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.
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.