My mom believed her children needed piano lessons. I’m not sure why other than maybe to make us more refined or to give us a little culture. At any rate, my sister took them and mom signed me up for them from the same teacher. I had an ace in the hole though. My brother taught me the scales before my very first lesson. That ace turned out to work against me.
My teacher, Mrs. Smith, lived in a big corner house on the street behind ours. Her yard was filled with an array of flowers she dutifully nourished. I usually walked on Wednesday evenings through the alley to her house. She had white hair that she kept in a bun and she just seemed so old. She reminded me of my grandma L. I never met her husband as he preferred to stay out of sight when she gave lessons. She kept her piano in her living room in front of the window.
My very first lesson I sat at her bench anxious to be a piano playing fool. Surely it would come easily to me just because I wanted to play. She started to teach me the scales and thanks to my brother’s tutoring, I took off. It’s safe to say she was impressed. Of course, I’m sure I neglected to mention it was my brother’s doing – or that that was the extent of my ability. I do remember showing up for a lesson one time and a friend of hers was just leaving. Mrs. Smith introduced me as her “pride and joy.”
Whenever I was having a particularly hard time with a song, she would begin to count for me. Sometimes I’d finish and she would just give me a long look. Of course it was obvious that I didn’t spend much time practicing. It must have been excruciatingly painful for someone so musically inclined to sit through some very long songs.
However, there were occasions when I’d get the penciled checkmark in the top corner of the page meaning I passed. And sometimes, I’d even get a sticker.
I was Mrs. Smith’s pupil for a few years and I learned a few songs. My trouble though was that I wanted to be able to play the piano I just didn’t want to work for it. Practicing was a pain and I avoided it at all costs. After a while I figured out a trick so that I wouldn’t be accountable for my lack of effort. Mrs. Smith lived a fascinating and storied life. As soon as I walked in I would ask her about something and if I was lucky, she would spend the half hour telling me a story. As soon as she saw my mom pull up outside she’d say, “Oh, I talked the whole time. Here we need to go through a song.” One song was better than more than one song. It didn’t take long for her to catch on to my tricks. Now however, I just wish I could remember some of those stories.
I became so bold in my laziness that the last summer that I went so far as to tell my mom she was on vacation. Then I told her we were too busy for me to come. I think it took a month before she called mom herself and got the scoop. My mom told me I was free to quit; she was tired of fighting with me. I quit right then and there and never went back to Mrs. Smith’s.
As it often happens when we get older, I felt bad about my deceitfulness as a kid. I wanted to go and visit but I never did. When I returned home from my mission I decided I had matured enough to go and make amends.
I told my sister my plans. “Oh,” she said, “I thought you knew. Mrs. Smith died while you were gone.” I had missed my chance.
There are new owners in Mrs. Smith’s big white house on the corner now. Her flowers are gone and the residents continue to make changes. I found her and her husband’s grave in the cemetery. They never had any kids so I make sure there are flowers next to their names. It’s the least I can do.