Tag Archives: Piano

Classic Post: Weird Things for Which I’m Thankful

This post first appeared on November 22, 2017.

No doubt, our Creator appreciates gratitude for freedom to worship Him, for family, friends, food and shelter. But my cornucopia also bursts with weird things for which I am thankful, including:

Image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay.

Avocados. As a missionary kid in Mexico, I picked them up like apples under big trees. I still am a guacamole junkie. How many other fattening foods are good for me?

Shots. Immunizations don’t rank as my preferred activity, and certainly not my grandchildren’s. But because of shots’ protection, holiday hugs and kisses induce only mild winter plagues.

Black, washable pants. They love sparkly holiday tops and simple ones. They’re immune to stains and grandbaby spit. Roomy in the rear, they don’t desert me after the holidays, as many of my clothes do.

My piano. I don’t own a grand or even a baby grand. But my little Baldwin comprised our first major purchase after Hubby finished medical school. I thought we should spend his first paychecks on practical items. He insisted, “You miss having a piano.” Whenever I play, it still sings a love song.

Our baby trees, whose lanky little branches and colorful fall foliage inspire me with lavish dreams for their future.

Image by lovini from Pixabay.

Our camper. The one Hubby purchased when I was too sick to fight it. Even sitting idle, it sets us free. Already, we picture days in the green woods and s’mores around campfires on starry nights.

Gummy worms. Incredibly lifelike, they possess magical powers. When decorating a grandson’s birthday cake, they enable me to resist eating it.

Our brown sofa. Thank God, Hubby talked me out of buying a red one. Otherwise, after eight years, it would present a less-than-artistic mosaic of peanut butter, jelly, pizza, mustard and gravy stains. Because of, um, the grandchildren. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

My neighbor’s yard. Raked and pristine, it gives me a goal to shoot for when I grow up.

Free chips and salsa. A highlight of dining in Mexican restaurants.

Image by Lilly Cantabile from Pixabay.

Laid-back drivers. People who drive sl-o-o-ow-ly on two-lane highways annoy me to the point I pray aloud to occupy mind and mouth. They even force me to notice the loveliness I miss when whipping by as usual.

Accelerators. Cars wouldn’t be much good without them, right?

Ditto for brakes. And headlights.

Paper towels. While living in Ecuador for two months, I missed them terribly. (Thank goodness, Ecuador did manufacture toilet paper.)

Our grandson at the beach.

Baby smiles. They always ruin a bad day.

A critic might protest, “Your list goes on forever!”

True. I never run out of weird things for which to be thankful, because my Creator never, ever stops giving.

He’s weird that way — and wonderful.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What odd reasons for gratitude pop up on your list?

Piano Magic

My five-year-old fingers stretched across the keys of our church sanctuary’s piano.

My mom, who’d never taken lessons, played for services. The keys sang lovely songs she’d absorbed after one hearing. Soon, she played them in any key.

The piano would do musical magic for me, too.

Our family, preparing for a mission trip, lived in our church’s two back rooms. We children were forbidden to touch the church’s unlocked instruments.

Right.

My brother Ned explored the organ’s mysterious tubes and wires.

The baby grand’s rich tones drew me. Besides, fooling with the organ warranted worse punishment.

But keys rarely cooperated when I played. Sometimes, a strand of melody escaped the chaos. But the piano did not love me.

Later, I realized that before confronting us, Mom listened. Her belief in our budding talent later led to Old Camo’s appearance in our sparsely furnished living room.

I’ve never seen such a piano before or since. Gray-and-white camo vinyl covered it. Metal studs outlined its silhouette. No wonder we could afford it. Still, I fell in love.

My fumblings drove my family to the same sentiment as George Bernard Shaw, music critic as well as playwright. He said, “Nothing soothes me more after a long and maddening course of pianoforte recitals than to sit and have my teeth drilled.”

Our daughter passed the music magic on to her children.

But I recognized more and more melodies. My excitement grew … until lessons sapped the magic.

Mom encouraged practice, then bribed, then chained me to the bench, hoping I would make friends with written notes. After four years, I continued to balk. She gave up.

Still, I played for church youth meetings. My peers dove for cover, but melodies and harmonies eventually found my hands. I even played the sanctuary piano (though neither Ned nor I crawled inside the organ anymore.)

Ned, also a piano practice delinquent, nevertheless worked for a piano craftsman. After Old Camo collapsed, teenaged Ned rebuilt a baby grand for Mom.

I missed it after I married. No money for pianos. Given our fabulous $97.50-per-month studio apartment, we’d have had to sleep on the bench.

We were skinny, but not that skinny.

After graduation, a new spinet graced our living room. Despite toddler abuse, teeth-gritting kids’ practices, and my thumping, it remains a monument to the magic.

As is our daughter. Like her mother and grandmother, she often ignores little black notes and discovers her own songs.

Mom was, too. Battling dementia, she played what Dad called his “dinner music” while he cooked.

“Beautiful,” Dad told her.

Though Mom didn’t remember repeating the same song seven times, her fingers and her spirit found their way to lovely music.

The magic triumphed again.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Is piano music magic for you?

I Flunked Euchre

I was born and raised in Indiana, the heart of the “Euchre Belt.” Along with understanding all things basketball and eating dinner plate-sized tenderloin sandwiches, I learned how to play euchre, right?

Wrong.

My father, a card-shark-turned-pastor, nixed cards. Even Old Maid made him uneasy. While friends learned to play euchre and that favorite pastime of the devil, poker, I grew up calling clubs “clovers.”

Instead, our default family activity consisted of singing around the piano.

Once, at an Indiana University summer music camp for high schoolers, I sowed the wildest of oats. My sort-of boyfriend, who also attended, volunteered to teach me euchre. He became my partner.

By evening’s end, he was crying. Why, I didn’t know. The clover issue bothered him. Also, I considered spades hearts too — pointy black hearts. He took that personally.

The relationship crashed.

Dad was right. Playing cards messed up your life.

Then, I met my dream guy: taller than me, with bigger feet and a cute smile. Like me, he enjoyed school. More important, he shared my Christian faith, as did his family.

Eventually, he invited me to his grandparents’ get-together.

I was ecstatic. Until everyone started playing heathen euchre.

Worse, no piano graced their living room.

How could this relationship survive?

Especially, as I learned his parents and grandparents played euchre every week. Grandma and Grandpa even gambled (gasp!), winning penny pots and cans of applesauce and beanee weenees.

My parents would want me to be polite. When my hosts insisted on teaching me euchre, I tried to learn.

Only now do I realize the extent of their kindness. Even Grandpa didn’t pounce on me — mostly because Grandma fixed a steely eye on him when I, his partner, trumped his aces.

Fortunately, my future husband was too in love to notice when I trumped his.

However, even he tired of waiting while I pondered various plays. He joined the others in extended coffee and bathroom breaks. Grandpa built a garage.

“With practice, you’ll do fine,” my sweet, future mother-in-law assured me.

She was right. After 25 years of marriage, I could play without anyone building garages.

Of course, our children caught on to the game as preschoolers. Their children also are fast learners.

The Phillips family playing euchre.

When we play with friends, the card sharks my father warned me about, they can’t play plain euchre. No, we must bid and think high and low and upside down.

You mean the cards read the same upside down?

My euchre education continues.

Occasionally, even the friendliest card sharks lose patience with me. But the important relationship hasn’t crashed.

He still possesses a cute smile. And Hubby can sing around the piano, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What in-law tradition tripped (trips) you up?

A Plunker’s Piano Lessons

I started piano lessons at five. I stopped at the ripe old age of nine.

Statistics indicate I’m not alone; 6,761,141,370 of the world’s 6,761,141,379 people have taken — and quit — piano lessons.

My early days at the piano.

I blame my parents. Neither had musical training, yet Dad’s big hands overran the keyboard like a spring storm. Mom, though partially deaf, could listen to a song, then play a full-fledged accompaniment in any key.

At five, I, too, picked out tunes. Why bother with notes? Neither did I (shudder) count beats. Mixing music, God’s gift, with arithmetic (eww), appeared one more weird complication adults demanded. My brother also deemed piano lessons unnecessary.

Mom tried to explain. If only she could have taken lessons as a child!

I would have remained unconvinced — except for strong capitalistic instincts. Mom paid Mrs. Snyder 50 cents a lesson, but she always refunded a nickel to me. With yellowed books and sheet music piled everywhere, her musty house smelled mysterious and musical. Thousands of former students’ photos adorned her walls, as Mrs. Snyder had been teaching 200 years.

My grandson played piano at a holiday concert Christmas 2019.

I played my first piece using three keys, then colored the page’s fun pictures. I liked Mrs. Snyder, I liked nickels and I liked Mom’s shining eyes when I practiced.

Sadly, Mrs. Snyder passed away. My new teacher handed me practice sheets instead of nickels. No pictures. I played songs like “Gavotte in G” and “Requiem for a Student Who Didn’t Practice.” Mrs. Mozart made me (choke!) play duets with my brother. We bowed and curtsied at stiff, scary recitals. The longsuffering teacher assured our reluctant mother we weren’t destined to play at Carnegie Hall.

Mom finally let us quit. Free at last!

Not until I attended college did I realize my loss. There, I met people whose fingers blurred over the keyboard. One blind friend played as if a single organism — part instrument, part human. Her music rippled up and down my backbone, joy unleashed.

Why are mothers always right? Especially when they preach, “What goes around comes around.” My own children blossomed with initial interest, but only one persisted into high school. As they plinked and plunked their first practices, I wondered, for the first time, if Mom had enjoyed mine as much as she’d claimed.

Still, my kids learned to read music, and piano background fueled interest in many other song forms.

Our piano — the first purchase my husband made after medical school graduation — often sits silent now, though I try to play daily. My fingers itch to exchange my laptop’s tippity-taps for music. Soon, I’ll touch the piano keys and listen to less-than-perfect love.

Even if nobody gives me a nickel.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you taken piano lessons?