We got our piano via text message. Kate, our cheerful (despite being dragged to every downtrodden fixer in town by us, her insane clients) realtor, pinged me a few days after our offer was accepted. Those days had the same off-kilter giddiness I remembered from my first look at each positive pregnancy test, finishing library school, and boarding a plane to Osaka for a year of teaching English. The head-swimming shot of knowing you dared fate to bring you something special, chased with joy and optimism. The stack of inspections failed to blunt our happiness; the structural needs of the place figured heavily in Kate’s aggressive packaging of our offer. It still amuses me that Kate, for all her vegan diet and attachment parenting and LEED certified construction business run by her husband, channels Alec Baldwin fromGlengarry Glen Ross when it’s time to make a deal.
“The seller wants to give you the piano - do you want it?”
Pianos aren’t cheap, even older models like this one. I tried to remember it standing at the end of the mid-century living room where a Craftsman-era fireplace, built-ins, and eyebrow windows once spread across the wall. It’s dark wood with scrolling and floral molding an elegy of sorts to the architectural features that had been ripped out of the house. I didn’t know how to play. None of us did. But I didn’t know how to speak Japanese before taking that job; how to be a librarian before going to graduate school, or how to parent before becoming one, either. Nor did I know how to strip paint, demolish a wall, or prune a fruit tree, and the house demanded these things of me as well. What was a piano in all of this?
“Oh, sure. I’ll explain it later.”
So the piano remained while the house and garage emptied, and we closed escrow. It sat through the re-plumbing, the re-roofing and re-wiring; It grew a fine layer of white dust as the walls were removed from one room and the ceilings from three others. And on the day we finally moved in, shivering when we walked too far from the space heaters, it was here to greet us.
We let Seamus plonk away as we brought in furniture and dishes, set up quick, transitional rooms, and began our lives, thinking we would make our house a home as we got to know it. Former owners had stripped the oringinal architectural features, we had yanked some of the added ones, and now we had two small bedrooms joined by a bath, a large kitchen, and an L-shaped space comprised of a dining room, a living room, and an entry space. And a floating, musical partition. After some debate, we rolled it thirteen feet away from it’s original position, letting it form a vestibule. And there it sat for eighteen months.
Between 1880 and 1930, tens of thousands of pianos were made in the United States. If you wanted music in your home, you made it yourself, and pianos are considered a good first instrument. Pianos filled churches and schools and lodge halls. They were played and tuned. They aged and deppreciated in value. As music programs vanished from schools, and radios and then televisions filled living rooms, a few lucky pianos were sold, a few more donated. But in the first year in our little house, I saw three shoved out onto street corners wearing hastily taped “FREE” signs. I read articles about piano graveyards: resting places made sacred by the sheer size of the beasts that went down in them.
Our piano greeted us when we came in, accepted mail and hats, and stood back-to-back with our couch while balancing a projector on its top. It carved a discrete living room out of that big L where we watched movies while surrounded by boxes of books, but otherwise we ignored most of the common living space, using the kitchen as the center of our home. Patrick tore down the mudroom wall and the space is big, but it’s not really homey. It’s a room of lists: meals, errands, chores. I cook and feed and launder and answer questions and wipe faces and feed pets in my kitchen. I plan. But I don’t dream or play or nurture or create.
When Tristan began walking and climbing, we knew it was time to change things.