Hannah spent the morning with Mom and Dad and me, playing the piano, baking Guinness treacle bread, playing Carcassonne, and warming leftovers for lunch, topped off with last night’s Tarte Tatin (French up-side-down caramel apple pie). She played pretty hymn arrangements and the perennial sublimity of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune—Moonlight. Mom sat listening on the sofa with her eyes closed. Dad reached the bottom stair just as Hannah finished playing. “That was beautiful,” he complimented her. “I think you played that exactly the way Beethoven would have liked.” Hannah and I glanced at each other and smiled. No one laughed, of course, because the music was so moving and his loving accolade so sincere. The week Dad retired, more than 20 years ago, the law office joined him for a final jog through Johnson Park. One heavy-breathing attorney, O’Shaunessy, panted amiably to Dad as they ran, “You know, Nelson, I appreciate that you are religious. Before you came here, I had never heard the story of Moses and the Ark.” A third attorney asked if O’Shaunessy meant Noah instead of Moses, and a friendly argument ensued, with Dad caught in the middle, not weighing in. Maybe O’Shaunessy was not too far off, though, since Pharoah’s daughter had found the baby Moses floating in a tiny reed ark. And Beethoven did compose the famous Moonlight Sonata. As Hannah left for home, Dad called to her, “I love you,” and commented to me about what a delightful young woman she is. He sat at his computer to type her a note. I had judged him for pressing the mouse button so forcefully and deliberately, like an old person who had grown up flipping toggles and pressing mechanical switches. But sitting later at Dad’s computer to retrieve a “lost” document, I realized his chorded mouse was not functioning properly, and that if I did not lean forcefully into the mouse, it did not respond. I had judged incorrectly, as I often do, placing pride and arrogance before compassion and respect. “Dad,” I called, “I’m sorry your mouse doesn’t work correctly,” and he thanked me for noticing, and I drove to the store and purchased a new mouse with a smooth wheel and a soft clicking touch.
My daughter Hannah came to stay the night with Mom and Dad and me. We baked mince pies and banana chocolate chip muffins; we watched an episode of the delightful new All Creatures Great and Small; we birthday shopped around the valley; she played Mom’s baby grand piano. When she began to play on Friday evening, Mom and Dad both quietly stood from their family room recliners and shuffled into the living room to hear her play, so beautifully, Clair de Lune, by Claude Debussy. Her touch and phrasing added to the piece’s natural sublimity. After baking on Saturday morning, Hannah played piano variations of our Church’s sacred hymns. Dad, stepping down the stairs in time to give her a good-bye hug, praised her: “I heard and loved every single note you played: so pretty.” I took piano lessons until I was 17, mastering Debussy’s Girl with the Flaxen Hair, another of history’s most beautiful compositions. Practicing on the New Jersey baby grand was sometimes painful for the other family members as I struggled hundreds of times through difficult passages. Hannah’s mother found a 1911 upright grand, which had survived a fire and been dropped on a corner, for $500, and I plunked its keys for over 20 years. On that piano I dreamed up dozens of lullabies: gifts to my children. I have told the story of their composition elsewhere on this blog. Living now with Mom and Dad, for some reason I do not play the piano. Perhaps the thought of creating music is a gray shadow of older years when my heart carried music. Perhaps I have lost my touch and talent. Perhaps I am emotionally empty. But one evening Mom asked me to play. I felt somewhat startled, both at the thought of playing, and at realizing I had not played for six months. I sat down with my lullaby book and played and sang the old songs that opened my heart then and now.
Pictured above: Yours Truly playing the piano in about 1986.
Pictured below: Hannah and Lila recently playing Mom’s baby grand. My grandmother Dorothy played the piano, as does Mom. If Lila learns, she will be the fifth generation of pianists in the family.