Naomi Ruth Wheeler
Every night, Father moved the big easy chair, swung the wall around, pulled down the Murphy bed, and -- voila|m -- our living room became a bedroom. Close quarters, to be sure, because Mother's baby grand piano dominated the room as it did her life. During the depression, her private rainbow would not have let to the probable pot of gold but to Carnegie Hall, and she pilfered every moment she could to practice.
Neighborhood children came for piano lessons, and Mother's fee was 25 cents an hour to all but Clarence, the corner newsboy. He was a pudgy, tousle-topped youngster about whom people winked, hinting he was "slow."
But talent, like beauty, emerges from the most unexpected places, and through the concrete appearance of unflowering youth shot eager tendrils of latent musical ability. Clarence was drawn to our apartment as if lassoed through the window with sonata strains. Music to him was an innate language to be breathed rather than read, and what he heard with his heart flowed from the keyboard through his fingers.
As the years passed and prosperity dipped a timid toe into the country's economic waters, I left for college and sent letters home to a new and nicer address. No longer would Mother's beloved Baldwin be crowded against a drafty window overlooking the neighborhood tavern, dry cleaner, and grocery store.
During the war years, servicemen gathered around our piano to send another flock to "bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover," and strong left hands pounded out the new boogie-woogie rhythms. Eras dissolved into generations, and our piano went through them like octaves.
With grandparenthood, Mother once again perceived potential prodigies. Claiming suddenly, when our older child was 5, that they baby grand was really too large for their apartment, she approached my father with her scheme. "Let's give the piano to the children and buy an upright," she urged. He who had never laid 10 fingers on the 88 agreed to help her shop for a spinet. You can imagine Mother's chagrin when Father picked out an electric organ. (And became the new musician in the family.)
Mother's piano moved with us from house to house as the next generation's music brought new rhythms and sounds. How well I remember our son's early teen years when he thought keyboard virtuosity was made of one part presto and nine parts fortissimo, and everything from Back to rock ricocheted through the rooms.
Our children have families of their own now, and the mahogany matriarch of our music world presides grandly over our daughter's living room a thousnad miles away. What gental memories must be stored in its strings. In a few years her daughter will begin piano lessons. Perhaps in a few decades this treasured instrument will go forth with the fourth generation.