There are a few moments in my memory that have a special glow around them. Golden light creeps in around the edges when I visit those places in my mind, and I am safe and warm. Tonight I had occasion to return to one of those memories and sit in its glow for a few glorious minutes.
When I was a child, my parents owned and ran the Horse and Hound, a country inn in the ski mountains of New Hampshire. We lived in two of the guest rooms upstairs. There was a 5-star restaurant downstairs that was open to both guests and locals. And at the bottom of the stairs that led up to my bedroom, a baby grand Steinway graced a corner of the living room.
One of my father’s great joys in life was playing that piano. He wasn’t much for reading music, so he always had his “fake books” (a book with the melody and enough chord notations to help you “fake” it) around for playing a tune that wasn’t right on the tip of his fingers. But mostly he played by feel and by ear and he was amazing. At the end of a long evening in the restaurant, he would turn off the Beethoven or Vivaldi on the speakers in the dining rooms and would sit down at the piano to play. During those moments, with his eyes closed and body swaying, he was transformed by pure bliss.
Unable to lay upstairs in my lonely bedroom while there was so much going on downstairs, many (perhaps most?) nights I would creep halfway down the stairs and sit absolutely still in my nightgown, hoping no one would notice me and send me back to bed. The sound of indistinct voices and a crackling fire and my father’s music washed over me, and I was content.
Fast forward thirty-some years. Tonight, I entered a room for a poetry reading and instead was transported back to those nights as a four- and five-year-old sitting on the stairs . A man sat at a piano and played some of my favorite songs – ‘S Wonderful, Embraceable You, and Someone To Watch Over Me – the songbook of my childhood. These Gershwin songs were the first lyrics I learned because I heard my father play them so often. Immediately following on their heels in my mind are Night and Day, Summertime, and more than a few Cole Porter standards and Duke Ellington gems.
Tonight the room had the hum of indistinct voices, a crackling fire, and that amazing music. I closed my eyes and was transported. I could hear my father in the room. It may be the closest I have felt to him in the ten years that he’s been gone.
To tonight’s pianist, Mr. Eric Van Leuven, I say a humble and deep thank you for bringing me back to a place in my memory that I haven’t visited in quite in a while. It was a wonderful trip and I am grateful.