Today is a momentous day. A dear friend is leaving us and I am quite emotional about it. The silly thing is, it was my idea. But that was last year. It was a whim. I don’t think I ever really meant to do it. But then, in the spirit of change that has swept through our house this past year, the idea grew wings and took flight last week when my husband suddenly uttered those fateful words: ‘if we got rid of the piano we’d have a lot more space.’
I let it sit. I thought about it. I felt sick. I went round and round with it. All the grandchildren loved playing around on it. Our daughter had her first lessons on it. My husband spent decades trying to play Frère Jacques on it (I won’t miss that!!) Our gorgeous ginger cat, Charlie, used to sit imperiously on the top, watching us all (and gave me a hard lesson about vases of flowers on pianos when she knocked it over and ruined the bottom notes forever).
And how can we forget our 5 year old daughter getting up at dawn on Sunday mornings, wearing her purple Victorian-style dress with its lace collar, Mickey Mouse shower cap on her head (!), singing Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ while dusting and polishing her piano. (How I wish I had a photo of that, there must be one, surely!)
I remember the trapped fingers, the music holder breaking as Number 1 grandson and friend let the lid drop before folding it back; the blackbird that somehow came down the chimney, got trapped in the big lampshade then found its way into the back of the piano and refused to come out! Every toddler in the family has had his or her first music lesson on that piano. It is in the background of all our Christmas photos, bedecked with holly from our garden and candles made by our grandsons.
But the hardest part of letting go is the reason we have it in the first place.
Our daughter and her grandma were close: it was a relationship built on a mutual love of Polo mints and cleaning! She always carried a packet in the pocket of her apron and Grandma’s housework routine definitely had an influence on her grand-daughter. (If anyone needs any decluttering done, she’s the one to call!) Sadly, when our daughter was only just five, her grandma suddenly became ill and died.
Here is a photo of Grandma (wearing the ubiquitous apron) with me, taken in her garden where she had just cut me a bunch of sweetpeas, my favourite flowers.
When Grandma died, there was a little insurance money which the family had to fight hard to claim – Denis Healey, former MP and then Lord Healey, helped us – and we wanted to do something special with it. We wanted it to be spent on something significant, that she would have liked and that would keep her with us. My husband said she always liked the piano even though she never learned, I too had always wanted a piano and our daughter had been showing interest when she went to nursery where they used to sing around the piano every day. So this seemed a good idea. We bought a reconditioned Wilson walnut upright with flower inlay, you could see that it used to have candle holders too.
The chair was Grandma’s and went perfectly.
It was so exciting when the piano was delivered. We had a piano! I never thought I would see the day. I remembered my great-grandma’s black piano with the lace runner on top; the brown upright in our school hall that I loved to watch Miss Johnson play every morning in assembly, her toes going up and down and her fingers operating magically all at the same time; my best friend’s dark mahogany piano that I always envied and wished I could learn to play. Her mum said I could practise on it if I had lessons, but we couldn’t afford them. The nearest I ever came to playing an instrument was my wooden recorder! (But I could read music).
We organised lessons for our daughter when she was seven and I was sure it wasn’t just a whim. She and I would go along to her tutor’s house on a Saturday morning, and I would sit fascinated by the number of pianos and keyboards he had, always trying to work out how he got the grand piano into the living room – which also had an upright – and once when that room was having some work done, we had to go upstairs into a tiny box room where he somehow managed to fit an upright and two keyboards. It was like the Tardis.
In years to come, she went on to do her grades and play clarinet, five recorders and guitar. She loved Tori Amos and worked her way through her songbook during her student years, having long since given up formal lessons.
Now, her sons are having music lessons. They chose violin as their first instrument, and their mum accompanied them on our piano during reluctant violin practice at our house in the holidays. Here is the youngest teaching himself on the same piano having found his mum’s beginner’s book. He and his mum played a trick on me when, in a very bored voice, he called me to come listen to him do his violin practice. I found his mum playing violin and him at the piano with a cheeky grin on his face! He has since become keen on keyboard and drums and likes to compose his own music.
This instrument took on such significance in our lives that it even had a room named after it: being in the fortunate position of having two living rooms, one of them became ‘the piano room’!
The piano also became a repository for significant, much-loved items:
From the left, a cookie jar from Portugal (a wedding gift from student friends), my great-uncle Billy’s bachelor silver teapot (an apprentice’s passing-out piece), the Russian sculpture of a young woman’s head that has a thick plait down the back (a birthday present from my husband two days before our son’s first birthday). Next, my husband’s Morris Minor teapot, a gift from my mum and a replica of his real life pride and joy. Finally, the cake stand made for me by my very talented son, who seems to be able to turn his hand to creating something from anything being thrown out or abandoned. In the earlier photo of my grandson, you can just see in front of the sculpture, there is a clock he made from a bicycle tyre!
(Where am I going to keep all these now?)
This room’s become a bit of a museum: it also houses my great-grandma’s rocking chair, my grandmother’s Father Christmas cream jug, my great-aunt’s porcelain basket of flowers, a three-legged stool my mum bought me when our son was born and a more modern version made by Number Two grandson at school last year. That’s not to mention the shelves of photograph albums and 70’s cds (husband’s).
It’s time to let go. Our grandchildren live a long way from us and are growing up fast. The oldest (below) gave up piano and harp long ago, the boys now have their own piano and keyboard, the tiny ones will no doubt also benefit from them, too. When everyone visits, there’s never enough room to sit (especially in winter when everyone gravitates to the room with the woodburner), and I want the room to have a makeover.
So we’re saying goodbye to our old friend. We wanted her to go to a new home, but finding one was a bit of a struggle. The local charity shops didn’t want it. Age UK* didn’t want it. I widened my search to the surrounding towns and a lovely lady in a Sue Ryder* charity shop gave me the name of a new shop nearby: Forces Support*. They help families of injured and lost servicemen and women with house and garden maintenance and building projects etc that were started but can no longer be finished off. The man who answered my call couldn’t have been more helpful or welcoming and once he had found his ‘spectacles’ took down my details and arranged a day for collection.
Now we are just waiting for the men to arrive. Agony of agonies, they phoned last week to say the van had broken down and could we rearrange?! It’s somewhat nerve-wracking. A bit like the day we had to take a very old and sick Charlie to the vets and she didn’t come home.
My eyes are watering.
Not long to go and it will all be over.**
Hang on: what are we going to call the piano room now it no longer has a piano in it?!
Here’s a fun video of Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box to cheer us up! (If you’re reading this via email, you’ll need to click Like or Comments to take you direct to the post so you can see it).
Copyright: Chris McGowan