My grandma could play any song in any key. She was a tiny thing with rounded edges that bounced on the piano bench as she rippled keys up and down the keyboard. The entire piano bounced with her.
That music gene missed me. Yet, undaunted, utilizing a few years I spent on a piano bench, I now give music lessons to children related by blood. I may not be the best teacher, but my rates are good. Free.
The first two students were twin granddaughters, followed by a third, their little sister. A few years later, their younger cousins across town wanted to learn, so then came four and five.
Four and five were followed by protests from their baby sister, who was too young for lessons. She wore a sad puppy-dog face, batted her big eyes until tears spilled down her fat cheeks, and sobbed in her mommy’s arms. It is difficult to always be the last in line.
Her lessons are going well in that she knows her left from her right and can often find middle C. Even Mozart started somewhere.
She was late for her lesson the other day. The older two had finished and it was her turn, but she was nowhere in sight. I waited, shuffled music books, looked at their toy horses lined up in a row, inspected a recently assembled Lego truck and waited some more. As I was about to hunt her down, she appeared around the corner. Rain boots, a long sleeved play dress and pink sweatpants.
“What took you so long?” I ask.
“I had to wash my hands,” she says, climbing onto the bench. “I found a worm outside.”
Her eyes narrow and she says, “It was alive.”
She waits for a reaction, but I am nonchalant, just grateful she washed her hands.
“I picked it up,” she says. She thinks she has me now. Maybe Grandma will scream or run scared straight up a wall.
What did it feel like?” I calmly ask.
Silence. She’s thinking.
“It was soft and hard. The worm was soft, but it had dirt all around it and the dirt was hard.”
I’m the one thinking now. Where is the worm? If it’s in her pocket, how long before it is slung over b flat? I don’t ask.
“Let’s begin,” I say.
She looks at me, looks at the keyboard volume button, then looks at me.
“Don’t,” I say.
This is part of the routine. She wants to crank the volume, but her dad works from home. Lessons are always on the lowest volume setting, much to her chagrin.
“Your shirt looks funny,” I say.
She pulls at the neckline, flips out the tag and announces, “It’s Backward Day.”
Her pants are on backward, too. Her sisters weren’t wearing their clothes backward. She has declared Backward Day on her own.
No, I don’t want to turn my shirt around and wear it backward.
Ten minutes into the lesson and not a single note of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” has been played. Finally, she taps a pudgy index finger with dirt under the nail on one note at a time with a slow but ever-growing confidence.
“Wonderful,” I say. I pull out a sheet of animal stickers and tell her to choose two. She chooses a pig and a worm.
She disappears yelling, “Mom! I got a worm!”
Mom can figure it out for herself.