Cheers for the Survivor: Or, Ode to the Clunky Piano

I think we all hope that we’ll be the survivor; that no matter how hard things get, we’ll be the one who makes it through. And in so doing, we often compare ourselves to immovable or long-lived objects, as though they serve as some kind of inspiration. For me, I refer to my piano: the ultimate survivor, and one of my favorite pieces in my house.

As one well may imagine, being a survivor doesn’t necessarily make you all that pretty. The very act of surviving means that there are likely scars and dents – the sort of thing that on a

The old girl herself

person you might not be able to spot, but more than visible on an old wood carcass. The wood possesses an unusual kind of striping that you can see in the sun, and which I like to fancy a kind of tiger wood or exotic maple, but which may in actuality be the result of my grandmother using too harsh a cleaner when she decided the old thing needed a polish. The keyboard holds the worst of the wounds, including pink felt-marker lines on a few of the keys when as a child, I was trying to teach myself piano, and I marked the keys that I needed to play my own rendition of “Happy Birthday.” These same keys are a bit more yellowed on one end, perhaps the result of being pushed out of not one, but two separate fires, and maybe that’s part of why the highest key sticks.

Enough, though, on the old lady’s wrinkles, and more about the essence of her, and why she’s so important to me.

We think, from a bit of research when my grandparents were thinking of selling it, that it’s a relatively common and inexpensive honky-tonk piano from around 1898. It entered our family already second hand when my great-grandmother purchased it. I’m not sure if she wanted to play, or perhaps if she wanted her daughters to, but regardless, it was a part of their home by the 1930/40s when the big house (of which there are no pictures) burned down after some failure of the massive battery cells in the cellar that provided electricity. Somehow or other, someone decided to push the piano out of the house. From there, when my grandmother married, she took the piano (again, I’m not quite sure why … perhaps no one else wanted it.) Their first house, which was evidently small and which grandma refers to as “the shack” caught fire when my uncle and my mom were very young – grandma claims grandpa was doing something with oil on the stovetop. Anyway, whatever the case, once again, the piano was pushed out of the fire and saved from another destructive fire which burned the house to the ground.

After all this adventure, I suppose, the piano led a rather uneventful life for the next few decades when my mom and her siblings were taught to play, and when I used to delight in “playing” (read: pounding on the keys) when my uncle was sleeping down in the basement (grandpa consequently locked the piano using his jackknife since the key is long since lost.)

And then I built my own home. And I knew grandma and grandpa were talking about selling that old piano because maybe it would bring a few dollars, and I knew it was worth so much more – to me, at any rate. And so I pleaded with them to hold off, promised that I would take it, that it HAD a home since I knew where it would sit even as my home was only in the blueprint stage. Then it was 2009, a year after we’d begun the house, and finally, finally we arranged the piano mover who would take the piano out of the city and my grandparents’ home an hour west to my own. And then it was here, in it’s place, where it always belonged in my living room, a piece of my family, a piece of my history.

Today, it remains in it’s place of honor. Friends tinker on Christmas carols in the holidays, and my daughter, now 18 months, adores playing. She’s already learning that the highest key on the right sticks, and that we’re gentle with this dear old lady, with this survivor.

And some weeks, when things seem to be going no where, and I’m frustrated with every thing in my life, I can consider this piano, this survivor who has come through fires, who waits patiently and lovingly, and hope I can do the same.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.