Playing the piano at the assisted living where my mom and dad were staying at the end of my father’s illness was more emotional than I had planned.
My father was wheeled in by a nurse. It was an ordeal for him to get out of the bed at all. All I knew to do was keep the music coming. It was hard to watch. I used the piano as a buffer between that sight and a certain sadness I held in the background.
Their friend Cleta Byrd, who many of you who’ve known me a long long time will recognize, introduced me by saying that “Scott is their only son, no grandchildren [which must have sounded suspect to her, given her tone] but he’s young…sort of young…. They sent him to all kinds of music teachers and they couldn’t teach him a thing, so his mother had to teach him how to play the piano.”
Keep in mind that my mother does not play the piano. She was a strong, strong influence on my music growing up but she never really has played the piano. I had a few teachers. I took lessons for a long time. My parents wanted that for me. So did I.
But I smiled…and I said “yes yes….”
And I realized why my mother told me beforehand, “remember, you were asked here to play, not to talk, so just play, will you?”
At any rate, this is a sad story with some comic relief. As sick as my dad was, and as clear as the signs were, I had not accepted that he was nearing the end of his time here.
He died the following March from neurological problems consistent, according to the Mayo Clinic, with Agent Orange exposure. My father served in Vietnam and one of the functions of his unit was to carry Agent Orange from one location to the other. After they’d used up a barrel of it, they would hose them out, put their clothes and belongings in the barrels and take them with them to the next location. A perfect delivery method for a neurotoxin
Being asked to just play was fine with me. I could focus on the songs and not have to process that my dad was leaving us a little day by day.
This was the last time I played for my father. At least when he was on this plane.
Again, a sad story if you stop reading here.
But it really hasn’t ended. I have played the piano for a small congregation in Bristol for many years. Often, I’ll sense his presence right there behind me.
I can feel his gentle soul. Just letting me know he’s there. Never obtrusive, just as in life, but still encouraging me and loving it when I go for one of those big full gospel chords or when I do one of those speedy runs halfway up the keyboard.
Today, I suppose it’s high time I honor the fact that my parents made sacrifices for me to have my first piano and lessons. They also sacrificed the peace and quiet of their home for me (except when the Braves were playing). They got me to and from lessons and they gave me access to lots and lots of record albums.
I am grateful for it all.
Thank you and thank you.