I got a note from one of our old neighbors. She wanted to say how much my mom’s piano lessons inspired her. She pursued a career in classical piano and she owns a music school, teaching 75 kids a week. She wanted me to tell my mom how much she’d influenced her and asked if she could get in touch.
Wow, my mom inspired someone. She influenced the whole direction of someone’s life, and she’ll never know it. I could tell her, but she wouldn’t hear me. She sits at the table every day now, asleep most of the time and dead to the world when she’s awake. The Alzheimer’s started about 12 years ago. At first, she would forget little things, like whether she’d already written something down, then big things, like how to drive, and, as the years went by, it just got worse. Now she can’t acknowledge anyone or anything, and my father tends to her the best he can, maintaining the “life” she has left.
Reading that note made me cry. Here was someone who could say my mom shaped her life and she can’t even tell her. Most kids go to piano lessons begrudgingly, as one more childhood chore to endure. But every once in a while, my mom would get a student who loved the piano and we’d hear about this kid all the time. I don’t remember most of them because the stars were always shining examples to my tarnished one. I quit piano, my first act of rebellion, at nine years old. She’d talk about her virtuoso students, but my mom never believed they would make piano their lives. She knew that the vast majority of her students would play piano as a social accessory, to bring merriment to parties and local tap rooms. But if she knew one of her students built a life around the piano, she’d finally get the validation she needed.
My mother, like most pianists, learned to play as a girl. She fell in love with it and was talented enough to earn an opportunity to play on the radio, but her father forbade it. She never told me the reason, and I’m not sure he gave one. I suspect it’s because he wanted his girls to grow up and marry nice Greek men, without the complications of a music career. My Mom did find a Greek man to marry, but by that time, she had taught music at an elementary school and given her own piano lessons. When she and my father moved away from the city, she continued giving lessons to kids most afternoons. She even taught my first-grade teacher. She kept the books on the backs of index cards and got paid mostly in cash. My old-fashioned father didn’t mind the job because she brought more money into the house, but I never heard him ask her to play for him. Sometimes she’d play for herself and sometimes I’d listen. The Fur Elise was my favorite. Other times, she’d play because she was mad. Always classical music. And always powerful. She played loud and fast, hitting the pedal to make her point. And no one ever heard.
Now I found out there was someone out there who would have loved to listen, who thought my mom had the best job in the world and maintained fond memories of piano lessons. I can’t express how much I wish my mom could hear that, but because of her horrible disease she never will. I can only hope that at the time, she saw all the enjoyment and wonder in that little girl’s eyes and she was able to take it with her wherever she is now.