The Permanence of Elephants

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: , , , , , , , , ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: The Permanence of Elephants

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Permanence of Elephants

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: , , , , , , , , ,

50 Comments:

At July 19, 2011 at 10:18 AM , Anonymous Songbyrd1958 said...

beautifully written. What great memories.

 
At July 19, 2011 at 10:43 AM , Anonymous Terry Stoufer said...

Thank you for taking me on yet another trip inside your memories. Simple yet sweet moments of your life. Detailing and pulling all my senses in. Lovely.

 
At July 19, 2011 at 11:14 AM , Anonymous Annie said...

Wonderful memories and great visuals you offer us. Terrific!

 
At July 19, 2011 at 11:29 AM , Anonymous journeytoepiphany said...

What lovely images...and you left us with the mystery. The mystery of who and why? Thanks!

 
At July 19, 2011 at 11:52 AM , Anonymous Deborah Lawrenson said...

Lovely writing, Kelly. Such a strong sense of what it was like to be there, and wonder about the odd images.

 
At July 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thank you all for reading. I'm hoping to continue with this post in the next couple of days!

 
At July 19, 2011 at 2:15 PM , Anonymous Julieemoore said...

Memories like these never die. It's strange how some things stick with us forever. Loved the retelling of your experience with your piano teacher and the elephants.

 
At July 19, 2011 at 6:54 PM , Anonymous elizabeth young said...

This post reminded me of the music lessons I used to have as a child. Thanks for sharing this piece of your world!

 
At July 22, 2011 at 9:10 PM , Anonymous Ms Ixy said...

And a permanent impression on mine - beautiful, vivid descriptions. Piano teachers can be an odd bunch: I still remember the eccentricities of mine clearly!

 
At July 23, 2011 at 6:26 AM , Anonymous Cristina said...

your writing is amazing...
"Like everything else of importance, the piano teacher's home was on Main Street." This is one of the best first lines I've read.

 
At July 23, 2011 at 8:11 AM , Anonymous style maniac said...

So well done. Sounds like the start of a book I'd like very much to read.

 
At July 23, 2011 at 6:43 PM , Anonymous Little Gumnut said...

what vivid memories. I can feel the pleasantness of childhood as if the memories were my own!

 
At July 23, 2011 at 6:59 PM , Anonymous Mel said...

Funny the things, like those elephants, that remain in our memories from childhood. What a great job describing the detail of these trips.

 
At July 24, 2011 at 2:52 PM , Anonymous TMW Hickman said...

Wonderfully evocative writing...I was there on the street with you, especially when you had chocolate.

 
At July 25, 2011 at 7:56 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thank you! There was so much freedom back then. I loved that I could walk to the store on my own.

 
At July 25, 2011 at 7:56 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Mel!

 
At July 25, 2011 at 7:57 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks so much for reading!

 
At July 25, 2011 at 7:57 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading! I may combine the four stories into a larger essay and see if I can do anything with that.

 
At July 25, 2011 at 7:58 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks so much, Christina! I miss Main Street America.

 
At July 25, 2011 at 7:58 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks so much for reading!

 
At August 27, 2011 at 6:08 AM , Anonymous katieross83 said...

Kelly, this was beautiful. The images you painted so perfectly filled my head and made me fill a part of the memory, of the entire scene. I love that the elephants, an animal known for its memory, is part of what keeps this memory alive for you. And the title of the piece is just perfect. Thank you so much for linking this up; I'm so thrilled for the chance to read it!

 
At August 27, 2011 at 6:33 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thank you for reading! Looking forward to participating more on your site.

 
At August 27, 2011 at 7:15 AM , Anonymous May said...

It seems that small towns and piano teachers and old convenience stores have left a permanent impression in my brain.

Mine too! You convey the feel of that small town so honestly and clearly. I love that it took until the siding greyed for the town to claim the two story bldg.!

From the title to the last word, you had my full attention.

 
At August 27, 2011 at 7:39 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, May!

 
At August 27, 2011 at 11:15 AM , Anonymous Kyria Wilson said...

Ah, such fond memories! I love how sometimes one thing really sticks! It sounds like those elephants were one of a kind.

This post makes me want to go back home to my own small town.

 
At August 27, 2011 at 12:59 PM , Anonymous Kim said...

So lovely and detailed and sweet and well-paced, in the slow steps of a tinkering pianist. I like that you linked this with the "Loss" linkup, especially because, for me, it is such a subtle loss. But one that sticks with you.

 
At August 27, 2011 at 1:14 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks so much for reading! I'd love to go back home.

 
At August 27, 2011 at 1:15 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading.

 
At August 27, 2011 at 7:07 PM , Anonymous Jackie said...

What a great piece, filled with such detail. There is something remarkable, I believe about piano teachers that somehow pieces of them end up ingrained in our memory. Whenever I see a cained high back chair, my mind races to Mrs. D, my piano teacher.

 
At August 27, 2011 at 9:19 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Jackie!

 
At September 16, 2011 at 3:08 PM , Anonymous MJ Scott said...

What vivid details. It invoked a few of my long buried memories of piano lessons. Thank you

 
At September 23, 2011 at 1:03 PM , Anonymous Casing Joy said...

Is it possible that Ms. F is still there? Maybe you should stop the next time you are passing through.

Thanks for linking up for Flashback Fridy. Link up every friday on www.chasing-joy.com

 
At January 2, 2012 at 6:50 AM , Anonymous Columbibueno said...

You really took me there. I love the image of the elephants. Innocence!

 
At January 2, 2012 at 9:12 AM , Anonymous Amanda said...

wonderful imagery! this is a beautifully written piece. is it fiction or not? It so totally feels real.

 
At January 2, 2012 at 11:47 AM , Anonymous bridget straub said...

I miis some of the older buildings of my hometown too!

 
At January 2, 2012 at 10:53 PM , Anonymous SAM said...

I do like this piece. I think it might just be my favorite from you. It makes me think of the old fashioned pharmacy here where you can still sit at the counter and get a chocolate malted.

 
At January 3, 2012 at 8:25 AM , Anonymous Syrah said...

I have similar memories of mine too - pianos, and little carvings, and strange pieces of architecture that become a kid's world! Takes me back. Well done.

 
At January 3, 2012 at 5:54 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading. Funny what sticks with you, isn't it?

 
At January 3, 2012 at 5:55 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Bridget.

 
At January 3, 2012 at 5:56 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Amanda - Part 1 of a 4 part piece I'm shopping around now. Non-fiction. Thanks for reading.

 
At January 3, 2012 at 5:57 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Over Thanksgiving, I went back and checked: The elephants are still there.

 
At January 3, 2012 at 5:57 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading!

 
At January 4, 2012 at 8:32 AM , Anonymous Brandi said...

Loved this, beautifully written!! It took me back to a similar set of stairs that led to the porch on my Great Grandmothers house. Minus the elephants, but with the same paint that chipped off into my hand. I remember many times in my childhood on that porch. Thank you for taking me back there for a little while.

Thank You for linking up with Story Dam, and I look forward to reading more of what you share in the future :)

 
At January 4, 2012 at 1:43 PM , Anonymous StoryDam said...

Amazing how the little things like that leave an imprint on your brain. I can still go to places from when I was young and have memories of old signs or cracks in a patch of sidewalk. Each has it's own story. Great piece! Welcome to Story Dam!

 
At January 30, 2012 at 8:49 AM , Anonymous Tara R. said...

Going home is the same for me. So many landmarks and special memories are held in that small town.

 
At February 1, 2012 at 10:11 AM , Anonymous Steeven said...

Great story.

I used to be able to go home now and again, but no more. All of what made my home town familiar has either been torn down or renovated.

That's life, I guess.

Still, I loved the story. It made be feel nostalgic.

 
At February 2, 2012 at 5:37 PM , Anonymous Renee McKinley said...

I don't live in a small town, but I still watch the changes with a wary eye. Old gravel roads keep turning into four lane black tops. Yet as I drive them, I still see the shadows of the former landscape.

 
At March 10, 2012 at 7:29 AM , Anonymous Kim at Let Me Start By Saying said...

I loved it the first time I read & commented 6 months back, I still love it now.
Came from the LALB linkup.

 
At March 10, 2012 at 2:09 PM , Anonymous MaryLauren@My 3 Little Birds said...

Really loved this post...the imagery made me feel as though I were right there beside you.

 
At October 12, 2012 at 7:39 AM , Anonymous Sandratyler said...

Wonderful piece to resurrect! Really well written; great details and so immediate. I have my own memories of my piano teacher, Mr Freeman. He would sit across the room while I played and yelled at me. And he owned two birds at home. Otherwise, I dreaded those lessons, and even more the recitals. You have happier piano memories!

 

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