“Halting for an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with both hands grasping the ornamental knobs of the man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with a truly sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted the steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel.”
My parents’ basement is vast and unordered, but when, home for Thanksgiving, I asked my mother where I could find my piano sheet music she led me downstairs, moved a chair aside, lifted one box off of another box and said, I think it’s in here. Throwing things out is not one of my mother’s strengths, but she has other talents that compensate for this, including a strong sense of geography. Underneath a series of violin exercises my father used when he was young and a couple of manuals circa 1985 explaining computer languages I am certain none of us ever used, or contemplated using, but which I replaced in the box, I found a book of Bach Inventions that I had played from, with the penciled fingering, reminders, corrections, and exhortations of my piano teacher, Mrs. Minkoff, intact.
When I took the music upstairs, I could play it.
So: This was going to be a story about my limitations, which include being a poor pianist. And about Mrs. Minkoff, who had bariatric surgery while I was her student, and who became thin for a while, and then slowly or not so slowly, depending on whether or not you were Mrs. Minkoff, became fat again. I, of course, had been fine with Mrs. Minkoff being fat—I had expected her to be fat, in fact, and didn’t realize, until I saw her thin and happy, that she was, like me, a person who wanted to be wonderful, and maybe even perfect. I’ve been sad, lately, and one thing about being sad is that you never know how sad you are. You think you have a sense of where the bottom is, you think you’re floating in maybe seven feet of water, but it turns out you’ve been pushed out farther than you thought, and are dangling above more serious depths.
Then you look down and you see you’re writing a story about not being able to play the piano, even though you have a piano and play it, for example, while the children put their shoes on in the morning. Also, my premise was wrong. My premise, when I went downstairs at my parents’ house, and when I sat down to write about it, was that I could only play the songs I played when I was fourteen, and was stuck, for better or worse, following along with my younger self, and Mrs. Minkoff, in the music she selected for me. But for Hanukkah this weekend David bought me two new books of music. It turns out that I can play Haydn's Sonatas, if I choose the ones without too many sharps or flats.