Getting there

Getting there

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Legacy

When my father died five years ago it was a difficult time. He had been sick for a couple of years so his death was expected, but it was still very hard to accept. He went from being a very lively, talkative, healthy and opinionated man to a skeletal figure in a palliative care bed. Lung cancer does that, dear friends - it robs you of your quality of life, and then it just ends it.

After my father died I knew I would inherit some things. I inherited one-fifth of the farm he and my mother owned. They had actually farmed this land and lived there in the 1950's, with the four little girls who are my sisters. By the time I came along the farming days were behind them, but his attachment to the farm was profound and thus instead of selling it he preferred to will it to the five of us girls and let us do with it as we please. I am proud to say that five years later we still own the farm, and we administer it together (with two sisters taking on the primary roles, but with each sister having an equal voice in decisions). That is one inheritance of which I am especially proud as it is a continuance of a family legacy, and I know it would delight my father to know we have kept it.

The other thing I knew I would inherit is money. It seems so awful to come into money in such a way, dear friends. When the inheritance cheque arrived it took me a few days to cash it as even looking at it made me feel slightly ill. It just seemed wrong that my father's death came with money attached to it. Maybe there are those who look forward to such an inheritance, but I am not one of them. It almost hurt to deposit the cheque, but what made it slightly more palatable was knowing that some of the money was going to help continue another family legacy.

My father, along with being a farmer, a carpenter, an electrician, and many other things, was a musician. He had been playing instruments ever since he was a very young man. He'd never had the benefit of lessons, as his youth had been a hard-scrabble one lived during the Depression years on the prairies. He taught himself to play most of the instruments, and probably had other musicians teach him the rest. He could not read music, and played by ear, which is all the more astonishing to me. He could play the guitar and banjo, the organ and accordian, and, when I was a child, he taught himself to play the saxophone (I remember long hours of what appeared to be the sound of screaming cats emanating from the basement). Eventually he mastered that instrument, too.

During his young adult years he even played in a polka band. His band was apparently in hot demand for weddings and the like, and I still have photos of him onstage. It's remarkable to see him so young and handsome. As he grew older music continued to give him great pleasure, and he played often when his brothers and sisters and their families would come to visit us after we moved into the "big city". I recall so many nights in the family basement. The rye would flow and so too would the music, with them playing until they were utterly exhausted and unable to go on. Eventually they would tumble into bed only to pick up the instruments again the next day and start all over again. When I was a teenager I used to think it was interminable and awful. Now how I wish I could be back there again, sitting down in that basement and wondering if they would ever stop. I wish it could have gone on forever, even if it meant listening to "You Are My Sunshine" another million times.

So, when the inheritance cheque arrived I knew one thing I wanted to do with it. I wanted to buy an instrument. I wanted to buy a piano. This was not because I can play piano, as I can't. In fact, I can't play a single instrument, I sing only when alone and then entirely off-key, and I am quite profoundly tone-deaf. No, the piano was not for me. It was for my daughter.

We found a beautiful piano, a lovely upright grand of the highest quality. We had it delivered to our home, and I found a piano teacher for my daughter. I hoped she would enjoy it, but what I hadn't expected was that she would, in fact, be musical. Now, my husband is also musically inclined, so I suppose I should have considered the possibility, but when she showed an aptitude for reading music and playing I was amazed.

She took to the piano quickly. She went gradually over the years from 1/2 hour lessons weekly to one hour long lessons. She did recitals and Royal Conservatory exams, but this past year I was saddened when it seemed her interest was diminishing. I feared the legacy I had so desired might be dying. I wanted this gift from her grandfather to her to be one she cherished, and I was heartbroken.

After some talking, though, I learned that what she was objecting to were the recitals and the exams. She enjoyed learning music, and learning to play - but she wanted to play simply for pleasure, not for grades or accolades. I spoke to her piano teacher, and, as of next year, she will no longer do exams or even recitals. I never wanted or expected her to be a concert pianist. I always simply wanted her to be able to walk into a room, spy a piano, and sit down and play a favourite piece. The funny thing is that this is exactly what she wants, too - and it is exactly what my father did. He would often play when no one else was around to hear, not for applause but rather because he loved music. It seems that legacy is not only alive and well but runs deeper than I thought.

Last night my daughter was restless and unable to sleep. She came into our room to chat a bit, and as it was quite late we sent her back to her room to try again. Before she went to her room, however, I heard the scrape of the piano bench, and then she began to play one of her favourite pieces. My husband sighed a bit but I looked at him and said "You know, even if she wanted to play at 2 AM it would be okay with me". And it would be, dear friends, because it is the legacy I desired and hoped for coming to life. Her grandfather would be so very proud. I know I am.

New Beginnings 2007

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