IMG_4237 I thought fooling around on the piano would make me miss my son Joe, who lives in Chicago and for whom the mahogany Baldwin upright was purchased. Instead, poking at “Heart and Soul” made me blue for my mother, who loved her baby grand.
And so, though I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, I am going to post it today – on her birthday.
My father, a Brownsville boy, often talked about the first time he went to my then 18-year-old mother’s apartment in Bensonhurst, in the same borough but a world apart. “They had a baby grand in the living room,” he said. “I figured the Blassmans were rich.”
Not long after, when we visited Nana and Grandpa I’d bang away at “Chopsticks,” yelling “Can you hear me? Are you listening?” to my grandparents and parents as they no doubt rolled their eyes (and held their ears) in the kitchen. This could explain why Nana kept a bottle of aspirin near the sink.
Years later, my parents moved us to our first house and the baby grand took the trek from Brooklyn to Voorheesville, perfectly filling a corner of our new company-only living room. At age 17 I took lessons, despite being unable to read music, keep to the music, or get the fingers on my left hand to move independently from those on my right.
By the end of my first and only year as a piano student, the teacher had kindly taught me “Spinning Song” and a junior version of “Moonlight Sonata” so I could hold my head high (and fingers slightly curled) as the oldest performer at the recital in her old-fashioned living room.
“Henry plays better,” my father chuckled from that day on, accurately assessing one of the grade-schoolers, a boy for whom I babysat. Mom giggled and agreed. “Hey, twenty-seven fifty,” he’d call me when we had visitors, referring to the amount he’d invested in my lessons, “play something.”
Truth be told, I’m light on memories of my mother playing the piano, short of sitting beside her as I muddled through one hand of “Heart and Soul” while she played the fancy parts and sang in her lovely soprano. What I remember clearly and painfully is the regret with which my mother gave up her beloved piano when my parents downsized to an apartment.
I rarely touch our piano, but for some reason it beckoned this afternoon. When my fingers failed to reprise my recital hits, I fell back on a semi-dexterous two-handed “Heart and Soul,” making me miss mom – even though she, too, would have said, “Henry plays better.”