|I purchased a couple CDs a few days ago. I wanted to play them on my PC while I did the transcriptions of my journals. One of them, 'The Essential Piano - The World's Best-Loved Piano Pieces' by Philippe Entremont, included Frederic Chopin's 'Polonaise in A-flat Major' and brought back poignant memories for me.
My dad loved to play the piano. He was self-taught by following a player piano in a theater where he worked as a teen. When he went to college at Washington State - Pullman, back in the 30s, he formalized his music training. There, he studied music and education. Part of his music preparation was several required recitals. He played the 'Polonaise in A-flat Major' for one of them, but it did not go too well.
Despite the one setback, he graduated in the midst of the great economic downturn. He taught whatever academics were necessary to keep a job during the depression. After the war he was able to teach what he loved, grade school and junior high school instrumental music, for most of his career. And he practiced the piano many hours each week, usually ending each session with an attempt to improve his 'Polonaise.' So, as I grew up, I heard it innumerable times.
In late 1958, my older brother, Harley, joined the Navy and I inherited his room upstairs over the garage. He went to boot camp in San Diego for 12 weeks and returned home for 2 weeks leave in the early spring. We picked him up at the bus station Saturday, around midnight, and brought him home to the sweet smell of homemade bread right out of the oven. Mom had made four loaves extra for the occasion. We sat around the kitchen table and he talked about the Navy for an hour while we consumed two of the still warm loaves with real butter and homemade blackberry jam.
The only spare bed was in his old room with me. So we retired upstairs at 2:00 and went right to sleep.
The next morning we both woke up at about the same time as soft sounds crept into the room. The birds were singing outside under the eves and Dad was downstairs practicing the piano. Mom was in the kitchen making bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy. From the smell, coffee was ready too. We both just lay there slowly waking up. As Dad started 'Polonaise' my brother noticed I was awake.
He said, "You know you live in a small paradise here."
I said, "Just boring old Medford, Oregon."
"There's no Chief shouting at you to get up at 5:00 in the morning. No barracks with 80 men jammed in double bunks in the same room. No PT in the freezing fog. No institution food that you're given 10 minutes to eat. No marching, no fire watch duty, no KP, and no 5th grade level classes you have to sit through."
Mom's voice came up the stairs, "You up yet boys? Breakfast is ready."
In a louder voice he said, "Be right there Ma."
He continued, "You wake up to piano music, birds singing outside the window, and real food with all the time you want to eat it. Until you've lost it, you don't know what paradise really is."
We got up and went downstairs. He seemed to hug Mom quite a long time. And, after 25 years practice, Dad's 'Polonaise' was starting to sound pretty good.
I think of that morning, 45 years ago, every time I hear 'Polonaise.' And I miss my dad. He gave us a little bit of paradise to grow up in and I wish I could thank him.