Learn to Play

February 7, 2008
By Shannon Kelly, Lincoln, NE

My name is Addie May Bright and my mother says it’s a lovely name. My mother also said I should learn to play piano, and that is where it all begins.
* * *

Mama, it seemed, often had crazy ideas floating around in her head. For example, she actually believed that vegetables can be good for a person. Mama also thought that Anne Ferris was the “sweetest thing.” That’s how she got the piano idea.

She had attended our school Christmas program last winter for which Anne had played the piano. Mama thought it was wonderful and came home set with her decision.

“But my fingers are sore! I’m not ready to play the piano!” I called out despite my mother’s attempts to ignore me. “And,” I continued, “I’m not Anne Ferris!” Mama smiled at that.

“No you’re not. You’re my Addie May Bright and that is a lovely name.” See what I’m going up against? I did not like this- not one bit, but after a while it became pointless to argue with Mama. As much as I hated to admit it, Mama always won. The same woman who had gotten me into a dance recital when I was four was not going to let me out of piano lessons.

“Besides.” She said. “It’s only right to put your grandmother’s old piano to use.” Yes, we did inherit the looming piano from Grandma Walters. What kind of inheritance was that? I think she wanted to get rid of it. Mama says Grandma loved to play, but that’s just what Mama says. Either way, I started my lessons.

There was only one woman in town who taught, and I had never even heard of her. She was called Mrs. Florence and I was to respect her. I did not look forward to meeting her, and I did not look forward to learning from her.

Mrs. Florence lived in a peach colored house with a big white porch. The road leading to her house was mostly dust this time of year, what with the heat. So I took my anger out by kicking up dust. I slowly and certainly not gracefully made my way to the front door.

I felt like Mrs. Florence had been waiting for me. She was right there at the door, lickety-split. And she didn’t look at all like the evil dictator piano woman I had expected. However, I was still not going to give in.

“Hello Addie.” She smiled at me while holding the door open. Her house smelled like the orange stuff you use to clean cupboards and make them shine. I nodded- didn’t want to be too friendly.

“So you’re here to play piano.” I looked down and nodded. “And you don’t want to. Poor kid, here against your will.” This got me listening.

“How did you know? Did Mama warn you?” She laughed a little and shook her head.

“I just know these things. I’m a smart woman, you know. Come on. Let’s go in the kitchen to have some cookies.” And come I did.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would have stayed and had those cookies all night, but some guilt set in on me. Mama would want to know what I had learned, and due to that cursed Grandma Walters, I would have to show her so I said,

“Shouldn’t you be making me play scales or something?” She took a bite of her cookie and looked up at the ceiling, not particularly concerned with anything. Then she answered.

“Not unless you want to.” Once again the woman had shocked me. “See, piano isn’t about playing day and night and practicing until your fingers wear out. It is about enjoying the feeling of making music with your own two hands. And I will not require you to do that until you decide you want to. Addie, I’m waiting for you, hon.” And I think something clicked.

I did learn to play the piano, and every lesson was accompanied by a separate life lesson from Mrs. Florence. We became good friends over the course of our lessons, partially because I took them for a good long time. I am still young, and my life sits ahead of me. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll play for the Christmas program, but for now I’m content just being me.

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