Marty is a musician. Despite the trauma of the strokes she still possesses the soul and skills of a musician. Music is one of those things that connect her to the here and now, one of those things that bring Marty back to the surface through the fog of the brain assault.
Today as we finished lunch I sat there and looked at the piano and regretted my decision 40 years ago to refuse piano lessons. My mother wanted me to take lessons; she wanted me to at least learn some of the rudimentary musical skills one acquires when learning to play the piano. Being a boy child, a manly child I refused and she didn’t insist and it’s my loss.
My musical roots consist of learning to play the tenor saxophone for the 5th grade band. My saxophone career spanned four years. My dad played in the Texas A & M marching band back in the 40’s and I played his instrument. I learned notes, I learned counts, and I learned the tenor sax is not a chick magnet.
Today as I sat looking at the piano one of those little cartoon light bulbs popped over my head with an idea. I looked at Marty and said, “Could you teach me to play the piano?”
She looked at me, gagged just a little and said, “Yeah, if you can be patient.”
“I can be patient.” I said. “Do you think you could show me how to play?”
“I’ll try,” was her less than enthusiastic reply. The subject was tabled for the completion of lunch.
After lunch I started puttering around doing some odd chores and on a whim decided there was no time like the present. I pulled back the piano bench, pushed Marty’s chair just to the left of the piano, sat down and said, “Okay, tell me what to do.”
Clearing her throat Marty said, “Play a ‘C’ scale.”
As the brother to a piano player, the husband of a piano player, the father to a couple of piano players I have absorbed some piano intelligence by osmosis and listening to repetitious drills. I knew where to put my fingers, I even knew the fingering. I blistered the ‘C’ scale like Fort Worth’s own Van Cliburn.
I looked at Marty, looking for some positive reinforcement. She said, “Do it again.”
Okay, I did it again, looked over my left shoulder for some sense of appreciation of my skill and she says, “Do it again.”
“How many times?” I asked.
A short reply, “Until I tell you to stop.”
I started playing the scale, over and over again, varying the pace, the flow, even the fingering and she didn’t tell me to stop. I kept playing and looked at her. She was lost in a gaze looking at her song books as I continued to play the scales, afraid to stop.
My hand started to tire just a bit and I stopped and finally said, “When are you going to say stop?”
She said, “Stop.”
Great, I’m thinking, my wife has turned into the Sgt. Carter of piano teachers.
We diverged from single notes to chords. I played a “C” chord. That was okay, she told me to play a “D” chord and I kept hitting the wrong group of keys and Marty would say, “No, that’s e-minor, no, that’s F sharp.” I told you, it brings Marty to the surface, it amps-up her here and now, she didn’t even look to tell me I was on the wrong keys. She heard the chord and knew what it was and it wasn’t a “D” chord.
I must now confess I lied about being patient. I tried but I’m not a patient guy so I decided we should move on to real music. A John Denver song book just happened to be on the piano from the last time Marty had played for me. I immediately turned to “Annie’s Song”; one of the songs performed at our wedding 35 years ago, and opened it up. I asked Marty to tell me what the first note was and she said a “B”. I know a “B”. So I started, one hand, one finger playing “Annie’s Song”.
It’s important to know that “Annie’s Song” has only a sharp, the “C” note, and of course I kept missing that and missing plenty of other notes but eventually I made it through the first refrain of the song
Repetition is a key to learning a song, repetition requires patience, I have sworn to be patient, so I started playing the song again, then again, then again. Somehow I managed to mangle it in different ways every time, finding different notes to miss each time through the song. I didn’t turn to look at Sgt. Marty but I know, I have seen the pained expression of bad notes on her face before, I know she was scrunching up her nose and closing her eyes. I have seen that face.
I finally ended the song one last time, hitting the wrong key about four times in a row, sort of pecking at the key board. As the song writer sort of said, my senses were full, I was proud.
I wasn’t too sure Marty was still paying attention at all; she sometimes loses focus, especially when it gets a little boring. Then out of the blue she says, “Thank you.”
I’m touched, I know she remembers this song, I know she remembers the meaning to this song, I know she feels it, I know she relates it back to so many years ago when we pledged to be together forever regardless of sickness or health, I know she is thankful.
I turn to her and say, “You my dear are very welcome, so why are you saying thank you?”
She looked up from her deep thought and said, very simply, “For finally hitting the right note.”