The piano looks dignified from a distance. A little more than seven feet long, the sleek black grand takes up the back third of the book-lined room. But as you come nearer you see the milky white water stains on its lid. The black paint is worn away along the edges of the case, showing the original red-brown finish and beneath that the bare wood. A black smudge, impervious to all attempts to remove it, crouches in the corner of middle c.
It is an ancient piano. It was already more than a half century old when my father bought it in the 1930s. He considered the $200 he spent for it, a king’s ransom for a university professor during the depression, his best investment.
The piano moved along with the family from New York City to Washington, D.C., from Washington to Chicago to Los Alamos back to Chicago to Danville, California, and Berkeley and Stanford. In the early years of my parents’ marriage, the piano dominated the common space of their small homes. My mother named it The Monster.
I cannot remember a time when my father did not play The Monster. I heard Beethoven sonatas when I was in my mother’s womb. I took in Mozart, Shubert and Brahms as I suckled at my mother’s breast. As I grew up, the piano was a constant, its notes accompanying my playtime and my homework, melodies lulling me to sleep at night.
Some did not enjoy the music as much as I. One night, just after 10 p.m., the door bell interrupted my father’s playing. A young policeman, hat in hand, was at the door. He explained that there was a city ordinance forbidding loud noises after 10 at night and a neighbor had complained. I am not sure who was more embarrassed, the policeman or my father.
When my father died, three years after my mother, my brother and I had to find a home for The Monster. None of our kids wanted it and my brother had no interest. I could not bear to part with it. So I brought it home.
It took up a large part of our living room and looked so lonely, I decided to learn to play. When I found a piano teacher and started to practice, my husband renamed it the Loudenboomer and declared our retirement home would have a soundproof piano room. We retired, built the special room, and the Loudenboomer lives there now, surrounded by books.
A portrait of my father hangs on the wall opposite the Loudenboomer. He would have loved this room. He would have played every night after 10.
It has been 13 years since the Loudenboomer came to live with us. I practice every day. I do not play well, but I love it. The notes, even the wrong notes, maybe especially the wrong notes, make my house feel like my home.