Piano Moving Day
The most wonderful sound in the world on a cold winter morning: the furnace kicking back on after a power outage. It signals not only that the electricity has been restored, but whatever happened did not do something to the electronics of the still almost new burner. The second most wonderful sound: the furnace shutting down. It does make me pause and wonder how many decades the burner ran rampant after the thermostat setting had been reached or if is just another of my many irrational winter fears based on something that happened once a long, long time ago.
It is January and it is January cold with deeper cold forecast for tomorrow; we are at that time when “it is warm today!” means it is above freezing which it should be by the end of the week.
The sun comes and goes, one moment promising a bright day, slanted sunbeams falling though the clouds over the sound end of the island, the next threatening a snow shower. There is a dusting on the ground and the frozen surface of the big pond behind my house is painted with swirls of white.
It is winter. Of all the things on my unending list of things to be done over the season, I have accomplished the one that was never there: “Dispose of old upright piano no one has played in decades.”
It was big and dark and of an era when farmhouses had pianos instead of radios that evolved to televisions, when there was sheet music instead of recordings that evolved to a technology I have not yet acknowledged much less embraced.
My mother played it, but it was a tie, not to her, rather to piano lessons in an exotic place at what felt like the end of the world, out beyond the simple houses and out buildings of the Lewis Farm.
Out there, Cousin Bill had crafted — there is no other word for it — houses from World War II surplus buildings. The one with the piano was, even to my young eyes, from a magazine, decorated with pieces from around the world, all with a story. There were wide expanses of glass, an interior balcony, and an elegant piano. One big window looked out to a single square tower on the edge of the far cliff. It was like the familiar pair that then stood on Bush Lot Hill, the ones still visible in the murals on the walls of Club Soda, like so many details of those extraordinary paintings, there when one knows where to look. They were, all of them, built for World War II, as were the ones that exist to this day, incorporated into what were supposed to look like barns or houses.
(All three of the solitary sentries were eventually taken down with explosives; they were of strongly reinforced concrete .)
I remember still when I was little my first trip, with my mother, to the very end of the unfamiliar Snake Hole/Black Rock. We came to a gate with a imposing no trespassing sign between us and Bill’s compound. Years later, I was in privileged territory, on the other side of that sign. Small wonder I was so distracted from the piano keys before me.
Once upon a time I entertained notions I would one day play, again, although that I ever did was a kindly stretch I allowed myself. I had the piano tuned a few times before conceding to reality and realizing it was silly to keep spending money in anticipation of something that was not going to happen. One of the nephews managed to pry ivories from several of the keys one summer and the behemoth became a place to line up books sorted by read and to be read, its top a catchall for assorted items that needed to be put in a high, safe, place. Yet, I thought I should keep the instrument for no identifiable reason. This year, I took off the front and folded back the top — surprisingly easy tasks I knew from watching tuners over the years — exposing the quite glorious sound board. Hitting a few keys did confirm all was not well, the hammers did not return.
And I remembered the last tuner had thought the sound board was cracked.
A piano need to be loved and played and tended. Today, no one wants a big upright — an upright grand the lettering inside it declared. People have either real space for real grands and baby grands or they do not and if they do not even spinets are often by-passed for keyboards that do not demand a commitment of precious square footage.
That the exposed sound board was “really cool” with its pegs and wires and felted hammers all in a row hardly justified the space the upright consumed so, it is gone, all 500 odd pounds of it. It was, declared the neighbor, “A Four Littlefield Job.” He recruited his brother and two of his nephews, all of whom who arrived, thankfully, when I was not home. His description reminded me of another day long ago.
My Aunt Alice Barker, who lived on High Street, bought a new piano. She sent her old one to Mrs. Gravel at the Cottage Farm House, the beautiful white Queen Anne on Corn Neck. Mrs. Gravel gave hers to us and our old one went to the dump. Then, like the neighbor all these years later, my dad got some guys and that was that.
A part of me is horrified at what I have done, now that the initial euphoria faded. Then I look at the wall space gained in a room with five windows and three doors, at the sparse winter light no longer absorbed by the dark surfaces of the piano, and wonder why I did not do it sooner. Now, even before “paint living room” can go on my list, I have to address the all-consuming question: What color?