I remember the day it came – huge, boxlike, with a massive keyboard stained in yellow, white, and black; the huge walnut case; the brass pedals with their dull smooth surfaces, how it towered above me. The moving men brought it in the front door, and there it stood: huge, massive, and impressive. My mom was thrilled.

“I got this for you. You’re going to learn to play this thing. Mrs. W (across the street) is going to teach you. You’ll get piano lessons once we get this thing tuned . . .”

And so it began. I knew deep down right then that she had made this sacrifice for me, though I don’t know why. I guess I was musical as a kid. I know I sang a lot – singing to myself, alone in my corner – or just singing to sing; or me alone with my stuffed animals – and we’d “all” be singing along. (I could hear them in my heart if nowhere else sometimes). Not your typical songs – these were like birdsong; they came from my heart – just simple notes, not words most times.

Music wasn’t something played, not ‘needlessly so’. There was the one simple radio that came on in the mornings – it had the “Bob Fisher Show” or something like that, and during school in the mornings he’d “march us out!” to greet the school bus with some little song he’d made. He was also the one who took my mother’s request that he play “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” when I was about eight years old – on the radio! – no less, and I was amazed. And sort of embarrassed about this thing. After all, it was a “kid’s song” by then; but I loved it. After all, it sort of reflects my philosophy on life and things: to go out exploring and see what the next mountain may bring. (There’s a symbology in that sentence as well, if you can catch it – it’s a subtle one, of course. And tells you something about me again.)

Anyway, we’d hear a little bit of this music in the mornings while eating breakfast – and then it’d be gone. The radio would be shut off – and us kids either in school or out in the yard, or playing in our rooms. No more music anymore.

And then along comes this piano. Huge. And I should have been intimidated – but I wasn’t. I was thrilled.

I immediately began pounding on the keys – not much! – just experimenting with them, and not getting too loud lest my mom start complaining – and after a few days the piano tuner / repairman came and tuned this old thing up. I remember standing there almost all that afternoon, watching him – marveling at all those little hammers and strings; the little felt tips, the bouncing pedals – while he talked and explained some things: like what the pedals were for, and how you had to keep tuning it up if you were moving it around; about how to treat it (mostly to my mother) – while I excitedly (and somewhat nervously) waited for my lessons to begin.

And it began right there – the following day I crossed the dirt street and went to see Mrs. W. She was a great friend, and treated all her young’uns right. She was always big bright beaming smiles and kisses and Southern hugs – with a little bit of sweet ‘meanness’ thrown in – just enough to keep you in line if you needed it. She would always greet me at the door with a big wide hug – and she also had a big wide bosom to squeeze you in (sometimes it felt like I was drowning – or being smothered – sometimes both) – and she’d squeeze you hard as a rock and give you a great big kiss on the cheek (it was always wet it seemed) – and invite you in. It was really cool, and I enjoyed the comfort of their home.

And her piano sat right there, too – in the living room. She’d set right down beside me, and then we would begin.

I remember those first lessons rather well – very well, as a matter of fact. Starting with “middle ‘C’”. Everything worked from there, I’ve been told. And it was a matter of repetition – over and over again. And just when you thought you were done, you’d do it again. And again. And again. And again. Until you were so sick and tired of the thing – and then you’d do it again. Until it became more like habit and second nature. However – reading music was a different sort of thing. That became confusing in my head. There are only seven letters in the alphabet of music: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. After that you start again – depending on which ‘row’ you are climbing or going down in ‘scale’. That was confusing to me as well. So I had a hard time trying to read the music – but once I got it down; the pattern and the rhythm – I was good. Or good enough I suppose. I was never any ‘musical wonder’ and I’m not possessed of any great musical talent that I know of – but it was there nevertheless: the desire to learn this sort of thing. To ‘know’ the music and play some of the tunes in my heart and that I had heard on the radio sometimes.

So I was (at least in my opinion) – a ‘slow student’ and a slow learner. I played the simple songs (“Putt-Putt Went The Boat” and things like that – really slow and stupid – that’s both me and them sometimes) – but I wanted to learn more. I wanted to learn some of the really hard songs – or the “good ones” in my opinion. Like many aspiring art students (no matter what the field) – I wanted to soar before I could fly. And I kept on – always tugging at my reins (her) – while she diligently and with fondness and respect, kept my head on the proper path.

I remember she would reach down and squeeze me – right there on the knee. You know where that nerve is? Especially among small children? Right behind the knee joint, right behind the cap. It tickles them like crazy. I know it did me! I’d jump and I’d jolt and she’d laugh – and I’d end up laughing as well – and she’d dart her hand down – squeeze that knee – and I’d be doubled up nearly laughing until I cried, and she’d give me a great big hug and then we’d start again. She was always friendly with me – and all the kids I’ve known. Like any person she has faults – but not giving kindness was never one of them. Especially to the younger ones.

I eventually went on to learn two songs that I played rather well because I loved them. One was “Born Free” (from the movie about the lions), and the other was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (the old “da-da-da-DUM . . . Da Da Da DUMMM”). I’d be pounding out that thing (either one or the other) as loud as I could, over and over again. I also loved the words to “Born Free” (by Andy Williams). It brought visions to me, even as a young child – of endless fields and savannahs; of roaming tall grass – even though I hadn’t seen the movie.

 

Born Free

 

Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart

Live free and beauty surrounds you
The world still astounds you
Each time you look at a star

Stay free, where no walls divide you
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
‘Cause you’re born free

(Stay free, where no walls divide you)
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
‘Cause you’re born free

To this day that song brings tears to my eyes and makes me wanna cry sometimes. I don’t know why. It just does. And it even did as a kid – a LOT of times. And there again, I don’t know why. Something in it was calling to me strong – calling an unknown place to me, an unknown place in my heart wanting to go there, perhaps . . .

I really don’t know.

But that piano ‘died’ – or went away when we moved somewhere, or when my father came home and saw it and the money that was spent on the lessons . . . either way, it only lasted one summer or so – perhaps two or three years, even! – but it went away like everything.

Even including the ‘hood.

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