Posted in Childhood, Family, Memories, Music

The Piano Man

Yesterday I walked into my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, the house my grandmother grew up in, in the Washington Park neighborhood of Denver. My Dad, as frequently happens, was excited to show me a new addition to the house. Sometimes he remodels bathrooms, sometimes he rebuilds closets – he’s pretty much capable of anything house related. A true handyman. But yesterday, the new thing he wanted to show me was not quite as practical as this.

Dad ushered me downstairs to show me the new Yamaha keyboard he had purchased. This cool new toy was purchased despite the fact that he has a piano. He has had a hand-me-down baby grand piano ever since I can remember. Well, that’s not entirely true. I remember a short period of time when I was little that my grandma lived in a house only a few blocks away (sadly, it’s since been leveled and replaced with a modern geometrical monstrosity not at all in keeping with the nostalgic historic homes of the neighborhood.) I remember the piano in her living room. I remember a brief period of time during which she gave my sister and I lessons. When she left the house, she gave the piano to my dad.

The baby grand is an heirloom, we all love the look of it. My dad used to play it frequently when I was a kid. Another magical thing about my dad – he taught himself to play instruments. He knows piano, and he used to play trumpet in a jazz band… a real one; not just a high school one, although he was in that also. When I was a kid, the house was always full of music. If Dad wasn’t making it, it was blaring through the speakers in his Stereo Room. Some people have offices, my dad has a Stereo Room. A room for his stereo and his hundreds of CDs, records, music posters, and yes, the baby grand.

Growing up, my dad would play that piano until long after I had gone to bed- even on school nights. My bedroom was directly above the Stereo Room and so the melodies floated up through the floor, crisp and clear. I would lay and listen; Bridge Over Troubled Water, Desperado, Send in the Clowns… Accidental lullabies comforting me to sleep (or sometimes keeping me awake.) I would picture my dad below me on his piano bench, fingers on the keys, sometimes coughing his raspy cough. The creak of the old bench always indicating when he’d adjusted his position. I loved the music my dad played. But slowly, over time it stopped.

Perhaps it was that we got busier, perhaps it was arthritis, maybe it was when my sister and I moved away for college, the timeline is foggy. What is clear is that the music stopped. Not abruptly enough for any of us to be alarmed, and I don’t even think it was intentional. Sometimes things just happen. Eventually the keys fell out of tune. Baby grand was now just for looking at, part of memories past.

Then came yesterday when I went downstairs and saw this new keyboard. I was a bit confused, but my dad explained all of the cool features and how many different instruments it can sound like, among the options, a baby grand. He showed me the keys which really do feel like piano keys, not little keyboard keys. He played a few tunes for me. Desperado. Bridge Over Troubled Water. Send in the Clowns. I sat there, holding my own baby, listening. I turned my head away so he wouldn’t see pooling in my eyes the tears as I felt more comforted and at home in that moment than I have in over a decade, reveling in the fact that now my baby will know that sound too… And it will never go out of tune.