As part of the Ask cenobyte Experiment, Schmutzie asked:
What is a particular object to which you have a great attachment? Why?
I have a great attachment to the piano which sits in my dining room. It was one of the wedding gifts my great-grandparents received from my great-great granparents. It’s a Heintzman upright grand piano, made in Toronto in the 1890s sometime. It was well taken care of by my grandmother, who never played, and it is the piano I learned to play on. Its keys fit my fingers properly; they have the perfect weight. The texture of those keys is like coming home on a chilly day.
It has a nice tone, and still has its original ebony and ivory keys. I believe only two strings have been replaced.
I am attached to it because the first day I played that piano in my own house was the last day I saw my grandfather alive. He and my father hauled the thing up out of my grandmother’s basement (no small feat) and into the back of my father’s truck. They sweated and swore and slapped at the back of the bloody thing until they were panting and wheezing and calling it “you bitch” and “goddamned whore”.
I remember them, standing in the bed of the truck, grinning and filthy and their faces all running with sweat. I remember them shaking hands (men didn’t hug in those days) while I ran after them with the piano bench, knowing they would lift me in to the back with them. My Gramps opened the lid off the keys, opened the top of the piano to “let the music out”, and he played the first five bars of Let Me Call You Sweetheart. He closed up the lid, and he closed up the keyboard, and they tied “that bitch” down to every place they could.
We jumped down from the truck and went inside for lunch. Harvest was over; all the grain was cleaned and in the bins. It was early September, and the sun was hot and the sky was the brightest blue, with the tiniest wisps of clouds scattered around. We walked up the steps to Grandmother’s house, and Gramps stopped to take off his dusty, oil-stained workboots.
“Gramps,” I said, “I don’t like your boots.”
“Why not?” he asked, his easy smile lighting up his eyes.
“They’re dirty,” I said.
“Oh; I’ll die with my boots on,” he said, and laughed, and gathered me on to his lap, which had been steadily and strangely shrinking since my fifth birthday three years before.
I don’t remember how long after that it was I was walking to the babysitter’s for lunch – maybe a week; maybe two weeks – when I saw my mother standing at our front door. Dad’s truck was in the driveway; this was odd because they were both teachers. I got excited…I never got to go home for lunch! Mum called me inside, and I skipped and shouted how lucky I was to go home at noon! I burst into the entry, and saw Dad sitting in the rocking chair in the living room.
Mum told me to sit down, but I didn’t want to. The air in the house was wrong. The energy in the house was wrong. Something…something was wrong. The piano sat up against the wall in our living room. Dad looked at me with an expression on his face I’d never seen before. “There’s been an accident,” he said.
Then my father burst into tears.
Dads don’t cry, though, I thought. Dads don’t cry.
Mum hustled me off to my bedroom, but I could still hear him sobbing. I could feel his heart breaking from two rooms away. Gramps had been killed in a farm accident. Gramps was dead. He’d died in those dirty old boots, alone in a field under the pale blue sky. Gramps, with the sparkling eyes and the belly laugh and who smelled like dust and spice. Gramps, who couldn’t read any better than a six-year-old, but who held me on his lap and let me read to him. Gramps, who I loved more than anything.
Gramps never got to hear me play, so every time I do, it’s how I talk to him. I let the music be my voice, and I thank him for his gift.