that old black piano, with one leg broken off, but propped at the back, holding the baby grand piano up. it was our find, our treasure - a baby grand piano! with shiny rings embossed all over the flat surfaces on top (Mom said we'd have to clean those off, all were removed but one), and old ivory keys, some thicker than others, (a few inlaid with what looked like plastic) - but we loved it! What a sound it produced. We could forget that it was only painted black, and thickly awkwardly painted at that, and instead we lost ourselves in gleaming ebony depths, in the luster of a baby grand piano.
and dreams of music. both my mother and i could play, a little. of course, we believed we were better than the rest. our baby grand piano probably proved that, if nothing else did. our mother's-in-law tongues in white wicker plant stands, our phellodendrons and african violets, our oriental carpets and woven grass mats. so many of our neighbors had had to flee europe after the second world war with nothing, and their homes were so much more bare. we had the residue of a 'better' background. we were from the old aristocracy. the people who had come centuries before, and owned land and homes, and in some cases slaves. my great-grandparents with their original craftsmen furniture and accessories. yet how far the mighty have fallen.
my mother used to share day-old bakery goods, a little extra lamb stew, an odd-lot sweater, with the neighbor who had moved to our neighborhood after her husband committed suicide in the crash of '29. (so the story told.) She was very old in the 1950's and lived alone on the ground floor of a three story house, renting out the top two floors. she broke her hip more than once, and my mother looked in on her. Mrs. R. lived surrounded by the detritus of her years as a wealthy woman. I could barely make my way through the rooms of her house, stacked with furniture, paintings, china and linens. my mother looked in on her, eyes wide at the spectacle of a rich woman reduced to penury, perhaps imagining what it must have been like for her own family as it made its gradual slide down. Mrs. R. lived very like my mother's grandmother, who rented a room for herself so she could rent her house out to boarders and live on the income. my mother must have 'seen' her grandmother in Mrs. R. anyway, when Mrs. R. died, she left my mother a set of old dishes - nothing really 'good,' mere reproductions of some old original dutch design. the Dutch - theirs were the really good names. i think my mother was disappointed. perhaps she expected something more, perhaps she finally realized that all that stuff Mrs. R. was saving was really quite worthless. in my mother's eyes, it always seemed to be a morality-play. sic transit gloria mundi. i learned that from her.
the piano had a good tone, except for a few notes that rasped or buzzed or didn't strike. playing it plunged me into another zone, a depth of feeling, a rolling energy. i played beethoven, brahms, tchaikovsky, chopin, mendelssohn. i spent so many fulfilling hours at that baby grand piano.