Look for Me Sitting on the Piano Bench

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Dear friends,

I have been AWOL here at the blog for a couple weeks. Another trip to California. Upcoming books to promote, music to play, dog to walk, bla, bla, bla. I have been working through some poems from a few years ago and would like to share this one with you today. Most of it is true. There are moments when I see myself sitting at the piano at Sacred Heart playing songs I learned in my childhood and I’m amazed. Without lessons or encouragement, I never stopped learning to play those 88 keys. I’m still learning a little more every day and grateful for the privilege.

HER CALLING

Her mother says, “Go change your clothes,”
but instead she runs to the piano.
Climbing up on the stool, feet swinging
in her Oxford shoes with lace-trimmed socks,
she picks out the notes of the hymns
the sisters sang at catechism class.
“Ave, ave, ave Maria.”
“Holy God, we praise thy name.”
Her fingers half the size of the keys,
she finds the tunes and sings along,
grinning through the gap in her teeth.
“Stop that noise,” her father says,
turning on the baseball game.

But she cannot stop. She plays anything
that makes a noise—toy xylophones
and saxophones, plastic ukuleles—
and sneaks minutes at the piano when
her dad goes out to mow the lawn
or her mother leaves for the grocery store.
From a yellowed old instruction book,
she learns to clap out time and beats,
four-four, three-four, six eight,
quarter notes, half notes, whole notes
allegretto, andante, pianissimo.
Blocked by the family photographs,
she moves them to expose the keys.

At school, she finds the practice rooms,
a bench, a piano, an unlocked door.
But still she has to sneak. She’s
never had proper lessons, isn’t
authorized to be there, but
she’s drawn to it like a lover
she meets secretly at lunch,
then runs, breathless, to her English class.
One day, outside, a young man hears.
She blushes as he claps his hands.
When they marry, he buys a Wurlitzer
spinet, all 88 keys just for her.
He never tells her to hush, not once.

She’s widowed nearly a decade now,
but her wedding band shines in the light
as her wrinkled fingers dance,
playing the notes of the “Gloria.”
Her right foot pedals, beating time.
Behind her, the congregation sings,
one man in the back especially loud
and half a beat or so behind.
Leading the choir with nods and waves,
she smiles up at Jesus on the cross,
remembers that child with tiny hands
sneaking songs so many years ago,
because The Almighty told her to.

***

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

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If You Gotta Play a Garden Party Again . . .

Every year I swear it’s the last, but here I am again, playing at the annual Samaritan House Secret Garden Tour. I’m stationed in Mariann Hyland’s delightful “jewel box” garden in Neskowin.

I was definitely quitting this year after I wound up on “Scenic Old 101” driving mile after mile of winding, barely paved road. As the minutes ticked by, I knew I was going to be late due to misleading signs and not having paid enough attention to the map. I was tempted to get back on the freeway, buy myself an expensive lunch at some beachside restaurant and let the flowers do without music.

It wasn’t just me. A friend wandered the same direction, and she was using a GPS. So we were both late and both never volunteering for this thing again. Eventually, nearly two hours after leaving home, we turned around, found garden tour headquarters, got directions to our respective gardens and calmed down. The weather was perfect, the flowers were blooming, plant-loving friends were having fun together, and music filled the air. Also wine, cheese, chocolate and salt water taffy.

Neskowin is located a few miles north of Lincoln City, just into Tillamook County. My garden in the Neskowin Village snuggled in the midst of several cottages with their own spectacular gardens. As I alternated between keyboard and guitars, visitors admired the custom-made glass fence panels, the downspouts shaped like fish and turtles and the glorious array of sea air-loving plants. I disrupted the array a bit with all my gear, but at least, as you can see, I dressed in the floral theme.

You might wonder about the black armband. I wasn’t mourning anything. I’ve been suffering with an elbow problem called medial epicondylitis or golfter’s elbow for over a year now. It’s a repetitive stress thing exacerbated by playing the piano. Physical therapy has made it considerably less painful, but it’s still there and probably always will be. The brace helps, but I’m thinking the braces ought to come in colors to match our clothes. I’m going to work on that. 

Playing at the tour is always wonderful because I get to see so many great people, and so many people get to hear me. Also I get to play whatever I want. But there are challenges, too. The guitar-playing guy across the street, who knew every song the Beatles ever recorded, was distractingly loud. People frequently interrupted my music to ask questions like “Is this your garden?” and “What is the name of that plant?” There were cameras everywhere, some of them snapping pictures of me. This year, I saw quite a few people taking pictures with their iPads, too. But in the end, it’s a fun day, and it raises a lot of money for our local homeless shelter.

I came away with grooves in my fret fingers and a rasp in my throat, but ask me again if I’ll do the garden tour next year.

Probably.