“Why are you crying?” the burly moving man asked me, his voice full of concern.
I wasn’t crying, not really. I just had tears in my eyes. They had not even run down my cheeks. Yet, I had to admit it was very emotional for me to watch the mover and his assistant wrap the piano for moving.
That piano was almost as old as I was. My parents had bought it when I was a child of six or seven. It seemed like a rather extravagant purchase back then but my mother had ached for a piano to play and my father, devoted husband that he was, decided we could afford the purchase. I have a vague memory of the three of us sitting on the piano bench and singing along as my mother played tunes from Songs We Sing From Rodgers and Hammerstein. My mother had a beautiful voice and loved music. My father and I could not really carry a tune but we also loved music. Looking back, my mother must have suffered listening to us singing off-key but I do not remember her complaining.
What I do remember is how she would often vacuum the house when I would do my piano practicing for my weekly lessons. When I was twelve a tornado hit our house. The damage was slight, but glass shards were caught between the piano keys. My lessons were suspended until the piano could be cleaned. Repairing the broken windows, missing roof tiles, damaged furnace, and the hole in the wall were a higher priority. By the time the piano was fixed I was busy with other after-school activities and the lessons were never resumed.
What continued, though, was my love for the Broadway show tunes. I have many happy memories of accompanying my parents to the travelling productions of Broadway musicals. While most of my contemporaries bought Beatle or Rolling Stones albums I listened to the soundtracks of The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof.
I guess I was kind of nerdy. On my first date with my husband he asked me what kind of music I liked. I remember taking a deep breath, deciding I could not fake being a rock music fan, and telling him the truth. He was amazed but impressed that I wasn’t afraid to be so “un-cool”.
Although I had moved four states away I knew my mother continued to enjoy playing the piano in spurts of inspiration. That joy continued until she was in her sixties and her body betrayed her. Breathing was difficult, reading was hard, and her hands could no longer trip easily across the piano keys.
By this time I was living in Israel. Our record player no longer worked. Instead of listening to Broadway musicals on the tape deck I usually heard the Avraham Fried and Mordechai Ben David tapes that my children bought. Occasionally, though, I would take my girls to musical performances.Some were revivals of old shows in Jerusalem and some were original works by the “Raise Your Spirits Theatre By Women - For Women”. I always felt my mother’s approval as we took these outing and made sure to tell her all about them
It became almost impossible for my mother to travel and so I was the one who usually made the three long flights to see her and my father. Sometimes I travelled alone and sometimes with one of my children. It was on one of those visits that my middle daughter sat down at the piano and began playing by ear songs she loved. My mother was amazed, proud, and happy that her granddaughter had inherited her love of the piano. If she could no longer play the piano at least her granddaughter could. She decided to ship the piano to Israel for my daughter to have.
It left my parent’s house right before Pesach. A week before Shavuot my mother had to have emergency surgery. It was minor surgery but she was so weak we feared she would not survive it. I left immediately for the airport and got on a flight to Canada. My connecting flight in Chicago was delayed and delayed but the surgery was being delayed also. Somehow I got to the hospital in time to see her in wake-up. She was stable and I soon returned to Israel. A month later my husband, three youngest children, and I made a return trip. My mother died before we arrived.
It is never easy to lose a parent but that is the natural way of life. We were with my father for the funeral and I sat shiva in my childhood home. Almost a month after we returned home, right before I finished Shloshim, the piano arrived. It still had the smell of my parent’s house and I shed a few tears on its arrival.
That was eleven years ago. The piano sat in our house waiting for our daughter to grow up and have a home of her own. This year she and her husband bought an apartment and so, for her birthday, we sent her the piano. It is not surprising that I had tears in my eyes as the piano left my house.
We were invited to my daughter for the following Shabbat. The first thing I saw when we walked in the door was the piano. It was beautiful and looked as if it had finally come home. Resting on top of it were my daughter’s Shabbat candlesticks and the book, Songs We Sing From Rodger’s and Hammerstein. As I leafed through the pages I had only happy memories of my mother. And then I began to read the words of one of her favorite songs.
When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high,
And don't be afraid of the dark;
At the end of the storm is a golden sky,
And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown,
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone.
My mother’s yahrzeit is the end of this month. She taught me countless things. By teaching me this song she gave me a basic shiur in Emunah. Her memory is a blessing.
Shiva: seven days of mourning
Shloshim: literally thirty days, certain mourning customs are observed for seven days, others for thirty, some for eleven months, and some for a year
Yahrzeit: anniversary of a death