The Best Present Ever

The best giftsWhen you think of your best present ever, what springs to mind?

I have one hands-down winner present experience and it is as fresh in my mind as that day back in 1971 (or was it 72?) when it knocked my socks off.

The Sting was the most popular film at the time, and the music? It was like nothing I had ever heard in my life. “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin captivated me. So much so that I would play it over and over again and pretend that I was playing the piano. Only it was the kitchen table.

I’m not sure if the repetitive “da da da DA da DA da DA” of the chorus or my banging it out as if my life depended on it was the clincher, but I drove the rest of the family batty that entire school year.

There was NEVER a moment’s thought of actually getting a REAL piano. We were not poor, by any stretch of the imagination, but we were not (in my mind) an “ask-for-a-piano” family. My dad worked hard driving a cement mixer and my mom was a full-time mom. We had dinner as a family every night, went to church on Sunday and for entertainment took drives on weekends to see the latest place where my dad had poured cement. I never needed anything and really didn’t WANT anything.

A piano was too over-the-top to LET myself want it.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

Let me take you the long way, though.

In the Spring of that year, my Dad starting missing dinners and some times not coming home at all! He was working late…every night. We were told that there was a special project that gave Daddy the chance to earn overtime…and this went on for MONTHS.

We missed him! As soon as he would come home from work (before all of this overtime stuff), he would first wash his hands thoroughly from the day’s work (he was, after all, married to my ultra-clean mom) take off his shoes and TICKLE me until I could hardly breath.

He had a smile that lit every room he entered - and it was never as wide as when he was with his "girls" - my mom, my sister (at left) and me (the little fluff).
He had a smile that lit every room he entered – and it was never as wide as when he was with his “girls” – my mom, my sister (at left) and me (the little fluff).

I could – and probably will – write volumes about my love for my dad.  But I’ll cut to the chase.

Remember how I mentioned my super-clean Mom?  On this particular day in July, she sequestered my sister and me to the basement.  (This wasn’t a bad deal at all – the basement was filled with the treasures of my youth.  All of our toys; the entire Nancy Drew series of books, a chalkboard to play “school” and my sister’s Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart albums.)  But on this particular day, it was like an ETERNITY.  All we could hear was the sound of the vacuum cleaner…for what seemed hours.

Finally, we were given the OK to come upstairs.

And there it was.  A beautiful chestnut brown Wurlitzer piano with a huge red bow on top.

I think I almost fainted.  I know I was so in awe I could hardly touch the keys without trembling.  It was a dream I didn’t even dare to dream come true.

My eight-year-old self grasped something older and wiser that day.  There was such love behind this gesture; such sacrifice.  Those long and hard hours away from home were actually the expression of a father’s love; the ruse of hours of vacuum-cleaning a mother’s way to keep the surprise intact (and drown out the noise of a piano moving in.)

Yes, the piano had a bow on it, but I was the one wrapped — in love.

Less than two years later, my father would suffer one fatal heart attack – a devastating blow to our family.  But every time I looked at or played that piano, I was reminded of how much he loved me.

I was ten when he died; I am now 51 – yet my heart still swells from the happy memory of my best present ever.  And it wasn’t the piano.

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10 thoughts on “The Best Present Ever

  1. Brenda, you made my day. I just hope I can write this without too many mistakes cause the tears have been flowing profusely.This reminded me of when Kim suprised me with my little organ (which I had always hoped for all my life but never expected to ever have one) and I never told Mom-Mom about it because I wanted to practice real well so I could surprise her by playing “How Great Thou Art” for her. Well, needless to say, she never got to hear it. I came home from work one day and Kim met me at the door to tell me she had passed away in Florida. My heart was broken and I did not know at that time how to cope except to pray and sit down at my organ. I put on headphones so I didn’t disturb anyone’s sleep and proceeded to play every hymn I could find for the rest of the night. Kim got up in the morning and I was still playing but I played Amazing Grace and stopped for the time being. I will never forget that cause I always felt that Mom finally got to hear me play the organ. Now after more tears -thank you for sharing and allowing me to share with you.with much love.

  2. Ok, Bren…I am in tears…rolling tears…rolling down my cheeks!!!! I so miss that dear, dear man.
    He and my dad are those one of a kind men who will do anything for their family. Those Costello men are
    amazing. Love, love, love you.

  3. I found that by the end of this story, I was holding my breathe, taking in the love written between the lines. Thank you for sharing!

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