Like many people, one of my favorite Christmas movies is It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. And my favorite scene in the movie occurs at the end when all the townspeople visit George’s house to help him, and his daughter Janie plays “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” so everyone can sing along. I always imagined that one day I, too, would sit at the piano on Christmas and lead my family through all of our favorite carols. Unfortunately, that won’t happen again this year, and I have no one to blame but myself.
My piano career began when I was about ten years old when my dad heard about a local family that wanted to get rid of its upright piano. All he had to do was round up a few of his brothers and a truck to move it from the donor’s house to our home on Wilson Avenue. Then, Dad decided that his second child and only son would take lessons from an older woman about two blocks away on Arnold Avenue, a woman Dad met when he fixed the hot-water heater in her basement. The lessons weren’t cheap — $2.00 per week for a half-hour lesson in the early 1960s — but Dad thought it was a good investment even if he had to take on extra plumbing jobs to keep his six kids fed and also pay the mortgage.
At first, I was excited, and I did pretty well, too, as I learned the notes on the scale and played and memorized simple songs. By the end of that first year, I learned to play a simple version of “Greensleeves,” a song that my teacher said was President Kennedy’s favorite, and I played it at our spring recital.
Unfortunately, by year two, I had lost my zeal for the piano, and I didn’t practice as often as I should. I was much more interested in playing baseball with my friends on the nearby fields and wiffle ball in the backyard. I wanted to become the next Mickey Mantle, the centerfielder for the New York Yankees, rather than becoming . . . I don’t know; I couldn’t’ even name a famous piano player at that age. Thus, by the time that second year of lessons ended, I had regressed, and I hadn’t mastered my new recital piece. Understandably, my teacher was disappointed in me, and wouldn’t allow me to play my new piece (the title escapes me). Instead, she made me play “Greensleeves” for the second year in a row, an unfortunate circumstance, she told me, that had never happened before in all of…