Monday, October 26, 2009
On Sunday, our congregation gave Shawn and me a gift and individual cards to express their appreciation for our service at The Crossroads. When I opened my card in the car on the way home, I started to cry. You see, it has a picture of my Granny's piano on the cover. The place where I learned to love music.
Granny was about 4'11'', and her shape was quite round. She was delightfully soft and fluffy for a little red-headed girl who loved to sit in her lap and listen to stories and songs.
She lived in Memphis, about an hour and a half away from Jonesboro, where I grew up. She was single, divorced in an era when nice women didn't get divorced. She lived with my uncle for most of my childhood in an upstairs apartment in his home, later on she had a trailer close to her teaching job at a Christian school. We made the trek to see her on occasion, and she lived with us sometimes during the summers while my parents worked or went back to school to get their Master's degrees.
She taught me how to sew, how to crochet, how to make braided rag rugs, and how to tell when yeast rolls have risen to the perfect height to be baked. She let me stir her jelly, and told me stories. We made paper chains, cut out paper dolls from catalogs, and quilted my first nine-patch quilt for my barbie dolls. We sat side by side on the couch and spent lazy summer afternoons stringing cheap beaded necklaces, playing checkers, and simply reading away the afternoon. I read novels, she read her Bible. We shucked corn, shelled green beans, and planted flowers. At night she shared my canopy bed, and told me stories and scratched my back until I fell asleep. Those were delightful times. I was always sad to see her go.
But most of all, Granny loved music. In her younger years, she had a nice voice. By the time I came along, it had faded to a dim warble. She played the piano and the organ for her church. When I would go to stay with her some during the summers, I loved to go to her office at school. In her office, in a corner was a tiny white piano. It only had about 60 keys, and the paint was fading. I was taking lessons, and she would encourage me when I was frustrated. "Reese, you just got to learn a measure a time. Play that first measure till you get it right, then add the next. Tackle the song just one measure at a time." Is that not a great life lesson? How many things in life are too big to attack all at once? And how many things can be accomplished when you take it just one tiny piece after one tiny piece?
When I was 9, my family moved to Memphis for a season. It was a horrific move for us. I learned to hate school, and times were hard. My parents chose to continue my piano lessons with my Granny rather than with another teacher, even though it meant a 30 minute drive across town. Those 30 minutes were the best part of my week. As I sat on that bench with Granny as my teacher, I learned some great, but tough lessons. She was adamant that I would learn to play without looking at the keys. I had to wear a paper apron that covered the keys so that I could not see my fingers. There were many sour notes, but I did finally learn to play. It was a hard, many tears shed, type of lesson. However, it opened the gateway to a whole new level of playing. When you no longer need to look at your fingers, you can concentrate on reading much more complex music. Today it is one of the most valuable skills I possess. Being able to play without my sight frees me up to completely release in worship with my eyes closed. She taught me about perseverance - and about trusting my ability. More great life lessons.
Then there were the days that I came to lessons when we just chatted, or she would pull out old hymns and sit beside me and sing in her warbling voice as I haltingly played along. She began to teach me about God's love for me, and expressing love back to Him in music. There were times when she was busy with students who stopped by in distress and needed counseling, and I kept myself busy at the piano. Busy while I learned the importance of loving people even when they interrupt something important that you are doing.
She gave away her life as a teacher. She touched countless numbers of students through her classroom, through tutoring, and through teaching piano. In her last few years, she lived with my parents, in the basement. She brought some of her favorite pieces of furniture with her - including that old white piano. When I went home to visit, I would sit down at that now out of tune instrument and play for her. I had long since out distanced her musically and studied under another teacher, but I don't know that anyone else ever used music to teach me how to live.
At the end of her life, after my parents divorced, she moved into an apartment close to my dad. I had the opportunity to go stay with her a little while when she was in the hospital. Katie was a baby. I did not get to tell her all of these things about how much she meant to me. She was too busy asking me about my family, and our ministry, and seminary. Then she would drift off to sleep while I held her wrinkled hand with the gold and silver ring with fruit on it that she wore in place of a wedding ring.
I did not see her again. Her funeral was an amazing celebration of her life by her students, her children, and her grandchildren. She was not a perfect woman by any stretch of the imagination. I come by my stubbornness and hot temper honestly. But she loved me, and taught me the love of music.....that love that leads me into God's throne room and brings me crazy joy.
Wonder what ever happened to that old out of tune white piano?