephant in profile. I never knew how those elephants got there and never thought to ask. My six year old self imagined that the elephants had been chiseled out by some former teenaged occupant of the house. But my older self—my adult self—eventually realized that was unlikely: The images were too perfect; too uniform; too deep. Perhaps a form was pressed into the concrete before it dried. Perhaps the images were carved into wet cement the way my children would—years later—use a nail to carve their initials into the new concrete floor in my father’s equipment barn. I will never know the story of how they got there, but those elephants were as much a part of the piano teacher’s house as the piano teacher’s house was a part of Main Street.
Mom would let us off in the driveway, one of us lugging the bag of piano books. We’d climb the three stairs, grasping the black iron railing that occasionally flaked paint onto sweaty palms, and ring the bell. The front door opened into a sitting room: Inside it was cool and dark and somewhat musty. Mrs. F, the piano teacher, stood before us, her hair neat and elegant, her makeup flawless. She wore a skirt and blouse or a simple dress, a cloud of perfume clinging to the fabric. And always nylons and heels. “Who’s first today, girls?”
The designated girl would head through the front room into the converted dining room and seat herself at the grand piano, tiny legs swinging above golden pedals. And if it was summer, the remaining sisters would head back out the front door, amid promises to return in three quarters of an hour. Thus freed, we would turn right and walk past three houses and head into Lawson’s—a convenient store popular to the area at the time. We’d reach grubby hands into our pockets to reassure ourselves of the nickels and quarters and dimes that we’d use to buy M&Ms and Reese’s Cups. We’d return to the cement front porch where we’d sit and eat our candy and watch the world go by, listening to the banging on the keyboard and the birds singing in the trees.
One year, Dr. M’s place—an old house converted to orthodontic purposes—was torn down. Built in its place was a two story building sided in cedar. I resented that building for its newness, for the fact of its two stories in a one story town, for the beauty of its new siding. But over the years, the building weathered and turned gray and eventually the townspeople adopted it as theirs.
The first floor of that building held a dress shop. And eventually, when we deemed ourselves of sufficient age, my sisters and I began venturing down the walk and inside to the air conditioned shop where we would paw with chocolated hands through endless racks of dresses, pretending to be customers. Of course, we fooled no one but ourselves; believing that we’d succeeded in duping the shopkeeper who followed stealthily behind us, inquiring every so often as to whether we required assistance.
And, when it was time, we’d return to the house of the piano teacher to exchange roles; one of us taking a seat at the piano bench; one of us heading outside into the heat of the day to join her sister at Lawson’s or perhaps the dress shop.
We eventually moved away and changed piano teachers and lost touch with Mrs. F. But still, every time I drive through my old town, I pause outside her house, and look for the elephants carved into the concrete stairs. It seems that small towns and piano teachers and old convenience stores have left a permanent impression in my brain.
This is the first of a four-part series and has been linked up here:
Labels: Community, Country life, Culture, Girls, Growing up, Ohio, Piano Lessons, Sisters, Summer, Teachers