At long last, here sits my piano, my mother’s before me, drying out in our Vermont living room. It smells about how you’d imagine any piece of wood furniture with metal and felt and other materials might after deteriorating in a damp basement garage for the past five winters, and summers, through as many or more freeze-thaw cycles, spells of sub-zero temperatures, and plenty of heavy snow piling up just on the other side of the door next to it. And some fair-weather days, too. A little light would have shone upon it, not much. And evidently denizens of rodents considered it fair game for nesting, so explained Brad-the-mover, who did his best to get rid of, well, you know, before he loaded it onto the van.
My main goals right now are cleaning it up (almost done), and simply letting it sit and dry out; I’ve placed a fresh box of Arm & Hammer down inside it, and our house is nice and dry, so it’s well on its way already. Many of the keys had lost their action since the last time I sat down to play it roughly seven years ago. “You may find some of them will come back as it dries out,” said Brad. He was correct about that—many of the keys seem to work again after only a few days. And now that I have it back again, I have plenty of time to think about restoration, a thing it will certainly need—I’ve been down this road before, and assuredly can travel it again.
“That place is a bit off the beaten path, isn’t it?” It was the first thing Brad said to me after he maneuvered his truck and trailer into our driveway. He was referring to the property where I lived alone during my second year in Vermont, where my Clarence-the-Canine lies buried near a pathway that leads from meadow into wood. Winter there can be rough, and all but unbearable in a bad storm that knocks out the power, when you are under-resourced, alone, and uninitiated. It happened several times during the 18 months or so I lived there, and the last time was the worst, when I had no power or water or internet. My cell phone, which I kept charged in my car, was my sole connection to the outside world during an epic winter storm that even the seasoned locals admitted was bad. The one thing—person—who kept me from throwing in the towel and moving back to Tennessee after that awful winter in isolation, was The Chef, who spent long hours on the phone with me at night downplaying the scary stuff and reassuring me I had this. It might have been helpful to know I was about to close a terrifying chapter and begin writing a hopeful new one. The darkest hour is the one before dawn, goes the conventional wisdom, and it truly was for me.
“Yes, it is isolated,” I answered Brad, “but beautiful. I lived there alone.”
“Sure hope you at least had a dog with you,” he added.
“I did; he’s buried there.” He looked at me in disbelief as I explained mini-narrative style all about Clarence’s degenerative myelopathy and the winter following his death, how the vet kept his body on ice for me until spring when I could go get him for burial.
Brad and his pair of helpers worked quickly and deftly to hoist the piano up a few steps and inside the front door of our house before the bottom fell out of the sky. And then they were gone, and I was left to size up the substantial damage to the piano.
My former colleague Ruth, who owned that exquisite property where I lived for those months, was a kind and generous safety net to me when I needed one. She remains a good and knowing friend. “Many people have found healing there,” she explained to me when she offered me the loft. But in all honesty, it felt more like exile at the time, and left me feeling lonely and terribly sad on my worst days, thinking about my family and friends so far away. In hindsight, I probably learned to listen more, to think clearly, and to pay attention to my thoughts in the quiet of that place. For her part, Ruth was tickled to hear I was coming after my piano. “Maybe it will sing again,” she wrote to me, hopefully.
The piano, I think, still has good bones, and I’ve always admired its pretty lines. When its sound is restored, it will sing again indeed. For now, I’m happy to sit next to it and hammer out these characters, with a dog curled up at my feet, and the Chef outside doing yard chores, while I imagine the piano is happy to be home after a long time away.