Our Tickling the Ivories Rarely Tickled Mom's Fancy

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In 1952, my folks paid $25 for a Cable-Nelson Upright Grand piano. "Cable-Nelson" was synonymous with "extra-heavy," because its inside works were solid cast iron. Finished in cracked black lacquer with yellow, chipped ivories, the piano was totally out of whack on the high end, and the keys that weren't mute were loud. It was a decorating nightmare.

We shoved it around the house by jamming the bathroom rug, fuzzy-side down, under two of its wheels. Then the three of us would lean against the other end and inch it along. Every spring we budged it from the dining room to the living room and back again. Mom maintained that it was causing the house to settle and that it could go through the floor at any minute. The Cable-Nelson wasn't attractive on any wall in the house.

Mom kept the brute looking as spiffy as possible on Saturdays - right before the traveling piano teacher came by. She would oil the cabinet and treat the keys with rubbing alcohol to remove the Crayola cheat mark from Middle C.

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AFTER a couple of years, I was gifted enough to peck out my favorite tune, "The Wayward Wind." I added some extra low chords to make the song even more mournful. It eventually unnerved Mom. "Don't you know anything else, for crying out loud!" she begged. You bet I did: My sister and I had a repertoire of four-handed classics. Our favorite was the notorious faster and louder "March of the Elephants." We pounded it to a breathless crescendo, especially when company dropped in.

"I'd like that piano a lot better if it played church songs," Mom suggested as she plopped the Broadman Hymnal on the sheet-music ledge. Whenever she gave us that wits'-end glare, one of us would chum out "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder," and that settled her right down.

The old upright also served as a tall family photo gallery and what-not exhibit. Sometimes my sister and I'd get frisky and yank down Uncle John and Aunt Alice. Then we'd prop up the lid for maximum volume. We pushed thumbtacks into a few hammers and briefly had a fine rinky-tink effect. Mom furiously pried them out after she heard our honky-tonk rendition of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow."

Our piano shenanigans aggravated her for two decades. She tolerated us and the upright until we finally married and moved out. "Girls," she announced at Sunday dinner several years ago, "I bought a spinet yesterday. The Cable-Nelson has to go. It's all yours."

There wasn't a husband between us who was willing to move it, and we couldn't bear to sell it. "Sorry, Mom, it's rightfully yours," we smiled and cruelly abandoned the homeless piano.

A good caregiver till the end, Mom quietly disposed of it at a garage sale and admitted later that she had to give it away. She priced it at $25 but had no takers. I just hope it found another good home.

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