Awareness Of Our Family History

Several weeks ago this happened . . .

Yup, that’s my piano. When I got my first real job, the first “big” thing I purchased was a piano. Mom made me take piano lessons, I think I started around the 3rd or 4th grade. Mrs. Boston was the spouse of the pastor at the Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Norton. That was kind of a major deal because Norton was the “big” town that was 16 miles from our farm. So for my sister and me to take weekly piano lessons with her meant extra driving and extra time. But my mom played the piano and organ from the time I can remember at home and for our church. She traded off with Inez Jackson, and that little country Church of the Brethren had great organists to accompany those old hymns that I still love. My sister plays both piano and organ as well, still plays for her church in fact. I just plunk around a little bit for myself at home. On that piano. It’s a Yamaha. I thought is was pretty cool that a motorcycle place could also make pianos. Probably not the best reason to purchase a particular piano, but it worked out well for me.

My maternal grandmother played the piano and organ too. I one time had to interview her for an American Family History class I took at K-State for the history part of my major. The really boring Professor suggested that we look for patterns in our family lineage that moved beyond who begat who begat who – that the family stories would illuminate pieces of who we are today coming through many past generations that, while not talked about, probably still impacted us in amazing ways. “Yeah, whatever,” was what my 19 year old self thought at the time. So I drove to Quinter, Kansas, one weekend to interview Grandma Crissman. I looked around and asked what in her house she would name as being descriptive of a “family” tradition, and she immediately pointed to her piano. She said when her mom and dad came by ship from England to America, they brought their piano because his mom, my great great grandma, had insisted he learn to play because her mom, my great great great grandma, had insisted that she learn. So Grandma C. and her sister Eileen learned to play starting around the 3rd grade – which would have been around 1925 or 26. They had to ride the “jitney” over to Wakeeny, about 20 miles each way weekly to a piano teacher which was kind of a major deal because it meant extra driving and extra time. She told me she was most glad she knew how to play during the 1930’s and 40’s when she was the musician who played the background music at the movie theater in Quinter back when movies were silent and a local pianist/organist would supply the “sound” for scenes from menacing to celebratory to mundane! Of course, she said, “when the talkies became popular, her job was eliminated.” She insisted my mom learn how to play starting in 1944 or 45, Mom insisted that Belinda and I learn how to play starting in 1972 or 73. Hmmm, maybe this whole family story and generational patterns thing had some merit at least when it comes to pianos.

Do you know carpet people don’t move pianos when they lay carpet? They move furniture. They move appliances. They move dog crates and cat toys that they find under couches and chairs. They don’t move pianos. Before they came to lay the carpet, I got the handy-dandy little round slides and some friends and I moved my piano around the corner into the front hallway on the hardwood floor. It seemed easy enough once we got it started moving. The two front legs of the piano don’t have wheels, so when moving, you take them off so as not to break them. It does make the piano a bit front heavy which is fairly important to remember with the whole moving/inertia/an object moving is easier to keep moving the same direction etc., etc.

The new carpet in the living room was done on a Thursday night (Soundtrack from “Star Wars”). (My Grandma’s spirit inhabits me to this day so the background music to “talkies” will aide our understanding of what happened.) They put everything back in its place, except the piano. I had friends who would help me put it back over the weekend (Soundtrack from “Lean on Me”). Friday while I was eating lunch (Soundtrack from “Friday the 13th”) I kept looking at the piano, it was still on the little handy-dandy slidey things. I looked at the package the slidey things came in, and it said you could easily move something weighing a thousand pounds, and it showed a woman about half my size with one hand on an oversized couch (Soundtrack “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”). The thing about friends is, you don’t want to use them to move stuff all the time, otherwise they might get tired, I thought to myself staring at my piano over Friday lunch (“Friday the 13th” redux). I could just as easily move that piano by myself (Soundtrack “To Dream the Impossible Dream”). I grew up on a farm and hefted a few bales of hay in my day. I fixed a few tires, spent a few hours driving a tractor with a disc, bucket fed a few calves, collected eggs from some not always happy chickens (Soundtrack from “Dances with Wolves”). I can move a piano (Soundtrack from “Dumb and Dumber”). The key, snort, would just be to get it moving enough that it would slide from the hardwoods to the new carpet without pause. Course I needed to turn a corner at the same time, and sorta lost track that the front legs were still off so it was a little front heavy. That’s where the whole scientific inertia math formula came in. Yes, sometimes you do use math and science in daily life, or not I guess (Soundtrack from “The Theory of Everything”). Um, so we didn’t all make the corner in an upright position. I did, Buddy and Ringo did, the piano not so much. At least I knew enough not to try and catch it.

I wonder if somewhere in my family history there are stories of stubborn, not very well thought out, insistence on not needing any help and the consequences of such thinking thereof? Perhaps family history can illuminate who we are more deeply than the immediacy of the moments we live and move through all too quickly. Awareness of the depth of our roots, both the gifts and challenges, allow us to know ourselves and the places out of which we make choices. Deciding to be unaware of those roots, or not wanting to risk being honest about them when they feel too difficult or messy or ugly, can possess us in ways that may not allow God’s gifts in us for ourselves and the world to ever get opened or shared. To risk the vulnerability of embracing our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, our smart moments and our not so smart moments allows those around us perhaps to risk as well. And how beautiful are we in all our uniquenesses?!?

Here’s a couple of “after” pictures. Sometimes our choice to ignore the awareness of our family history in its “not so smartness” and thereby experiencing the spilling of a piano on the floor consequences, can still bring moments of grace . . . Danny you know who you are and thank you. My motorcycle brand piano still plays, the hole in my wall and scratches in my hardwoods are repairable, and somewhere perhaps my ancestors are shaking their heads, smiling a little, and tinkling the ivories together with the volume on the DVD “talkies” muted.