I've been wondering where and how Dad was going to show up this Christmas. I figured it would happen once we made our way down to Oregon to spend the holidays with family, but since the newest additions to our clan are both female, I'm not banking on anything there.
True to form, though, it seems he's surprised me again. Dad's using the girls' favorite teacher. The reason this is surprising is because she would have driven him nuts.
About three months ago, Bubba and I decided it would be cool to get an electric keyboard and sign Lola up for piano lessons. She has a fantastic piano teacher and has yet to get bored with practicing an hour a week. She is especially excited right now because she's getting to play lots of Christmas songs that she can sing along to and every time we have family or friends over she puts on little concerts for them. The opening song and the encore melody are always the same, though, no matter the season. The first melody I taught her to play on the piano was a simple part of the song "Heart and Soul." Even though I failed to recall how to read music or play anything else on the piano from my three years of lessons, somehow I remembered how to play this little ditty.
One of my most favorite childhood memories is playing this duet with my father. He and I would sit side by side on the piano bench and tickle the ivories together. I don't think Dad knew how to play anything else on the piano, either, but man could he pound out "Heart and Soul." We would smile at each other as we took a deep breath, anticipating hitting the first keys simultaneously, turn our heads forward dramatically, and start playing. I can feel the cool keys beneath my small fingers, see Dad's dry, rough fingertips bouncing across the keyboard, my face splitting into an impossibly big grin.
Dad played the guitar and the banjo, too. As a special treat every couple of months, he would sit on the floor of the living room with us, open up the case and lift his guitar or banjo out as if it were a newborn baby. Underneath were sheafs of papers with his sharp slanty handwriting on them - lyrics to old folk songs like "Froggie Went A'Courtin" and "Greensleeves." We would cluster around him and sing together, our small voices pinging off his deep, honeyed one as we swayed back and forth grinning like fools.
Playing the piano with Dad was better, though. I got to sit with him by myself. I got to play with him. We never got to touch the guitar or the banjo. They were special, sacred objects not for kids to experiment with. When we played "Heart and Soul" our parts were equally important - each needed the other to make the whole sound good. It was just us.
Last night, the girls' favorite teacher came for dinner. My oldest daughter was singing in a Christmas choral concert and she was going to go with us. When she walked in the door, Lola immediately ordered her to sit and listen to a piano concert. She complied. Weeks before, Mrs. H had confided in me that Christmas was a rough time for her. Having lost both her parents and her husband, she was nearly alone during the holidays. Her favorite memories of the holiday were of gathering around the piano with her siblings to sing Christmas carols as her mother accompanied them.
Mrs. H is scattered and brilliant. She has difficulty finishing a conversation and is easily distracted. She loves her students and ignites them with an amazing excitement for learning and life. She is wacky and irreverent, flaky and spontaneous, and incredibly well-read. She has a heart of gold and has lost an awful lot. She was very close to her father and was devastated when he died and has come back to build her life slowly and determinedly to include only authentic people.
She would have made my father crazy. Insane. He would have been worried that she is not only one of my girls' teachers, but their favorite one. The two of them have nothing in common.
But when Mrs. H, a woman who doesn't actually know how to play an instrument or read sheet music, sat down at the piano and played "Heart and Soul" with Lola, I knew. He's back. He's here. He is with us. Just when I least expect it.
Click on the link below to hear the song. I listened to it this morning and it brought me to my knees.