Memories of a Piano

It’s funny how a memory can be jarred to the surface by something so seemingly unrelated. For me, it was Tara’s post that did it, a weekly display of her beautiful photos taken in a state park in Florida. I read through her post, admired her photos and even left a comment before something about the title of the post began to tug at my memory. Falling Waters. Tara had named her post as such because that was the name of the park she had visited. I scrolled back to the top to read her title again. Falling Waters. Why did I feel like there was something more to those words than water flowing gently in the woods?

Falling Waters. There was something about that name … something from long ago.

And then it was there. A bubble popped in my memory and there it was. Falling Waters. It’s relevance to me was suddenly clear. Falling Waters was music. Falling Waters was piano music.

I could see the sheet music that used to sit on the old upright piano in the living room of the home where I grew up.

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That piano had seen a lot of years pass by, even way back then when I was a child. I remembered it from my grandparents living room. Mom would always remind us that this was the piano she learned on, when she was a little girl. I can’t quite remember how my grandparents came upon the piano, but I’m almost sure it was used when it came to them because my grandparents had only ever had enough money to get by.

I was young, maybe six or seven years old, when the piano came to our house. Mom wanted us to have lessons, and I struggled through them for several years. I learned the notes and the keys. I learned how to keep my fingers curved and keep time to the metronome. But I didn’t love it the way my mom did. No matter how long I took lessons, I could never play the way Mom played. I never loved it the way she did. I never felt connected to the piano the way my mom seemed to be when she sat down to play. I quit my lessons after a few years and have rarely had the urge to sit and plunk out a tune again.

Mom was different with the piano. She took to it like a duck to water. When mom sat at the piano, you could almost see the music flowing through her. Her body swayed as she sat on the piano bench. Her fingers moved fluidly across the keys and she sat upright, her held tilted slightly back as she hummed or sang quietly along to the music. Mom could sing well enough, but it was the notes that came from the piano when she played that I really felt inside of me. When mom played piano, I stopped what I was doing and I felt the music flow over me. My mom and I didn’t always get along so well back then and I put a lot of energy into simply avoiding her so as not to find myself in another argument with her. But when she played the piano, she stopped being just Mom for a while and became her own person, the one who wasn’t constantly wrapped up in caring for four young children, keeping house, preparing meals and all of the domestic stuff that can become such a weight on a mom.

When I think of Mom playing the piano that now resides in my sister’s living room, I usually remember her playing The Blue Skirt Waltz. My dad loved that song and whenever she played, The Blue Skirt Waltz was his request. And as much as I wanted nothing to do with the music my parents enjoyed, wanting instead to be cool and listening to the new stuff on the local radio station, there was something about that old-time music that my mom played that resonated with me.

It wasn’t until I read Tara’s post that I could hear my mom playing piano again. Falling Waters was a gorgeous song when Mom played it. You could close your eyes and hear the notes becoming the sound of falling water.

As soon as I remembered the song, I went to YouTube and found this rendition of the song. And I cried.

I cried because my mom can’t play the piano anymore. She suffers from an extreme and painful case of Raynaud’s Disease. This disease affects the blood flow to the fingers and in my mom’s case, causes severe swelling and discoloration of her fingers. Her condition causes her a lot of pain. Her fingertips are often split open and the slightest touch can hurt her. Mom’s fingertips are often bandaged to protect the sores that plague her. The piano is a thing of her past.

My mom can’t play Falling Waters anymore. All that is left of that song for me is a sweet memory of Mom doing something that she loved.

Songs Like This

Remember when you were a kid and a good song came on the radio? The kind of song that got your heart pounding and your blood pumping? The kind of song that made you drop what you were doing to find the nearest item that could be transformed into a microphone? A hair brush, curling iron, or wooden spoon… Remember how you’d throw caution to the wind and start singing along at the top of your lungs? Or maybe you just lip-synched it, but your feet couldn’t help moving and your hips couldn’t help swaying. Remember how you’d spin around, dance and sing along to every word, forgetting all else, just getting wrapped up in the beat for three or four minutes until the song played out and you couldn’t help but laugh at yourself?

I still do that. Songs Like This made me do that this morning.

What song can still make you drop what you’re doing and sing along?

The Radio

Vintage Deco Red Panasonic Panapet 70 Transistor Radio I was already years into a love affair with music by the time the radio came into my life.

My feelings for music started, early on, with Elvis’ Blue Suede Shoes album – a favorite of my mom’s and soon, of all of her children as well.

There may not have been a lot of money or many extras, but there was always something with which to play music. In my earliest memories, it was one of those Hi-Fi phonographs. Ours sat in the living room and my siblings and I could be entertained for hours just by listening to the music, studying the faces on the album jackets, and spinning around in the swivel chairs to the beat. And while Elvis may have been our first favorite, we were open to all sorts of music. We also made room for Charlie Rich, Hank Williams, The Osmonds (I think Donny was my first crush) and The Chipmunks. (What can I say? We were kids!)

As kids, our bedrooms always had record players and our collections of LP albums and 45 records were cushioned by an uncle who spent some time working in a music store and passing on the benefits to us. I learned to appreciate other artists from The Beatles to Lobo. I learned all of the lyrics, even if I didn’t always understand what they meant. And my very strict parents seemed to (thankfully) allow some leeway in the music department.

The Panasonic Panapet 70 Transistor radio came along when I was about seven years old. It was one of the few “in” things I ever owned and I treasured it, with its groovy stickers for personalizing it and the chain from which it could be dangled. It was then I discovered there existed radio stations other than the mom and pop news station that always played from the radio atop the refrigerator in our kitchen,  where we always turned an ear to listen closely for school closings. It was the 1970s then, and the music I found on the radio was like nothing I’d heard before, but I loved it. I could take my radio outside and my best friend and I would sit out in the grass in her back yard and listen to Terry Jacks and David Geddes as we imagined the heartbreak that was told in those songs. I was starting to grow up as I realized that into music was poured all of the joy and love and tragedy of life.

Over the years came an 8-track player and a stereo that had not only a turntable for my records, but a cassette tape player and an 8-track player. Later on, my music traveled with me again when I saved up my own money and bought my own boom box. Queen’s The Game was my favorite album in those days.

Over the years, new artists were added to my collection, too many to list here, but if you can name an eighties artist, I probably had something of theirs in my boxes of records and tapes. No matter what was ever going on in my life, music was always there to offer encouragement, comfort, or sympathy. Music has come and gone in its many forms over the years and these days, it’s my iPod touch that I can’t live without. Almost any song I can think of can be added to my collection with a few quick clicks, whether it be one of the oldies or a new artist I just can’t live without. But I think that red transistor radio will always be my favorite, because without it, I might never have known how much color music could add to the world.

Late, Late at Night

Did you have an idol as a kid? Some celebrity with a pretty face that you couldn’t get enough of? Or someone with a voice that reached down deep into your heart when he sang? Sure you did. We all did, didn’t we?

Success Hasn't Spoiled Me YetMine was Rick Springfield. I’m not entirely sure what it was about him. Maybe it was the fact that his songs, at the time he entered my consciousness, were about a longing for love and the desire for a fairy tale ending. I was a teenager and was right at that stage in my life when those kinds of dreams filled my head, day in and day out. When Rick sang, I knew that he knew exactly what was in my heart.

Plus, he was really hot! Yes, yes, I wanted to be Rick’s girl. Who didn’t? (Okay Rock Chef, I know you didn’t… and that’s a good thing.)

Oh, I was obnoxious about my devotion to Rick too. In the summers, hanging out with the neighborhood kids, I’d hear one of Rick’s songs begin to play on the radio. I’d scream, “RICK!” and run to turn up the volume. My friends, Joel and Keith would make fun of me, mimicking me and mock swooning. I’d toss a sneer in their direction, but they couldn’t diminish my love for Rick. (Don’t you love how I put myself on a first name basis with him?)

Obviously, I’ve long since outgrown my obsessive love for Rick Springfield. Good thing too. It probably wouldn’t be healthy at this stage in my life. Pretty sure the hubby would not appreciate it. And in fact, it would make me a pretty scary woman. But I’ve always continued to carry a little flame in my heart for Rick. He is that symbol of a time in my life when anything was possible and dreams were still unfettered.

So I grew up and Rick stopped being a staple in my daily thoughts. But I’ve always stopped to listen closer when I’ve heard his music over the years and I even saw him in concert in 2004, in a venue where it was possible to move right up in front of the stage and get close enough to reach out and touch him. (I refrained, thank you very much, but not without great difficulty.) I did get some great pictures. He looked as good …. no…. better than ever and I had a blast seeing him play again.

Shock Denial Anger AcceptanceI bought one of his latest CDs after that concert, shock/denial/anger/acceptance. I remember thinking, “This isn’t the Rick I remember.” The songs were darker, angrier than the ones I’d grown up on, but I grew to love them just the same. After all, they were Rick’s, and therefore, I accepted them. (How generous of me.)

That’s about as much as I knew about Rick Springfield… a great musician, not to mention, a hot, occasional actor, and a very pretty face. Isn’t that sad? This is about as much as any of us ever know about the celebrities we idolize… unless they write an autobiography, which, yes! Rick did.

Of course I had to read Late, Late at Night. I thought that by reading it, I was simply going to learn more about the fabulous and exciting life of Rick Springfield and feed my old teenage obsession a bit more.

Wrong.

I thought I was going to read about fame and fortune, glamour and the good life. Instead, what I found was a painfully honest account of a lifelong struggle with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, debilitating depression and the emptiness that often accompanies a celebrity life. There has been such an enormous amount of sadness in his life. I found myself cheering for every high he experienced and crying with every low that was sure to follow. I learned that Rick Springfield is so much more than a handsome face with an incredible voice and killer guitar-playing skills. This book is written with such raw emotion and blatant honesty, that I found my little celebrity obsession turning into a sincere admiration for a man who fought his demons time and again until he finally… finally came out ahead of them. Rick lets you know (over and over throughout the book) that he’s been a screw up, but that he’ll fight tooth and nail against letting his mistakes define him. In the end of the book, what you find is not a happy ending, but a new beginning for a man who has learned to love himself after all.

I dug out my shock/denial/anger/acceptance CD this morning and popped it in the CD player in the car. I listened while I drove to work and again on the way home. It was like hearing the songs for the first time, and finally understanding the story behind them. I could feel all the pain and hurt that went into those songs and I finally saw Rick Springfield for what he’s been all along… not some superstar with a charmed life, but a man, struggling to live life as best he can … just like the rest of us.

No more obsession for me … just a newfound respect. But I will always, always be a fan; more so now than ever.

And hey… fan or not… read the book. I promise, you’ll love it.

The Quiet One

Jake – my youngest son – the middle child.

It’s tough being the middle child, I know. I grew up in the middle. Maybe that’s why I get him.

He is the most introverted of my three children. He doesn’t feel the need to surround himself with throngs of people or constant activity. He has friends, but he chooses them carefully.

He doesn’t talk a lot. Some might assume he doesn’t have much to say. But that’s not true. There’s a lot going on inside that head of his. He’s just pretty selective about with whom he’s willing to share it.

He has passions. One of them is music. He possesses a natural musical ability and as a young child, used to sit at my mom’s piano and pick out tunes. He has at one time or another played the trumpet and the guitar. For reasons I may never understand, he has chosen not to keep playing. It saddens me to know he has such an ability and doesn’t care to foster it, but that’s his choice. Instead, he prefers to listen to others. He loves music and is constantly loading his iPod with new songs or burning a collection to a CD. He and I share that love of music and it is one of our connections. He is constantly repeating snippets of songs and asking me if I know who plays them. His tastes are varied and he’ll listen to music from the sixties, seventies, eighties as well as the more recent stuff.

He and college aren’t on friendly terms and he’s struggling to find his direction right now. I’ve pushed him to just keep at it, but I think I need to lay off for a while and let him figure out which path is best for him. That may not be the easy path, or the one I might choose for him. But maybe he needs to figure things out in his own way, in his own time.

He’s a hard worker. He holds a “part-time” job where most weeks he works nearly full-time. He’s the go-to guy there, and the one who is called upon most when help is needed. It makes me happy to see him succeeding this way. He’s a kid to whom success has rarely come easy.

And he’s my bowling buddy. He grew to love the game long before I did. Now that we have this shared interest, it’s not uncommon for him to say to me on occasion, “Hey, Mom. You can take me bowling today if you want.”

I love to take him bowling. He’s very good at it, and he can teach me a thing or two. While we play, he’s not chatty like his younger sister, and doesn’t crack jokes like his older brother. I have to work harder to get him to talk, but it’s worth it. While we work on our bowling, I get him to talk with me. We don’t get too serious or discuss anything of great importance. I just like to see him open up a little bit.

I probably worry about him more than the others, because he seems to like to do things the hard way. But that’s just his way and I sometimes have to keep reminding myself, he’ll be just fine.

My daughter, the saint

After three days of being home sick, she is sitting at the kitchen table trying to get some of her homework made up. I am cleaning the kitchen and have my playlist blaring from the laptop.

She’s SO focused. She doesn’t even notice me bursting out in random bits of song.

Welcome to your life. There’s no turning back!

Nothing.

Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure…

No reaction.

Nothing ever lasts FOR-EV-ERRRRRR!

I’m now singing AND dancing in front of her as she diligently keeps her attention on her Spanish homework without so much as blinking at my antics.

Every-BODY wants to RULE THE WORLD!

Finally…

“Mother. I’m focused. And do you see this large sliding door behind me that faces a busy street? People are going to see you. What was in your breakfast this morning, anyway?”

“Si, soy loco.”

She is a good sport and this is potentially why she hasn’t brought her friends around lately.

Oh great. I’m the weird mom!