Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A New Member Of The Family

I'm not sure it's better than a new puppy, but considering we already live with four cats and want nothing short of an actual baby to interfere with our ability to sleep in on weekends, it may be.

On Saturday, I bought myself a piano.

I don't know how to explain what this is like -- living with a piano, suddenly -- except to compare it to righting a chemical imbalance. I didn't know that all this time I could feel it gone.

I have experienced a lot of loss. Which is a dramatic thing to say, but sometimes life is dramatic. If I put it into stark perspective, without emotional exposition, it's quite plain to see:

My parents lost the house I grew up in. After an 18-year stretch in the same house, after wild financial comings and goings, the bank foreclosed on our home. The house itself was warm and comforting and always, always full of laughter and music.

The house had served as our familial glue, whatever upset rattled its walls. And then the glue dissipated.

We'd...our family's response to the foreclosure mimicked that of a family whose just lost one of its members. My parents couldn't stay in the area for all the memories. So they left.

They moved to a falling-apart farmhouse in New Hampshire -- a sorry replacement that never quite lived up to its designation as "home." And while the house was large enough to store all our stuff from before, all the accumulations of my parents and me and my sisters lives, much just stayed in boxes. Material possessions, evidence that we had lived well together for two decades, was relegated to boxes and closets and a basement I never once set foot in.

There is much more to be said about this shift in my family's life, but I'm trying to hurry up and get to the point.

I saw a therapist for a while when I first moved to San Francisco. I tried to explain to her how the house had come to mean so much to us, to my parents and my mom in particular. It was nearly her fourth child, I said.

"That must have been a devastating loss for her," my therapist said.

"It was," I said.

"How did she ever get over it?" my therapist asked, knowing full well the answer. The answer that hadn't ever occurred to me in such a light.

"She -- didn't."

Not three years after the move, my mother fell ill and died of cancer.

A year after that, my father decided to downsize. (No need to be in that house, the Our House From Connecticut Redux that never really was.) And then we, without my mom, were left to the task of going through all of the stuff. Newer stuff unfit for my dad's even newer place, old stuff still packed from the move a few years before.

We kept what we could, but much had been ruined. Everything that had been set in the basement was molded and dusty and wet and gone. The things we could salvage went then into storage, but not enough. We lost baby clothes. We lost prom dresses. We lost souvenirs. We lost piano music.

We may very well have given all of that stuff away at some point. We just never had the choice.

Again, to put it plainly: we lost our livelihood and we lost our house and we lost our mother and we lost our stuff.

When my father was then settled in his new place, the stuff that did remain had been divided. Dad had enough to make his a home. Much of the rest was fit only for a dumpster. A few remaining pieces went to Healy -- she was the only one of us living in a house. And Sam and I took trinkets.

Dad had the piano in his new place. But like everything else we'd owned, it had been sorely neglected. It is one thing to tend to the upkeep of a house and home you want and love. It is quite another to expend effort maintaining something you resent to your core. It wasn't the house in New Hampshire's fault that everything fell away there. Sometimes we'd play the piano in the new-old livingroom, but it didn't fill the house with the same kind of music it had before when we were happy. And then after mom died, we hardly played it at all.

By the time the piano got to my father's place, it was so out of tune and warped as to be un-fixable. Still sometimes, just because, my dad would play. He had such an unexpected talent at it -- he played with so much passion and ridiculously over-the-top flourishes that you couldn't help but be delighted.



Oh, but the out-of-tune-ness was nothing short of heartbreaking.

And then he got sick, too. And we lost him, too.

It was over. The relics from our first home, and second, and Dad's third were distributed. Some were gotten rid of completely. And when all that remained from our once-life was cleared out for good, the defunct piano was destroyed, and most of the piano music was gone.

* * * * * * * * *

My mother -- whose father and uncle were professional musicians -- insisted on a musical household. I took piano lessons for over nine years. I also played the clarinet and still sing. My sisters both took piano, both sing, and for a while there, Healy also played the cello and trumpet while Samantha played the viola and guitar.



Many nights were spent in our living room, playing piano and singing with family and friends. At Christmastimes, the house nearly burst at the seams from endless, heartfelt, and booming caroling.

And right. It is a cliche and it is also the truth: when we lost so much, the music just stopped.

When I moved into my own house with my then-husband, we had the good fortune to be given a piano by Hakuna (my best friend's mom). I loved, loved, loved to have it. But I hardly played it. I was living in that house while my mother's health failed, and then when she was dying. And I didn't want to play.

Couldn't bring myself to, if you want to know the truth.

I was steeped in my family's losses, and then in my own. My marriage crumbled, just like that, and I lost my own house, too, just like that.

So I did the only thing I could think of to do: I went somewhere new, somewhere I had nothing, somewhere I'd have nothing that could be taken from me.

I moved to San Francisco with clothes and trinkets. I left my furniture for my husband, and my piano for my sister.

* * * * * * *

We have all been rebuilding.

We play the piano at Healy's at Christmastime now, and it's joyous.



Healy is teaching musical theatre to children.

Samantha is marrying a musician, and they have recorded at least one for-family-only CD.

I started an a cappella group years ago as a way to slowly and informally bring music back into my life.

But going out and getting a piano? That is quite something.

It seems that, when I wasn't paying attention, my insides changed. Somewhere along the way I stopped thinking of the piano as something else I'd lost, and started thinking of it as something I was missing. I missed having a piano, I missed playing, I missed the music. I don't need a therapist to tell me that this is a good thing.

So finally, with a little bit of money I'd set aside, with the right apartment and space and emotional grounding, I did it. I stopped being afraid to own a possession that might be taken away. (In fact, that wasn't even a fear of mine, though a few years ago it would have been.) I don't care that I may never be able to play as well as I did when I was 17 -- I don't really care if I never play it well at all. That isn't the point; I have done enough grieving.

I went out in search of the piano on Saturday morning, and by late Saturday afternoon it was in my livingroom. (The fates may have been smiling.) It isn't by any means fancy, but it is by every means a welcome addition to my home.


Hmm.

That last statement would have served to be a fine ending to this post, but there's more.

To bring this all full circle, to bring my history and my past and my life here in SF all together, there is more I should say.

I hate that we lost so much of our sheet music. I was going to say it's stupid, but it's not. It's the difference between reading Shakespeare from a new, slick-coated paperback with images of current movie stars on the cover versus reading Hamlet from the book your grandmother used in college, yellowed with time and smelling the way only old books can. I can buy "Learn to Play" books in my local music store, but they aren't the same and I hate them and their modernity.

I had resigned myself to the notion that it was all lost, our old sheet music. We'd lost the books I learned to play from, like the bright orange Leila Fletcher learner I both loathed and adored. We'd lost those binders my father had collected his sheet music in -- his collection of sappy love songs from the 70s and 80s that I never played or liked or knew, but that filled so much of our livingroom shelves, waiting for the time he'd feel like playing one for her.

But on Saturday, just after I'd gotten the piano, I realized most glorious thing. I can't have those very things back, but I can come really close.

Life and times have changed and now we blog and now there's eBay and wouldn't you know it? There are people selling entire collections of crazy sheet music from the 70s and old-timey favorites from the 40s and Leila Fletcher(!) and fake books and pretty much everything else.

So I bought those, too. I went online, because it is 2008, and even though I spent almost nothing, I'm going to have plenty of the things I used to have. The things we used to have. It won't be the same in many senses, but in the only sense that matters, I will have an abundance of sheet music. I will have a collection of songs I might learn to play someday. I will, again, not only have music right in front of me, but I will have music all around me, waiting for me to indulge.

I again have music, past, present and future, right here in my apartment.

Right here in my home.

45 comments:

  1. Yay I am happy for you! Let's see a picture shall we?

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  2. That was a beautiful and heartbreaking story. I'm glad it's come full circle. That's some good healing right there.

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  3. That's a fantastic purchase! I hope you have many years of great music :) (this post makes me want to dig out all my old piano music..I love the smell of the sheet music after being in a piano bench for so long..smells woody I suppose. Nostalgic smells!)

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  4. I too have added a piano back into my home after many years, but sadly, it is an electric copy of the real thing. And also sadly, I lost my sheet music that I dragged with me through many moves and years of college and miss dearly - so I relate very much with how those things can really give you a connection to old times.

    Because it is 2008, I recommend things like the Yamaha Digital Music Notebook, where you can download songs right to your computer! Its like going to the music store to get your favorite new song, only faster (oh how I used to look forward to my parents taking me to the music store).

    Happy playing!

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  5. They story is so bittersweet and it is wonderful that you are ready to take your past back.

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  6. Much of the wisdom of life is gained not by what happens to you, but by how you reflect on it and respond to it. You sound like a truly whole person, and while it may not have seemed like it during times of great loss, you always have been.

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  7. Beautiful, amazing post. I think it could easily be titled "Yes, You Really Do Find A Way To Get Over It".

    I think I needed to read something like this right now. Thanks.

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  8. That turned out to be a lovely story.

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  9. Happy to hear you have music surrounding you again. Been thinking about you alot the last few days, given all that has been going on with a dear friend of mine. Just want to thank you for sharing your stories so openly.

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  10. Amazing story! I can relate to the loss of your family home the way you've relayed your story here. However, your family seems to have suffered a much greater loss than my own. As much as you suffered, it really does seem you've taken so much from that.

    I know you'll enjoy your new addition & I hope it serves to bring you even more healing. Especially because technology today is helping to fill some of those voids. Congrats on your new addition!

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  11. What a lovely story (if sad in places) to read.

    My Grandpop used to have a piano, but the funny is that I don't think that I ever saw Pops or Grandma play that piano!

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  12. ...and welcome home...

    beautiful work.

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  13. How precious! You are gonna love it! Do you have a picture?

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  14. I recently found out that my maternal grandmother could play the piano by ear, and that she and my grandfather would play and he would sing. My mother said that he had a very nice voice but then he found out that the neighbors could hear, and enjoy, his singing. This embarrassed him and he stopped singing, got stage fright. What I wouldn't give to have heard that.
    Enjoy your piano and make your own musical home.

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  15. This post brought tears to my eyes, Kristy. I'm so, so happy for you.

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  16. Such a restorative time for you! Congratulations on your new addition and all of the joy and beauty that will open up because of it.

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  17. I never had a piano in the house. Whenever I'd go by someone's house who did, I'd try to play. Try is the operative word. That's probably why we never had a piano. I did get a keyboard for my 8th grade graduation. It had over 200 sounds on it. That didn't last very long.

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  18. That post made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So happy for you.

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  19. This post just reached out and snagged my heart. I and my family have been through much of the same stuff and I am recently back to the music that was so much a part of the fabric of my childhood. It's like finding your old best friend from elementary school!

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  20. Beautifully said. congratulations on the new addition to your home.

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  21. good post. I can relate to growing up in a musical family, and feeling the music missing. Congratulations on your new piano!

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  22. My heart, full of musical memories of the Sammis family, is singing. I love you.

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  23. That was such a beautiful post -- congratulations on bringing the piano into your home and building some new memories :)

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  24. Congratulations, Kristy, I'm happy for you. You truly have a way with words - great post.

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  25. It is my most sincere wish that my kids some day describe this crazy house with your exuberance. And then I want them to carry it in their hearts wherever they go.

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  26. What a tear-jerking, beautifully written post. I'm so happy that you've gotten something that seems to make you so happy.
    Congratulations =)

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  27. That photo of you and your sisters at the piano together is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  28. wow.

    i'm a longtime fan on the periphery that has read all your posts.

    THAT was the best one ever.

    You give us all...hope...

    'nilla

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  29. That really was a beautiful and honest post, and I'm glad you have music back in your life and your sisters' too.

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  30. Your lovely life unfurls as a sweet flower with each post.
    What a pleasurable read.

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  31. I am always amazed by your talent for writing but when you write posts like this, I don't know, they just blow me away.

    You're so very open and honest and I read the parts and know when you were sad and then the parts where I see that you're hopeful and it all baffles me that I see this while reading something written by a person I've never met.
    (I hope that made a little bit of sense).

    Anyways, congrats on the new addition to your home. I hope you have many years of music coming from it!

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  32. I have always wanted to learn to play the piano, and was never allowed to - - LONG story.

    I am SO happy for you! To have something back in your life that has been missing for so long is such a joy!

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  33. Hooray for you! Makes me think of a quote that goes something like "music skips the brain and goes directly to the heart." When we got our piano, my husband played for six hours straight--he'd been starved for music.

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  34. Happy that you found what was missing.
    It is a beautiful thing to have music in the home. Growing up, ours was only filled with various 8-track recordings of Johnny Cash and Elvis... and then LPs of all my brother's music - AC/DC, Cheap Trick - Ozzy.

    My brother played guitar and was good at it. Mom got tired of two trips to town each week for his guitar lessons and my gymnastics class... so I lost out on gymnastics. Bro continued to play guitar.

    Funny thing is - I went away to college - then further away for work and I didn't learn some thing very important until one my cousins told me... My brother stopped playing guitar after my sister died. He didn't start again until his oldest child was born.

    Just saying... that it is a good sign of moving forward when you let something missing (music) back into your life.

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  35. That was beautiful!! I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for letting us be a part of your wonderful life!

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  36. I remember the Fletcher books! I started out with the color coded Schwann books and have been purchasing those as I teach my children how to play.

    Congratulations on reclaiming something you had lost.

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  37. Such a great story. I hope that the new piano brings you much happiness!

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  38. I wonder sometimes at the way things work... At the exact moment I needed to hear that "you can move on from here" you felt compelled to share this wonderful story.

    I can't wait to read all the great NEW stories of your home filled with music.

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  39. That is such a beautiful story. So bittersweet, but beautiful. It makes me think of the piano sitting in my living room right now, the one that I, my sister, my mom and my grandmother learned to play on. I've been the only one playing for many years, and when I bought my first house, my parents' housewarming present was to move the piano over here for me. It made it feel like home.

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  40. Oh my God, I'm crying right here in my cubicle at work. I want my missing pieces back, too.

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  41. Great news! This could be my friend's story if your piano was a horse. :)

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  42. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Your sharing is touching.

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  43. aw kristy, that was lovely.

    i understand this story so well. my short version is: grew up playing on the family centerpiece, a steinway baby grand. this was 'my piano' as my father called it for 30 years.
    when he died suddenly 7 years ago, the stepmonster sold it within 2 days, before i could do or say anything.
    i quit playing piano. i even named my daughter after a joplin song that he used to play for me, but i couldn't play anymore.
    a year ago, i took a new course on teaching children group piano.
    you may not realize this, but to teach piano you actually have to PLAY it.
    so i started again. and now i have ten children who also started. and next year ten more.

    congratulations on getting your music back, hon.

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  44. I think I forgot that you were a clarinetist. I always just saw you on the piano. Seemed so natural. Christmas really was wonderful with your family. Ahashuerus?

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