Gifts From Afton Parkway

By Kim Seeley

I drove down a road just the other day that I had not seen since I was eleven or twelve years old, Afton Parkway. The only recognizable feature of the area was the shape of the little town square, the gazebo, and the ancient cannons that still seemed to be foreboding and yet protective of this peculiarly hallowed ground. It’s not really hallowed, of course, but it represents a piece of my childhood that I had not given serious consideration in many, many years. And if childhood memories can be considered a bit sacred, at least to a possessor of them, then this area qualifies as sacred ground to me.

My mother drove me down this same road for five years, once a week, on Saturday mornings. At eleven o’clock, I left my mother and knocked on the door of what I considered a grand house. I was greeted at the door by a rather severe-looking woman with her gray hair always pulled back into a bun. I glimpsed the antique furniture and grandfather clock in the living room, but I always followed the woman straight into the small room on our left, which contained a piano, a bench, and a chair. I took my place on the bench, and the woman, Mrs. Hoffler, took her place on the chair beside me.

“We will begin with the scales,” she would say, and I would dutifully begin with my C major scale. From the age of seven until I was twelve years old, Saturday mornings meant piano lessons with Mrs. Hoffler. She was an exacting teacher, rapping my wrists with a knitting needle she kept in her bun if I dared raise them too high above the keyboard. I took my piano lessons seriously, and I practiced every day, sometimes annoying the other members of my family as I struggled with a difficult passage.

While the wrist rapping would probably cause a cry of child abuse today, I never thought of Mrs. Hoffler as unkind. Strict, yes, but unkind, no. Indeed, many of her gold and red stars still adorn my childhood music books, accompanied by acclaims written in her flowing longhand, “Excellent interpretation of this selection!”

As I became more accomplished, I memorized piano pieces for guild auditions, judged by a jury of renowned piano teachers. I prepared for that audition as if it would gain me a concert in Carnegie Hall. What I really received was a huge certificate with a score and comments. I still have my certificates in my scrapbook, with ratings from excellent to superior. One year, I received the prize Mrs. Hoffler had promised the student who garnered the highest guild audition score, a silver dollar. I was so proud of that silver dollar, but that was not the real gift Mrs. Hoffler had given me.

During those five years of Saturday mornings, I had been introduced to the geniuses of piano composition. I memorized pieces by Mozart, Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. I studied the great talents, such as Dvorak and Grieg, but these were not the only products of my time under Mrs. Hoffler’s tutelage. She had taught me self-discipline, before I knew the meaning of the term. I was the only one who made the choice to sit down at the piano and practice my scales and musical numbers or stretch out on the sofa and watch TV. She taught me the sense of accomplishment that results from practice and mastery of a difficult task.

Even more than these gifts, Mrs. Hoffler opened my eyes to the world of music. If not for her, I might not have taken those college courses in music theory and music appreciation. Perhaps I would not have been accomplished enough to teach the Sunday school children’s choir for many years at my church. My children grew up in a home surrounded by music; popular, sacred and classic. My oldest daughter is a repository of decades of song lyrics; she knows the words to songs of my generation better than I do, as well as the lyrics of her own favorite musicians.

I thought of Mrs. Hoffler recently as I was singing my seven-month-old grandson to sleep. “Stay awake, don’t rest your head,” I crooned to baby Evan. Suddenly I saw the music book before me on Mrs. Hoffler’s piano. She allowed me freedom to play some popular music, as well as the classics, and I had learned every song from Mary Poppins as soon as the music book was published. I started singing, “Doe, a deer, a female deer,” and I recall that the Sound of Music songbook is in my den closet. It won’t be long before I will search those song books out, and tune up my old piano. After all, I don’t have Mrs. Hoffler here in person, but her spirit is still alive, as long as those with whom she shared the love of music pass it along to future generations.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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4 Responses to “Gifts From Afton Parkway”

  1. marsha tennant says:

    Kim- I grew up in Cradock /Afton Pkwy and Mrs. Hoffler was my piano teacher!!! What a trip down memory lane!! I lived your article! Remember the little library? Earl’s Market? High’s Ice Cream??? LOVED reading about our childhood!!!

    • Kim says:

      Marsha, what was your maiden name? Perhaps we took from her during the same years. I figure I took lessons from her from 1960 to1965 or thereabouts. I also remember a bakery where Mama would take me to get a cream-filled pastry after lessons. Ellen Lane Dozier lives two streets down from Afton Parkway and she is the person I was visiting this summer. We graduated from Deep Creek together.

      • marsha tennant says:

        I lessons from her around 56-60. I am older than you. I remember the bakery, too!!! My grandfather had the “shoe shop” on the square. I went to James Hurst and Craddock Jr. High. Moved after that. We lived in Brentwood but my grandparents lived on VA Road. Remember the movie theater? GREAT place to grow up and run around!!!

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