Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Victor

I dedicate this story to my late-Grandmother who gave me this piano in her Will.  It was her pride and joy and I'm proud to have gotten it when she passed away.  I'm currently learning to play it and thought to write a story about this piano from the piano's viewpoint; just to be different.  Enjoy.  The names I have used are all fictional until the 1970's when the real people's names are used; including my first RL name.  I hope you enjoy this story as much I enjoyed writing it.


I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t played.  The first time was in the factory in Sydney; when they were putting me together.  I don’t mean the framework, I mean when the keys, pins and pedals were going into place.  They had to play me to make sure I sounded right.  Some of those guys could really play some good stuff!  But not a lot of them could read music; so there wasn’t any put up on my lid.  They just sat on an old stood that was at hand and played the unpainted keys. 

And did I sound beautiful!  Yes, I did.  I am a Paling & Company ‘Victor’ upright piano.  All I knew was that it was around the mid to late 1920’s and everyone wanted one of my kind of pianos in their sitting rooms or front parlours to play after supper.  And I was already bought… actually I was a commissioned piece; paid in full by the Archer family.  I had only heard his name:  Mr Archer; the father of the family being mentioned.  But I knew I was supposed to be a present for his daughter who wanted to learn.

The sitting room was full of light and I sat against the main stairs.  After the company had finished with me, moved me into place and tuned my strings and adjusted my pedals, they left a drop cloth over me.  I was in the dark for a little while.  But today, I watched the sunrise for the first time in my long life and found it was beautiful.  This house was modestly furnished.  They had a lot of books and a gramophone with plenty of records.  Seeing they loved their music, I think I’d be here for a good long while.  I felt my wheels settle into the carpet and the glass of water they had left in the right side of me evaporate a little more.
However, I knew one thing was for certain, somebody was moving around upstairs in the house.  I had a feeling it was the daughter; the birthday girl.  Soft gentle footsteps padded down the stairs behind me and I wished I could turn around like they could, but I had to be patient and wait for my new owner.  She turned the corner and stood there jumping up and down on the spot excitedly in her dressing gown and slippers.  Yes, she and I would get along nicely. 
She walked up to me touched the lid and with tears in her eyes as she pulled out the stool that came with me, but she didn’t lift my lid and play my keys; instead, she leaned in close and whispered:  “I’m Sophie.  You’re my birthday present.”
Very quickly, a few years passed and the Archer family had to sell me.  It tore Sophie’s heart out.  She cried and begged her father not to sell me; no matter how much she played me.  But as the gramophone and records were sold and the books and bookcase, then the car… well, I was the last item he looked at.  The night before they took me back to the Paling & Company factory, Mr Archer sat at my keys and played a touching serenade.  I had never had somebody play something like this before; not even Sophie.  I noticed he was crying as he played.  He didn’t want to let me go either.  The next afternoon, Sophie was on the footpath crying as her father fought the tears he kept trying to blink away.  The year was 1929.  Everyone was selling everything to make ends meet.  Sophie had been very good to me.  She rarely lost her temper, learnt to play wonderful show tunes and – when nobody was looking – played some jazz and blues.  Yes, we had our fun.  But it was too soon and we were parted.  The last time I saw her was in the afternoon when she stood on the footpath watching the door of the removal van roll shut.  Sophie turned her blond curls away from me and into her father’s chest and cried out loud.

Music pounded through the jazz club as the guy in the hat sweated over my keys and a grin pulled up his face.  He loved playing my keys so much; and I loved being in my new home; if you could call a blues club a home.  He pounded the dampener over and over as the saxophone and drums played loud.  Smoke filled the air and glasses lined the top of me.  I was sent to a blues club in Melbourne.  Every Friday and Saturday night, people went out to dance; and this place filled to capacity every week and the same man pounded my keys and the jazz band played until 3am; or until the place was empty and he just leaned against the front board and tinkled with a few of the keys to try out a new set of chords.  Sometimes, he and I watched the sun come up; and those times together reminded me of times with Sophie.  During those times, he’d look at the top and wince as he traced the rings with his long elegant fingers that had been left there by the drinks muttering: “Gotta getcha towel or somethin’ so you don’t have these rings, hey bub?” Other times, he’d pull the stool out and check the water in me and then refill it before tossing the cloth over me and closing up.  I missed seeing the sunrise; just I used to in the Archer’s home.  It was something I treasured.
The club went broke too soon; all because of some evil man called Adolph Hitler.  But there was one other man I kept hearing the name of: Glen Miller.  He and his band’s music rang through the radio all over the stations.  I could hear it in the back of the van as it drove me from Melbourne to Sydney.  The pianist who had played me in the club had enlisted into the army to fight.  I never saw him in another club again; wish he hadn’t done that.  He was a great musician and didn’t deserve to be in a war; not with the music that was inside him.

For some time, I was in a number of places with no real home to call my own.  My wheels really didn’t settle anywhere for long before I was moved again.  Sometimes I was moved by removalists and other times I was moved by proper piano movers; and they were most the gentle and wonderful people.  Piano movers really know how to handle us. 
I was tuned most times when I was moved.  Some of my keys were fixed when they needed fixing.  I got bumped, scratched and leaned on.  People put stuff on my lid (which is a big no-no because it leaves marks).  There were a few years where I was left with just a cover over me and I gathered a lot of dust and roaches nested in me!  Yuk!  I hated hearing them scratching around inside me and not being able to do anything about it!
But, mainly I lived in Sydney.  I was hired out, bought and sold, rented and borrowed.  However, I always found my way back to the old Palings & Company Factory to get stored.  They’d open up the van, look in at us all sitting there strapped up, see me and sigh.  One guy used to turn and call:  “Hey, the ’27 Victor’s back!” as if I was some kind of bad egg that kept on showing up.  In the end, I was sent to Brisbane.  They wanted to see how well I’d go there.  Well, I was snapped in a hurry!  A ballroom called Cloudland wanted me for a few shows and so I was moved there.  And what a place!  When they unrolled the doors, I saw two massive arches reaching all the way up to the sky.  The place was so majestic with its columns and curved entrance that invited you inside to its gorgeous wooden floors and balconies!  The stage was a much smaller duplicate of the outside, and I was set up there for a few shows.
The best nights to be at Cloudland were on Friday or Saturday nights.  The tram dropped you at the bottom of the drive and you walked up to the parking lot.  All the women wore lovely dresses and men wore ties or were not allowed in if they didn’t.  A lot of the time the place was packed; much like the blues club in Melbourne, but it was rock’n’roll music we played.  And it was amazing how everyone knew the words!  A brilliant musician called Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs played here and – even though I wasn’t needed much – the music they played was great!
Too soon, I was sent back to the Palings on Elizabeth Street in Brisbane.  This was because somebody there had seen me at Cloudland and was interested in buying me.  Finally, I was going to have a home!  So, they brought me back in to clean me up.  They polished up everything, tuned me, made sure everything right down to my pedals shone.  Then, when the people came in, they wrote the cheque and I was off to a new home where an older teenager was eager to learn.
Jodie was around sixteen and she was learning to play – just like Sophie had been, but Sophie was ten the last I saw her.  But Jodie didn’t practice for hours on end (unlike Sophie who played for the joy of it).  Instead, she’d walk past, give me a foul look and then when it came to playing the music she got very angry, blaming me for not playing right; bashing my keys hard.  Quite often, this spoilt young lady would slam the lid closed and storm off, leaving the music on the lid and the seat out for anyone to fall over.  Yes, Jodie was a very spoilt and non-committed kind of person indeed.  I wished I could have Sophie back at my keys for she was such a gentle soul and so patient; and so much fun! 
By 1973, Jodie had stopped playing me altogether.  She didn’t even look in my direction when she walked past; and nobody else tried to play me.  They had forgotten to fill up my water glass inside; and so I had begun to deteriorate.  My front panel was warped and the panel in front of the feet was so badly warped, there was a gap up in the top right corner.  Jodie hadn’t even gotten me tuned; or asked her father to get me tuned.  So, while she was off at college, he organised to have me shipped back to Brisbane to be reconditioned and sold at any price.

It was embarrassing when they pulled me out of the van this time; but instead of feeling like a bad egg that kept showing up, the people at Palings & Son’s stood in shock. 
“Aaaw, crap.” The driver ran a hand over his face.  He was trying not to cry, “Who’d not keep the water up in these things?”
“A careless teenager.” Another voice said that came close and ran an experienced hand over my lid, down one leg, across the warped under board, pedals and around the back, over the sides and all around, “Yep, I can fix her.”
The owner of Palings & Son’s came out, “Oh no, not the Victor.” He looked over at the man, “Can you?”
“Sure.  It’ll take a while.  You’ll need to be patient.  I gotta find the parts.”
“I’ll call Sydney.  It’s where she was made.” The owner turned and walked inside shaking his head.
“Well, let’s get this one in first and upstairs.” He looked to the sky, “I have a bad feeling it’s going to rain.”

The 1974 floods here in Brisbane were the worst they had had in about a century.  And fortunately for me, I was upstairs and out of the way of it.  However, the rest of the stock was underwater.  Palings & Sons lost a lot of money and some of the pianos up here on the second floor still had to be thrown out because of how much moisture there was in the air.  Me?  Well, I needed the moisture and so my boards sucked it up and I began to feel better and look better.  However the two front boards never looked the same again.
It took almost another year for the man who reconditioned to complete me.  But, a week from being finished, a married couple climbed the stairs and saw me sitting there with my pins, pegs and keys sitting bare.  I felt so naked and exposed.  But the woman didn’t see me that way.  To her I was an instrument; a beautiful instrument to play in her home. 
“So, Doris, what do you think?” the man asked.
“Oh, Sam I love it.  Can you ask if it’s been sold yet?” she ran her fingers lovingly over my keys and smiled just like Sophie used to.
Sam walked over to the salesman who was on his way over, “How much for that one at the top of the stairs?”
“Well, it’s being reconditioned right now.  However it’ll be finished in a week, sir.” He smiled, “Would you like to purchase the Victor?”
“My wife would love it.  How much?”
They talked about price while Doris looked at my pins and keys and smiled that particular kind of smile that a person gets when they’ve found an instrument that’s touched their soul.  I was absolutely certain I wasn’t going to be rejected from this home.

Within the week, I was finished and taken out to Tarragindi to this wonderful house.  Doris played me all the time to this little girl with bright red hair.  As the years passed, the little girl became curious about me and began playing me; but she just couldn’t get her left hand going.  But her right hand was playing up a storm!  This young girl turned into a woman over the decades and Doris told the young redhead that I was going to be hers; music and all.  So, I wasn’t going to be sold or turned away… wonderful!
Too soon, my wonderful owner died.  On the morning of her death, she propped up an envelope on my lid; her Will.  This was found by her grandson at his sister’s suggestion after he found Doris in the next room.  The whole family was gathered around from all over the city and they all sat outside until the Coroner arrived hours later to announce Doris gone.  But the young redhead did one good thing with me.  Out of respect for Doris, she locked my lid down so that the music that Doris had last played stayed within me until the funeral service.  She felt it was only right; and to me it was too.

Two years passed and I had to be moved again because the house was sold.  This time, I was put somewhere I had never been… storage.  It was cold, dry and creepy.  There were other pianos here.  And I was left here for a long time.  After a while, I lost track of time and saw the young redhead (who I found was named Lynda) a few times.  She’s often look over at me with a longing expression saying she’d wish she could have me back home.

It was in August 2009 that I was moved again by piano movers to Lynda’s house.  She had made a space in her modern life and her modern home for me and I had been installed via the side garage door by the best guys in the business I had ever been around.  The guys posed for a photograph with Lynda as she placed her hand on my lid and I now take pride of place in her living room.  But there was always one thing that bugged her about me… she had never heard me in tune.  So, she began saving up to have me tuned by a well-known tuner; and even phoned a few places for price comparisons.  I’m so excited it’s been so long between tunings!

On 16th, April, Martin showed up at the door, took a look at me and was so amazed I had survived so well since 1920’s.  He immediately offered to tune me for life.  I was so excited about being tuned and now, I am getting tuned.  And Lynda’s so patient when she’s playing me; I don’t know how she finds the patience at her age. 
“Do you play?” he asked.
“No.  I’m trying.  But in truth, I’m a flautist; and I’ve decided to learn piano.” She smiled.
He smiled, “Welcome to a good challenge.”
“I know it’s going to be hard, but I can read music; so I’m halfway there.” She smiles.
My next tuning was on Tuesday.
You know… I think I’m going to be with this family for a good, long time.  Lynda’s happy with me; and she’ll make sure I’ll be given to somebody who’s also happy with me.

A few months passed and Lynda was reading practicing some music that she had learnt at a lesson when the phone rang.  She took off her glasses and picked up the cordless handset that rested on the top of me.
“Hello?” a few moments later, she hung up and resumed playing.  The phone rang again and she picked it up again, “Hello.” She had a strange conversation about me and how she had gotten me; one that I couldn’t quite follow.  But as she sat down on the piano seat, she wrote out a number and name; the first of which I knew:  ‘Sophie Richardson.’ But the phone number was of a nursing home nearby as she wrote out the name.
She phoned them back, “Yes.  Would it be okay if I came and visited Sophie before she came to see the piano?”

About a week later, she had the place spotlessly tidy.  We were getting some serious company if this was happening; even her Mother was here to help.  Lynda had made some ice tea over the last few days and stocked up on a few biscuits (something she never buys).  And as she was making sure there wasn’t any dust on me (for the fourth time this morning), there was knock at the door and she rushed over and opened it.
A woman from a nursing home walked a very old woman inside, a woman whose eyes lit up when she saw me.  But somehow I didn’t know her.
“Oh, it’s just the same as I remember!” she smiled, “But the front boards have been replaced.”
Lynda nodded, “Yes, it had to be reconditioned in ‘70’s.”
“May I?” she touched my lid, “I’d love to play her again.”
Again?  What was this woman talking about?  I’ve never seen her before in my life!  Lynda lifted the lid up for her and assisted her with the seat as she sat down and looked at the keys.
“Beautiful… just beautiful.” She whispered, “It’s Sophie; you were my birthday present.” Then she played part of a show tune she had learnt turning it into a blues-jazz piece with a big grin on her face and tears glistening in her eyes.  As the last note rang in the air, she turned to Lynda, “She sounds great.”
“Thank you.  I just got it tuned a few months back.  And you were marvelous.” She smiled touching her arm, “So, you were the first owner?”
“Yes.” Sophie smiled sadly, “Daddy had to sell her in ’29 during the Great Stock Market Crash.  We had sold the car and two beds, the gramophone, all our books and bookcases.” She shook her head at the memory as she laid her old hand on my keys, “The next thing was the piano.  It absolutely broke my heart.” She touched the inscription of where ‘Palings & Company’ was and looked me over, “I just wonder exactly where this instrument has been.”
“If only it could talk.” Lynda smiled.

Two weeks later, Lynda received a letter in the mail that Sophie had passed away in her sleep from natural causes.  The doctors had wondered why she was hanging on for so long when a lot of her family had either passed on or were living overseas and nobody came to visit her.  Lynda went to her service and returned home with a large briefcase of music that had come with me in 1927 when I was first built.  A lot of it was show tunes… a few books were hand-written jazz; of Sophie’s own work over the years of when she didn’t have a piano to play.  She opened the first book to the first page, propped it up on the rest and put on her glasses.  After looking over the page for a minute, Lynda began to play the music that Sophie had written just for me.

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