mother’s piano lives on

For months now we’ve been following the progress of a big project involving the restoration of my mother’s 1916 six-foot Model “O” Steinway piano.

My brother, John, remembers as an 8-year-old going with my dad to a man’s house to buy this piano for Mother. The man selling the piano had only one finger on each hand! He would take $1,500 and struck a deal with my dad at three installments of $500.

Singing with Mother at the piano was an integral part of our upbringing. And the regular sharing of that piano bench when Mauri would come to my house to rehearse was the start of a lasting friendship.

While he and I traveled in Asia on a Youth for Christ Teen Team, my parents sold my childhood home and moved across town (Wheaton, IL). Here’s the Steinway’s new location, a backdrop for 19-year-old Sherry, still a year away from saying yes to life with Paul Carlson. I could never have imagined that 50+ years later this picture would be part of a blog story about the piano, when we thought a Selectric typewriter was the coolest thing since sliced bread!

In the ’70s, my parents moved to Florida, and the piano found its new home in their Jacksonville living room.

Cancer stole Mother from this earth in 1988, leaving Dad to fend for himself. When he came up short on cash, my brother gave him a generous sum for the piano to lend a financial hand. So the Steinway found its next home at John’s house. Here, for a visit, Mauri plays for old time’s sake—though the old girl is beginning to show her age.

Fast forward to 2018. Brother John turns 80 and decides it’s time to downsize. That word means different things to different people, and in his case it means selling two homes and three cars/trucks and buying one smaller house with room for three cars. And since he doesn’t actually play the piano, he decided to donate the Steinway.

Since Mother’s piano represents oh so much more than an instrument, he hoped to give it to an organization that would honor her heritage. But it needed a lot of work, and it would cost considerably to move it. He offered to give it to Mauri and me and made the same offer to our sister and her husband. We both have pianos—and also aren’t getting any younger! Disappointed and discouraged, Johnny was about to settle for donating it to a boys ranch near his home, when . . .

. . . we decided to invest in restoring the piano to new condition!

Over the next several months, Skip Becker, our piano rebuilder (who is also the piano technician for the Jacksonville Symphony) sent us pictures of the progress.

The old “action” comes out.

Skip tells us this old-growth wood is exceptional, with rings per inch nearly double that of contemporary sound boards.

And more pictures as the new replacement parts are added. Near the end of the process we were advised to hire Vince to refinish the wood. We figured while we were at it, we might as well go all the way!

And then . . . it was time for us to fly to Florida to see and play the masterpiece. Yes, the first flight (of three) to Bozeman was a prop plane!

The piano had to move out of Skip’s shop, so John agreed it could live in his new home while it’s on the market. Isn’t it beautiful?

We finally got to meet Skip, who came to tune and make a few adjustments. Adjustments and frequent tunings are expected, and we are grateful Skip intends to “baby” our piano through the coming days while we find its new home.

Of course Mauri and I (and brother John too) did a lot of singing for old time’s sake.

Here’s a duet we sang lo those many years ago.

You can’t put a price on family time, in this case a big bonus attached to the purpose of our travels so far from home. Mauri never misses a chance to cook for someone (himself included).

Just because he’s 80 doesn’t mean he could think about retiring. He took a few days off for our visit but managed to keep several balls in the air via phone.

While his backyard is lovely, all I can think about are the rattlesnakes and water moccasins that are surely in the grass right where I want to step next.

These little guys are everywhere just waiting to tease my snake phobia.

John’s retirement home. Uh-huh.

This is my nephew Kevin, John’s one and only (and adored) son. He and Cheryl are part of a boat club, allowing them to take one from a fleet out for a spin.

Three daughters (Cameron and Aubrey here) had already spent their Thursday afternoon tubing behind one of these boats, then came back out for a spin with us.

The late afternoon sun was delightfully warm and not a big threat to our Oregon skin. You guessed right! This is Cheryl.

This is the oldest daughter, Peyton, who just graduated from Taylor University.

It’s OK—you can admit you’re a little bit jealous. But then, we might get eaten by an alligator!

You didn’t think I could post a story from near St. Augustine without including a trip to Barnacle Bill’s, did you?

If you love me, you’ll CLICK HERE to read my short story about the demise of our tradition to eat at Barnacle Bill’s. This is the former site, now flattened for a hotel parking lot. But you saw our smiling faces in front of the new Barnacle Bill’s!

It was lunch time, with a Fathers Day dinner to come, so we exercised self-control and ordered only nine shrimp, not the BUSTER (12). Our tradition lives on too (just like the piano)!

And not that many hours later we were in the waiting queue for a table to seat eight, with three fathers to celebrate. Kevin’s mom, my dear sister-in-law Suzie, joined the hubbub. But this is all you’ll see of that event, not a single plate of food, because that kind of thing can be overdone, right?

And also because Sunday morning, on the way to church, nothing else but Waffle House will do! The stars aligned and we walked in the door to find three-in-a-row counter seats open. It was as though God ordained we should have the nirvana Waffle House experience.

Yes, the food is outstanding, but more than that the whole well-oiled operation is a sight to behold a few feet on the other side of the counter. Add to that Mauri’s conversation with Mike, who eats right there every single morning, scopes out veterans and truckers to comp their breakfast, even orders an extra side of bacon to offer the servers.

And then, bellies full, we headed to Fruit Cove Baptist Church and filled a pew. You’ve attended church with me on this blog before, haven’t you, and know how it fills my heart and soul to worship God alongside members of my family.

Here they are, the three dads on Fathers Day.

And then it was time to fly home to Oregon. I asked Johnny if I could take a picture, which had I thought of it I would have posed with him holding music and singing, just like the opening photo of this post. But Mother and Dad are both making music in heaven with the angels, not available to pose with Johnny. Still, it was fun picturing them walking into the room to see their beautiful piano ready for another 84 years of service.

This entry was posted in family matters, nostalgia, travels. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to mother’s piano lives on

  1. Marcile Crandall says:

    This is a great story. I’m wondering what happened to the original piano bench?

  2. Joanne Thor says:

    Oh, Sherry….

    Thank you for your blog!! Charlie and I especially loved the music….could you do an encore?? I do read your blogs to keep up with you two…..and need to sit down more often to make comments! I always do make sure if there are pics of people that Charlie might remember, I have him look too! His question…. maybe you could sing a number or so at our church… wouldn’t that be grand! There is something so special about those old hymns…. we attend The Chapel at Scottsdale Bible Church…in the Chapel they built about 4 years ago for the aging group who don’t appreciate modern choruses so we still sing hymns….with just a very few new, modern choruses stuck in….and not not the “7 – 11” variety (7 verses, 11 times!). Don’t tell Maury I said that…. he might not appreciate my humor! Guess I need to pull out my Tapestry CD😎😎

    I am always happy to hear your kids are headed to Juarez again…..what a great ministry. It is unbelievable to see how much “stuff” fits in the trailer.

    When you are in Arizona again, it would be fun to meet again for a bite…..let us know if that works on your schedule!

    Thanks again for the duet…..loves, Joanne

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Deborah Johansen says:

    Wonderful story!!!

  4. Pam MacDonald says:

    “They paved paradise and put in a parking lot….”

  5. Peter Snow says:

    Very interesting, great singing with a beautiful piano.

  6. Ridgely says:

    Wow, what an odyssey! Loved seeing the inner workings of the piano, always wondered what was inside! Such a treat to hear the singing, makes me doubly nostalgic for the olden days at The Firs. I’m so envious of all that musical talent, but hey, I can whistle and play the spoons, does that count? Not aware of Barnacle Bill’s fame, the food looks great, but I sure do miss Maryland’s soft shell crab!

  7. Jen M. says:

    The history. The storytelling. The sentiments. The singing.
    All lovely.

  8. Oh my gosh, I love this so much!!! Thank you, Sherry!! Ryley enjoyed reading/listening as well!

  9. Oh my gosh, I love this so much! Ryley enjoyed reading/listening as well! Thanks for sharing!!!

  10. Chuck says:

    You are a true artist Sherry thank you.

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