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May as Well Be Grand

As he prepared for the final sermon before his retirement last month, my dad assembled his four sons for a project that would symbolically cap his five decades as a pastor. Using little more than elbow grease and our most creative faux-cuss words, we would dismantle and ferry my mom’s 800-pound baby grand piano through the parsonage, past boxes that held a career of keepsakes, and into the waiting trailer. Before beginning the extraction, as we steadied our forearm forklifts, my younger brother asked the question that we were all thinking.

“Dad, why not just leave it here? I thought you hated this piano.”

We shared a chuckle at this suggestion because, for years, Dad was openly (and sarcastically) scornful of this musical millstone. And to understand why, you’d have to understand the circumstances that led to its purchase.

Through the first three-odd decades of their marriage, my parents had never been particularly prosperous. Dad slaved to give us what he could, and ends were always met somehow, but his and Mom’s material desires were a can continually kicked down the road. This manifested itself in the one elusive thing that my mother had always wanted most: a piano that was worthy of her concert-level skill on the ivories.

When my dear grandfather passed away in the mid-aughts, his generosity allowed Mom and Dad to breathe a little easier. His curtain call also came at a time when our church was planning to purchase a new baby grand piano, an instrument that would finally be on par with my mother’s talents, and that she was personally adding her own tithe -- a pittance, sure, but a lovely gesture -- to buy.

On the day that the piano was set to be delivered to the church, I happened to be enjoying a weekend home from college. “The piano is coming today, right, Mom?” She was quiet and more puckish than usual, and I was suspicious. Furniture was being rearranged in the living room, and these chairs hadn’t moved since the Clinton administration. I asked her what sneaky stuff she was up to.

“I was picking out the piano for the church,” she began. Then, her smile went wide, and she leaned in like we were about to go on a treasure hunt. “And don’t tell your dad yet, but I bought one for myself too.”

Those heady days of weighing the pros and cons of each purchase were over; Mom had gone rogue. And Dad, drop-jawed as he was, was also completely delighted. Her happiness had become his, if only by proxy.

When I asked Dad about the piano, he was pragmatic about the whole thing. “I’d always wanted her to have one, we just hadn’t found one yet.” Then, almost getting misty, “If anyone has ever deserved anything more than your mom deserves that piano....”

My parents are retired now, and their history is littered with items and heirlooms that were of questionable import at the time but, piece by piece, tell their tale better than either of them would ever even attempt. There’s the piano, certainly, but also broken-down vehicles and missed opportunities and more peaks and valleys than they can count. For all of dad’s bluster back then, the victory of buying the piano belonged to them both, and removing the piano from the last parsonage they’ll ever inhabit is no different.

The next time I join my brothers to move the piano, it will likely be under strange circumstances. We’ll probably be down one guy, and we’ll likely laugh-cry about how nice it is to freely cuss without the reverend around. And we’ll remember the last time we moved the piano, and leaving the final parsonage, and the sermon that signaled his retirement.

If anyone has ever deserved anything more….

October 2019

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