Chopsticks on an Old Upright
Award-winning author and syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson reflects on the pleasures of being impractical.
Find out more about Rheta's books and read her latest syndicated columns at RhetasBooks.com. Rheta's new gallery/shop, Faraway Places, is located at 102 West Front Street, Iuka, Mississippi.
My Girl Scout leader, not so much. I figured I got enough Bible stories in Sunday School and didn’t have the patience for a felt Zacchaeus up a felt sycamore tree.
I’ll have to admit, however, that the bad judgment tag stuck. I’ve been told by my father and two husbands that I make impractical decisions, first cousin to bad. I choose to think of myself as romantic.
I made another such decision just the other day. Impractical, not bad. At least I hope.
I bought a piano. I have no place to put it and couldn’t play it if it did play. Which it does not. Did I mention this was a tad impractical?
For years I’ve wanted an old upright piano. My grandmother had one, could make even the most puritanical, blood-soaked hymn sound like a honky-tonk hit. The figurines she kept on top of the piano danced when she played, and the fat on her upper arms shook to the beat.
After my grandmother died, my aunt sold that iconic upright to a stranger for $50. Better that than let family benefit.
Soon enough I rented a furnished house in Monroeville, Ala., Harper Lee’s hometown. We were caretakers, actually, my former husband and I, settling in amongst the dry-rotting treasures in a rambling mansion in the woods.
The cost we paid for baby-sitting such splendor was $200 a month. The house had an old upright piano. We didn’t have the money to get it tuned properly, but every party centered around the instrument. We were young. There were many parties.
Always there was someone who could coax a tune from the yellowed ivories. I played at the level of “Chopsticks” and “Heart and Soul,” and my grandmother’s favorite stride piano song, “Redwing.”
But planted in me during that brief period was the desire to sit down at a keyboard and become a Scott Joplin, or, better yet, Jerry Lee, a man who could take “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from audio doggerel to Grade-A groove.
So when a friend took me to see an old house she’s buying in the Pass, I couldn’t help but notice the old piano sitting idle in the modified dogtrot. Next thing I knew, I was talking to its owner about what would happen to the treasure.
“It can be yours,” he said. “For $1 and getting it out of here.”
“You were over-charged,” my former husband said when I told him what I’d done. “They usually pay you to get it out of there.” I reminded him of the fun we’d had with the Monroeville upright, but evidently in his maturity he’s forgotten the delight he felt when I taught him the treble part of “Silver Bells.”
I already had realized the impracticality of my purchase after calling Three Men and A Truck – more like 30 men with 15 trucks -- who all put the bottom line for moving a piano at about $400-plus. Turns out, it takes four men to move one safely, and this particular antique was extra heavy.
I knew the piano needed work. Both the furniture and the innards were pretty crusty. So I decided to have the movers shove it into the garage, the only place I could think of big enough to accommodate a piano.
“So you’ll need another $400 to move it out of the garage when you decide where you want it,” my current husband said. Husbands are always demanding you use the soft pedal.
I decided to shoehorn my acquisition into the living room, which necessitated rearranging every piece of furniture in the small house. But it fit.
A practical woman might be sorry about all of this by now. I’m not – practical or sorry. I still think once a piano expert is called in and works on the guts, and a furniture doctor spruces up the outside, and I learn to play something other than “Chopsticks” and “Heart and Soul” and the two recital pieces I remember, I’ll have the last laugh.
Or I’ll sell the piano to another romantic soul for $1.