Moorhead, Minnesota; summer of 1988
Clark rubbed a knot out of his neck as he rode shotgun in the Suburban. It had been a long day, culminating in near calamity. He and his buddy Dick had muscled Clark’s childhood piano—a Kingsbury upright, manufactured in 1913—from the Moorhead American Legion’s barmaid’s sister’s house where the piano had stayed for a few years and helped out her kids. But as the two men hefted it out, the eight-hundred pound instrument pinned Clark’s leg to the stairs. Finally free of the weight and minus lasting injuries, he and Dick heaved it outside and onto a snowmobile trailer. They covered it with blankets and tarps and ran three straps lengthwise and two from top to bottom, securing it for the trip.
Now at 10:30 p.m. on a warm June night, the musical giant was on the move again, headed for Clark’s apartment in the Twin Cities.
Behind the wheel, Dick flipped through radio stations, clicking past some classical music: Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. Clark eased out a breath. Music from his past. After his father Chester passed away in 1975, he moved—at the age of twenty-nine—back to the homestead outside of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, to where his mother Helga lived in the early stages of dementia. Those were the piano years, and the most time Clark had ever spent playing the old Kingsbury.
As a young woman, Helga knew how to chord on the piano to accompany musicians, but she had never learned to read music, so she determined her children would. Now that Clark was home again, music swirled throughout the house. She beamed when her son worked hymns from the piano’s old keys; even when he played scales, Helga smiled. And he learned the first two movements of Sonata Pathétique, especially focusing on the slower one—the part he thought was the most beautiful music ever written.
“Not lookin’ so good back there,” Dick said, squinting into the rearview mirror.
Clark flicked his gaze to the trailer. The piano swayed from side to side. Dick signaled and took the next exit. The men checked their work.
“The straps are still tight,” Clark said.
“Let’s just go. If it makes it, it makes it. If not, fine.”
Dick slid behind the wheel again and Clark hopped into his seat. As they traveled along the freeway in the pale moonlight, Dick fiddled with the radio again, and they listened to the Twins playing a game in Oakland until after midnight.
They finished their trek from Moorhead to Minneapolis without another look back.
Minneapolis, Minnesota; fall of 2002
The phone rang. I glanced at the display: my dad’s first cousin, Clark. I hushed Ricka and Flicka, ages one and two years old, scampering around my feet.
“You never call me anymore,” I said into the receiver.
Clark’s laugh reverberated across the phone lines. “Say, I have an offer for you.”
“Do you want a piano?”
My eyes pooled. Every house needed a piano, and our new-to-us home in north Minneapolis was no exception. But I had never dreamed I would have one—or at least this soon. “Yes.”
“Come and get it.”
Husband solicited the help of a piano moving company to collect the behemoth beauty from Clark’s place across town. It sprawled the length of one wall in our living room, as if it had been created for the space. As I ran a hand along its oak expanse, I smiled at the piano’s restoration. In the early nineties, Clark had paid to have the keyboard and hammers replaced after a Jerry Lee Lewis wannabe had given the ivories a good pounding.
I settled onto the bench, and my hands hovered above the keys. The first chord.
“Me, me.” Ricka had pulled herself to standing and now smacked the piano bench with her palms.
“Of course,” I said, drawing her into my lap. “This is for you.”
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.