Yesterday's Magazette

1- With a Song In Her Heart

By Madonna Dries Christensen

I love a piano, I love a piano, I love to hear somebody play
Upon a piano, a grand piano, It simply carries me away.

—   Irving Berlin

When I was a child in the 1940s, my family and the Foley family lived in the same small town in Iowa. Aunt Goldie and Uncle Elmer had eight children, and we had more than that, but for every one of theirs, there was one of us the same age. We were cousins and friends.

Five years my mother’s senior, Aunt Goldie was my favorite relative; a chatterbox and a gossip, with an Irish twinkle in her eyes. When we visited the Foleys, someone eventually asked Aunt Goldie to play the piano. It didn’t take much urging; she perched on the bench seat and we huddled around and harmonized to the familiar tunes she drew from the keyboard.

I once asked my mother “Why does Goldie know how to play the piano and you don’t?”

Ma said, “Because when Mama gave us chores to do, Goldie suddenly remembered that she needed to do her piano lessons. Mama let her practice while the rest of us worked.”

Pat Sickelka confirms my memory. “I recall being told that when she was younger, Grandma always volunteered to play the piano for everyone so she could get out of cleaning.”

Goldie could also tat and drive a car, and my mother couldn’t. Maybe big sister was practicing those skills, too, while Maybelle toiled.

Family lore has it that the piano was Goldie’s first piece of furniture as a married woman, given to her in 1918 by her new husband before he went overseas to the world war.

Decades later, JoAnn Oster gained possession of the piano. She says, “Grandma gave me the piano when I was living in Sibley, about 1975. She wanted it close so she could play if the urge struck her. I refinished the piano; it had blackened with age and one of the sides had been damaged, so I replaced some of the wood with a walnut veneer. The thing I remember from before it was refinished is a round stain on the right side, where coffee cups probably sat. Grandma loved playing Falling Waters. Mom gave me the tattered piece of sheet music as a gift. She had framed it and encased it in glass to preserve what was left of a fragile piece of the past.”

JoAnn’s sister, Karen Teeselink, next in line to house the piano, says, “My best story of the piano is during one of our moves. The guys had loaded it on the back of a pickup. They turned out of the driveway and the piano fell off, stayed upright and rolled down the street. I didn’t witness it, but my husband said it was hilarious, and a testament to the way they built pianos back then, that it survived intact. I personally think they wanted it to fall off because they were tired of moving it! When I told Mom the story, she laughed and said, “Grandma would be proud.”

Jean Reiners Johnson has a childhood memory of being in Great-aunt Goldie’s kitchen. “I remember lots of laughter and her happy, smiling face. She was cute and feisty. Mom encouraged her to play the piano. I remember her walking towards it, and it seemed like something big and important was about to happen! Then she played and people were singing, but I couldn’t understand the words. I remember feeling happy. I wish I knew what song she played.”

At a recent family event, Karen Teeselink asked if anyone would like to have Grandma’s piano. Her cousin, Dawn Huisenga, quickly claimed it. Karen admitted that the piano had been in a shed for ten years and was not in great shape, but Dawn didn’t care. She said, “I don’t play the piano. I want it because it was Grandma’s.”

Dawn plans to cover the top with framed photos of Grandma Goldie, and display sheet music of the songs she played. Dawn’s favorite tune was The Entertainer, while others recall Falling Waters. Pat Sickelka says, “I remember watching her fingers fly over the keys. She always had a huge smile on her face! Without doubt, Falling Waters was her masterpiece!”

On a family website Becky Foley wrote, “I remember that Grandma toured Liberace’s house and got to play his piano.”

Becky’s sister, Mary Palmer, added, “I remember watching Lawrence Welk with Grandma and her telling us that she danced with him, and with Don Ho in Hawaii.”

Grandson Todd Windes made a recording of her playing the piano. The quality is poor, but Suzyn Foley wrote, “More than the music it brought me to tears just hearing her talk.”

Karen Teeselink added, “I had forgotten how much I loved the deep tone of that piano. When I was a child we had a ‘modern’ piano and there is such a difference in sound.”

Now, after almost a hundred years, a tangible piece of family history has another home. Maybe someone will learn to play, and Falling Waters will once again be heard when the family gathers.

Vol. 38 No.4 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2011-12

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