A Little Music Box

By Susan Sundwall

I had barely opened my eyes when I heard the sharp rap on our big front door. I was glad my husband was already downstairs making the coffee, but I couldn’t imagine who had come to see us so early. I heard him patter quickly to the door and open it.

“You getting a piano?” a gruff voice said.

My heart almost stopped. A piano? We were having a piano delivered? Then it hit me – this was my Christmas present! I sat up in bed and listened, clutching the blankets to my chest. Next, I heard the dull thud of footfalls and groans as two men wrestled with the heavy instrument. I couldn’t wait for them to leave. I grabbed my robe and dashed down the stairs as soon as the front door closed. And there it sat, an old upright piano with dark wood, well used but glorious. I looked at my husband and grinned.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

I threw my arms around him. “You got me a piano!”

So, let me back up a bit. I turned forty in August of that same year. And like many birthdays with zeroes in them, I grew introspective. What had I really done in my life? I was the oldest of nine children and there was never any money for extras like other kids seemed to have. We didn’t do sports or participate in any other extra curricular activities at school. When I was a Girl Scout, I never had the uniform. The troop leaders seemed to know our family couldn’t afford it, but they let me be a part of the troop anyway. I never had piano or swimming lessons or got to be a cheerleader. Poor me.

But that year I turned forty something in me snapped. I realized I’d been whining about my lack of advantages for most of my life. Mom and Dad loved us and did the best they could but wasn’t it time to stop blaming them for what I couldn’t do or didn’t have?  Of the many lessons I’d wished I’d had, piano was right at the top. So, I asked my husband for a piano keyboard for my fortieth birthday. Then I set out to find the best how to play the piano book I could find and studied that little book like mad. Soon I could play Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes with relative ease and was very pleased with myself.

This diligence did not go unnoticed by my husband. Though I loved my little keyboard there was one problem. The keys were not standard size and playing to maximum efficiency was a problem. I don’t remember complaining about it, but he must have caught on because the Christmas Eve piano delivery was his solution. Now I could really become a piano player.

Except – I’d gone about as far as I could on my own. Still determined, I remembered that a fellow church choir member, Barbara, taught piano in her home for extra income. I got my brave up and asked about her rates. I had a part time job and decided I could easily afford a half hour with her once a week to improve my skills.

Even though I was a nervous wreck the first couple of times I played for her, eventually I became quite comfortable and always practiced at home before my lesson. The first assignment was to learn Love Makes the World Go Round. It was a simple arrangement, but I studied my fingering and rhythm as though I’d be playing Mozart for the President. I was a bundle of nerves as I sat playing for her.

“You sound just like a little music box!” she enthused.

My heart soared! My hard work and regular practice had paid off. I was more than excited to stay with my lessons. And I did; for three years.

Barbara eventually was able to rent a small studio in town and I took more lessons there. I even devised my own short Christmas program to perform just for her. I had White Christmas down cold. I’d done so well it prompted her to say the R word – recital.

Gasp! A recital. Little kids did recitals not big grown-up ladies who had come late to the game. But Barbara assured me I’d do fine and even introduced me to another adult student, Merle, with whom I’d be playing a duet.

We did well in front of our small audience of about twenty people in Barbara’s compact studio. Participants ranged from eight years old on up and I was probably the oldest. But you know what? That was okay. I’d overcome my habit of blaming others and adopted the attitude that age really doesn’t make a difference if you really want to do something.

I did not go on to become a great pianist. Far from it. But I worked past the disadvantages of my childhood and with gumption, stepped into a new arena. There were others to come, like writing mysteries, dabbling in watercolor, making sauerkraut, and leading a protest at the library a few years ago. My new motto is now, “Try stuff, you might like it!”

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