Essays & Stories Piano Memories
I have this thing about pianos. Goes back to my grandmother’s sun parlor and her crinkly gray grand. My piano lessons didn't amount to much -- clearly, Bach and I never would have become intimate friends, at least from the performance point of view. A couple of slim chords and a few organized notes was about all I could muster.
My grandmother played her piano occasionally, but never very well. So
by the time she decided on another function for the sun parlor and instructed my dad to get rid of the piano, it was a done deal. Somehow he manhandled the thing to the back yard and set about destroying it. I can still hear the death agony of that piano, which was reduced in short order to a pile of junk that got hauled away piece by sad piece in the trash ...
Hear the entire "Piano Memories" essay below, as broadcast on Public Radio:
She was sitting in the waiting room while her daughter and doctor conferred about healing. Eighty if a day, her hairpiece was much too dark and sat askew on her head, creating a strange, cockeyed look. She nervously smacked her lips and moved her bulky body in the chair, swaying gently to some private hymn.
It was clear that she was a bit off balance. Not quite mad, mind you, but not all present, either -- and certainly not the type you’d expect to strike up a stimulating conversation with.
“I have a new grandbaby,” she an-nounced proudly in response to office chatter that had centered on children and grandchildren, then reached her hand out toward me, the light of expectation growing in her eyes.
“Why not,” I thought, with surprisingly little hesitation. I normally do not take the hands of strange people in doctor’s offices.
Hers was warm and soft. Strong, yet yielding. All at once, I knew that I’d be holding onto her hand as long as she wanted me to.
“I’m going back home in ’91. Christmas,” she said, warming to the story. “Back to Laurel Hill.”
Going back to three hard-won acres that she and her husband, “a good black man,” had bought on time some years before from a local benefactor, laboriously cleared of timber, and built a home. There she had raised her children, straight and strong enough to fly in a world where they would all too often not find things easy.
“It’s a place with good dirt, where you can grow turnips this big,” she confided, letting go of my hand and tracing the shape of an oversized turnip in the air before struggling to stand.
“Umble," she said beneath the heavy exertion of rising, and the light in her eyes started to dance.
“'Umble,” she said more clearly now, pausing to catch her breath. “You’ve got to be umble.” And then she began moving her feet, slowly at first, then a little faster, the spirit inside taking control.
“Lay yourself down, you can trust in the Lord,” she sang in deep, sure notes, a low and rich Gospel voice two stepping lightly around the room, dancing partner to time, distance, and a faith beyond words.
“Be humble, be humble. Lay yourself down, lay yourself down,” she moaned, sinking to her knees with concentrated effort and rolling heavily to the floor, where she curled up on her side, still moving her feet. Still dancing, still singing her silent prayer.
“Lay yourself down, and trust in the Lord.”
With a sudden tiredness in her eyes, the old lady lifted her hand to me and we rose together -- she to her chair, where she sat smacking her lips and munching an apple, lost in the dream of a Christmas yet to come, surrounded by the strong and willing hands, sweet hearts, and good dirt of home, and I to my own private wonderings, awed and amazed at the loving spirit and simple gift of Christmas Grace.
© by Brian E. Faulkner
The Value of Order
I must begrudgingly admire people with discipline. You know the type: up at first light and very organized. Closet the model of military precision; everything dress-right-dress, shoes lined up 1-2-3. Even the medicine cabinet is orderly -- nary a squib of toothpaste or clump of fossilized soap in sight. They were the disciplined kids growing up, the ones who always had their homework done early and their term papers researched and outlined weeks ahead of time while we in the rear guard were still deciding on our topics. They also looked good.
To me and countless other loyal disorderlies, fashionable dress clearly is an oxymoron. Our clothes look like they’ve been lived in by a windstorm. Our dresser top looks like abstract art. Shoes, car keys, wallet, brush, odd change, comb and pocket effluvia must be searched out diligently at the beginning of each day, which is as close to genuine ritual as our type ever gets. Dressing is by lot. We are confidently satisfied with whatever clothes fall to hand in the dimness of half light. I have found, for instance, that dark brown and dark blue go very well together. Socks only have to be close to match.
The best of us are afflicted from childhood -- always a button or two missing, one pant leg shorter than the other, one mitten on, the other one off. We look relaxed, like a clothes closet refugee. Mirror, mirror on the wall, not too fat and not too tall; skinny legs and rounded waist, you look like you dressed in haste.
What’s a body to do?
First, stay away from ready-to-wear. For you, nothing is ready to wear. Second, do not order clothes through the mail. On you they look like postage due. Third, never shop alone. Bring someone along who is not color blind and has some hope of rescuing your sinking sense of dress. And fourth, never press your own clothes. The results are usually de-pressing.
Logic suggests that your wardrobe conform in some reasonable fashion to the contours of your body.
Which depends, of course, on the body your find yourself in. Mine might best be described as “non-conformist,” a fact that struck home rather dramatically after a TV news audition some time ago. I thought I sounded pretty good -- sort of like David Brinkley. But then the people behind the camera began to titter ,,,
© by Brian E. Faulkner
How Orville Learned
Light in the Trees
Had a chance encounter with my amiable neighbor one April morning as I rescued our newspaper from the ditch and he returned from his morning walk. We soon were chatting about one of my favorite backyard scenes.
Newspaper securely in hand, I led him toward a spot on my property where the yard fell away toward a small lake – more a decent-sized pond. By this time, spring had grown somewhat long in the tooth, and my favorite dogwood tree was now weeks past its glory and not easily picked out among its new-green neighbors.
In autumn, I told him, that dogwood leaps into view and reminds me of Monet, its leaves painted with delicate pastels set against reflections shimmering on the pond’s surface. Had I the talent to do so, I would rush for my brushes and capture the impression so completely, so mem-orably, that art students would be discussing the work’s fragile beauty a hundred seasons hence.
It was impossible to adequately describe the lingering image to my neighbor -- that glowing tree, set against the deeper hue of the pond as shafts of sunlight illuminated the morning mist rising from the lake.
I like to think that’s how it may have been in the first days of this world, back when God set about creating it and found the words to describe his work for all eternity:
“Let there be light,” he said. And there was … and God saw that the light was good.
I get that. Maybe not all of it, but enough to have gotten my morning (and perhaps my neighbor’s) off to a good start.
And that is good.
© by Brian E. Faulkner
Lest We Forget
For more than 200 years, a deep connection has existed between two independent, liberty-loving peoples: the French and the Americans. They have been linked historically … and at the heart.
In no other country, other than our own, has so much American history transpired as it has in France. France has twice dedicated monuments to commemorate the liberty and freedom symbolized by the United States: the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and the Way of Liberty Highway, which stretches from Utah beach 1,145 kilometers through the French countryside, marking the route the victorious American Army took to help finally break the back of German occupation during World War II.
When the 60th anniversary of the end of The Great War is celebrated in 2005, there will be many commemorations throughout the world, because no fewer than 73 nations were touched by freedom as a result of the Allied victory, either directly or through the end of colonial rule. And there will be no more significant a celebration than in France, whose centuries-old relationship with the United States is forged in adversity and written in blood.
The American Revolution and the Marquis de Lafayette:
The French-American alliance was born in crisis. The newly declared United States of America faced probable disaster at one point in its War for Independence when it looked as if the British -- not the patriots -- would prevail. Supplies were running low, and the long-promised aid from the French king, secured by Benjamin Franklin, had been slow to materialize.
It was then that a wealthy young Frenchman, who had been fighting alongside the Americans as a major general, decided to intervene and petition the French government to release the expeditionary force that had been promised. His name was the Marquis de Lafayette, and he succeeded.
All in all, an incredible 44-thousand Frenchman -- some 12-thousand soldiers and 32-thousand sailors with their ships, battle gear, and supplies -- quite literally helped turn the tide for the American cause. Lafayette himself led the rout of Cornwallis and the British at Yorktown, thus saving Virginia, and eventually the nascent United States, from likely defeat. It is not improbable that, but for Lafayette and his countrymen, we Americans today might yet be speaking the King’s English!
His contribution was so monumental that Lafayette’s portrait now hangs front and center in our Capitol Rotunda, right next to the one of George Washington.
An American visitor to Paris today may view our French benefactor’s grave hidden away behind the huge wooden door that leads to tranquil Picpus Cemetery. It is hallowed ground; it is American ground. Lafayette was so admired in this country that the state of Virginia shipped a crate of earth to be placed in Lafayette’s grave so he and his wife could rest forever in Virginia soil. The American flag has flown over the Marquis de Lafayette’s grave continuously now for more than 150 years, even during the darkest days of WWII. Such is the depth of our debt to the French.
The Statue of Liberty:
There is none like her in the world, a vigilant symbol of hope. Lady Liberty's flowing robes, gracious countenance, and torch stretching skyward have welcomed generations of new Americans to our shores since October of 1886, a gift from the grateful people of France.
Why did we deserve this honor?
Because we had struck one of the best bargains of all time ...
© by Brian E. Faulkner
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