When I started refinishing the 1929 Richmond upright piano my husband and I had scavenged from an old farm house, I rummaged through several black and white pictures my mother had given me, searching for ones I remembered seeing, of my great-grandparents sitting side by side in front of the upright piano in their parlor. Although I had formerly been interested only in their faces, I now wanted to see what the piano itself looked like and, more importantly, what was sitting on top of it.
I scrutinized the photos with a magnifying glass, taking in the lace runner; the oval picture frames that held faces I didn’t recognize; and the open sheet music on the music stand that stood beside the piano; but searching most of all for a glimpse of the metronome my mother had used during music lessons at her grandmother’s – this grand-mother’s – house. While Mom’s memories of those lessons and her grandmother were very unpleasant ones, they tugged at my desire to get them down on paper, so much so that as I continued to remove the rock-hard, blackened varnish from my piano, scenes of my great-grandparents’ era, as I imagined them, set my mind’s camera whirling with images and word pictures for a poem that eventually surfaced along with the beautiful cherry finish of the Richmond.
Refinishing the Piano
A relic of someone else’s past,
it revels in its own unmasking,
its delicate features, rich and red,
taking center stage now, parting
layers of time-worn curtains to
let me slip, unseen, through tapestried
parlors reeking of cigars and
oldness; to let me breathe in the
familiar air of uncharted notes falling
deftly into place, only to stop short
with the crack! of the wooden pointer
on Mother’s tender knuckles while
the metronome keeps time with
The refinishing incident spurred me on, and I anxiously searched through my childhood photo album to find the deep-down pictures of our home life. But I was disappointed to find that pictures don’t really lie; they just don’t always tell the whole truth, and the little things I so desperately wanted to see didn’t show up in the photos.
I wanted to see the cinder driveway that had once run alongside our house, and the garbage pits and hollyhocks that had lined the alley behind it. I longed to see pictures of Mom’s clotheslines propped up and loaded down with the week’s wash; the tricycle that my sisters and I took turns riding to the neighborhood park just up the street from our house; and glimpses of my grandma’s kitchen where, in the aprons my mother always made for her, she taught me how to spell my name while she was baking cherry pies. Those were the details that added color and life to my childhood. But nowhere did I find them recorded on film. So I did the next best thing. I encouraged my mind’s camera to come up with mental images that I could translate onto…continued on Page 37 of Snaps, Scraps & Snippets of the Past and Present (How to Retrieve the Lost Pictures of Your Past), on sale now at Barnes & Noble http://www.bn.com and http://www.amazon.com.
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