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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Story - A Father's Gift

A Father’s Gift
By Alan Joseph

I can’t remember the first time I stood next to my father as he played the piano. The melodies were so familiar that it seemed I had listened to them all my life. And, indeed, I had. Every night as my mother cooked dinner, my father would sit down at the piano and ask softly, “Well, what would you like to hear?”

Of course, my favorites were all the songs he had always played, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”, “Ain’t She Sweet?”, and “Sweet Georgia Brown” to name but a few. Tin Pan Alley was alive and well every night in our home. Melodies were played, voices sung out, serious toe tapping music. And it always ended the same way. My mother would poke her head around the corner and say, “Sounds great, you guys, dinner’s on.”

But as the years rolled on, my father played less and less. Still at his side as he would end a song early, I would ask, “What’s wrong, Dad? Aren’t you going to play?” He would smile and rub his hands and say, “They just aren’t as young as they used to be, you know?” It was true, his soft touch had grown increasingly stiff. To his knowing ear, it just wasn’t right, and more and more the piano sat quiet.

Years later I had gone home for Thanksgiving and was giving my Mom a hand with the mashed potatoes and gravy. From behind the living room door I heard the notes that struck such a familiar chord. I asked my mother if Dad was playing again. “No,” she said. “Honestly, he hasn’t played for years. Maybe you should go in while you have the chance.” Upon opening the door, those melodies wrapped around my heart again. And though a little stiff, the magic was still there. Same songs, same gentle phrasing, same laughter.

It was the last time I heard him play. The following Spring, I received a call from my mother telling me he had died in his sleep. But his music stayed with me in the most surprising way. A year later I was engaged to be married and I found myself shopping for a guitar. Well, if I was going to start a family of my own, I had to have some way of playing those songs before dinner.