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Music Hath Charms:

When I was a small child there was an upright piano in our front room.

You will note that I do not say that it was in our living room. We did our living in the den. The front room was another matter altogether.

I was not allowed into the front room. And, even upon those occasions that I was permitted to pass through it, I was not allowed near the piano. I did not take much offence at not being allowed into the front room. After all, Dad almost never went into the front room either, and Ma seemed only to enter it in order to clean it. But I did regret not being allowed to try to play with the piano.

Since it wasn’t our piano, I really can’t blame Ma for defending it from me. The piano actually belonged to my aunt Margie, who, along with my aunts Ethel and Dodie and their husbands had all taken part in the great northward migration to Washington State at the end of WWII. Margie had evidently, chosen not to take the piano with her at that time, having three kids and a husband and all their other household goods to manage. So Ma got custody of the piano until Margie got around to sending for it.

When I was five or six, Ma talked Gran into selling her share of a triplex (which is now a local landmark in Monterey Park), and moving into a little bed-sitter “Granny” apartment which Dad built onto the side of the garage. I am not altogether certain why Gran permitted herself to be persuaded to do so, for it was a considerable step down in all respects. But I was exceedingly glad to have her so close. Gran also had a piano.

Ma’s family, in general, tended to all have reasonably good singing voices, and a very good, very early-developing ear for pitch. (Unlike Dad, who had a singing voice only a crow could love, and was unclear on the concept of pitch.) All of the girls in the family were accordingly taught to play the piano “a little”, and everyone, both boys and girls, would go about singing their personal favorites of the current Top-40, and fondly believing that they were “musical”.

My own voice and ear were no exception to the rule and developed right on schedule. Consequently, at eight, it was decided that I was finally old enough to be taught to play the piano.

Ma would send me out to Gran for my lesson, and during the week I was expected to practice on Aunt Margie’s piano, in the front room.

As one might expect, the novelty wore off very quickly and I was soon bored silly by the piano.

Fortunately, after no more than about six months, and well before this had gone on long enough to put me off music altogether, Margie wrote and asked Ma to ship the piano up to Washington for her.

Ma was highly indignant over Margie’s having saddled her with a piano for years on end, and then having the nerve to ask for it back just when I had gotten old enough to get some good out of it. That Ma had never bothered to try to play it herself was immaterial. The fact that Margie’s second daughter was only a year older than I and that Margie had just produced a third daughter, both of whom might also be considered to be in line to ultimately derive some benefit of their mother’s piano also cut no ice with Ma.

You would have thought that Margie had arranged the whole episode solely to be tiresome and disobliging.

I think I may be the only female child of my generation in the whole family to have managed to escape piano lessons.