How to Teach a Piano Lesson

“Joel, I’m going to the Christian Light Press in E-Town for some birthday cards, do you want to go along?”

“Okay, Mommy, do you think they have lollipops?” queried my mischievous son.

“I don’t think bookstores have lollipops at the counter like doctor’s offices do, but maybe they have other fun things to look at,” I said, thinking he would enjoy an excursion into town while visiting his cousins in Pennsylvania.

Entering the store, I spied precious novelties tempting to touch, a fact that struck me with a fearsome shudder because I had an 8-year-old in tow.

“Now don’t touch anything. Just look. Do you see the sign on the display? It says ‘If you break it, you buy it!’”

“Uh huh,” he said racing to the music boxes and other curios.

I turned to the bank of colorful greeting cards not far away eyeing cards appropriate for Mother and sister Jean.

“Squeak-thunk,” was the next sound I heard across the aisle, close to where I saw the top of Joel’s thatch of brown wavy hair.

Cards in hand I strode over toward Joel and saw him holding a toy baby grand piano. As I looked closer, I noticed the hinge to the piano lid was halfway broken off. Turning the piano upside down to reveal a music box attached underneath, I noted a sticker. The price tag announced: $ 13.95. Please understand, we were a struggling young family in the 1970s, my husband and I both teachers, so the money registered on my mental calculator as a staggering figure.

Right there and then I had a double D attack: disappointment at my son’s disobedience and dread coursing from head to toe knowing we had to face the owner and admit to the breakage.

My feet felt like lead as I led Joel by the hand and I trudged down the aisle toward the clerk/owner who appeared to be glowering at us behind a tall metal cash register with raised keys and a bottom drawer that slammed shut.

I approached the counter speechless but managed to turn over the music box revealing the price tag. Swallowing slowly I formed words, “I guess we’ll need to pay for this. My son broke it accidentally.”

“Yes, you will. You see what the sign says.” I knew the warning only too well.

Opening my wallet hesitantly, I shelled out the dollars and cents, Joel standing by my side his head hanging, embarrassed and chastened.

* * *

Leap forward over thirty years, and son Joel now has his own son Ian, also age eight.

Several weeks ago I presented Ian with this same piano that has sat on my bookshelves for decades, occupying space between American poetry and art history books. Because we are downsizing, I have been passing along keepsakes to the next generation.

Joel was privy to my intention and approved my gifting the piano that plays the Lord’s Prayer as a tinkling, lullaby tune.

The presentation of the bequest began with a sturdy, red shoebox surrounded by tissue and foam padding. And then the unveiling . . .


Turning the wind-up key, voilá – sweet music filled the air.

PianoTwist Key

I announced, “When, he was your age, your dad broke off one of the legs on this toy piano.”

“Oh, no, not a leg, the hinge was broken off,” Joel corrected.


My memory had played tricks on me and the cause of the accident had morphed into something else.

Memory can be fuzzy sometimes. It’s not fixed as a photograph / locked in an album, / but it changes, it develops, mixed with time,” as Barbara Crooker wisely observes in her poem, Not a Spoon, a Key. Sometimes memory can even be wrong.

Squinting now at the underside, I see the replacement on the left, slightly larger screw and bolt than those on the other side. Lid held up with two toothpicks.



And here it is, good as new!



Not a word was spoken about doing the right or wrong thing.

Words weren’t necessary.




Can you relate to my dilemma here?

Has your memory of family incidents every played tricks on you? Readers will enjoy your story and so will I.


Coming next: Raise a Mug to the Irish


51 thoughts on “How to Teach a Piano Lesson

  1. May your grandson’s fingers be a bit lighter than his dad’s when they go shopping. I doubt there’s a parent who hasn’t had a similar incident happen as children rarely approach anything with thought. In my case it was a niece who made my face red by collapsing a stack of ladies feminine product by pulling one from the bottom as we walked a supermarket aisle. I was getting toothpaste and so it was quite embarrassing to have to get a member of staff and explain what had happened, my niece having disappeared down the next aisle.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s always the parents (in your case uncles) who bear the brunt. Thank you starting the conversation here with your story.

      Incidentally, I like the new look you are sporting recently.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a precious story and a good memory for both of you. (even if the memory is a bit incorrect, in the end it doesn’t really matter) . When my daughter was about 2 or 3, I visited a gift shop and sat her on the counter while I paid for my purchase. A display of decorative pill boxes sat on the counter. When we left the store, she turned to me and pulled one of the pill boxes out of her coat pocket as proud as punch and gave it to me. I marched her right back in, explained how wrong it was to take something without paying for it and made her apologize to the store owner. My daughter is 41 and still remembers that lesson. (I do not remember the picture on the pill box, I think it was a pill box)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a built-in opportunity to teach honesty. At her tender age, she was totally unaware she was a thief. (Or, maybe not!)

      Even if your memory is hazy on the details, the message sticks. Thanks for sharing, Darlene.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful story, Marian. I also enjoyed going back with your link to your earlier post. I didn’t remember it, but it must have been my first or one of my first visits to your blog and seeing the different form of “plain” and your transition to “fancy.”

    You are so right that memory plays tricks. This has often come up in discussions with family members–siblings and children. It’s funny that sometimes a memory that looms large in one person’s memory is not even remembered by another. Last night on “Finding Your Roots,” Henry Louis Gates compared family lore to playing the Telephone Game or Whispering Down the Lane, where a message changes as it’s told. It turned out that one of Julianna Margulies’s family legends was not true, but another incredible one was.

    (Also your son and grandson are both handsome and look so much alike!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I enjoy the Henry Louis Gates series. His observation about memory is true. When my sisters and I get together, we have the same off/on buttons in our memories. I once thought that they remembered things that never happened. Since then I’ve learned more about how memory operates and have become less judgmental.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved this story and brought back a memory of when I twisted the bathroom scales adjustor too far on a trip to friends of my parents, breaking it. I always felt so guilty and eventually confessed to them in a long-delayed letter!

    Nicely told, beginning with the opening play on words of “piano lesson.” The story reminds me of a regular feature in The Washington Post Magazine (weekly that comes out with the paper) on little keepsakes that have meaning far beyond their appearance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The funniest part of your story is the fact that your infraction involved a bathroom scales adjustor. I’ve had to make two confessions: one in a letter and another through a phone call. Nothing like a clear conscience.

      I’m curious about the Washington Post Magazine story and wonder whether you have the link. Probably everyone has a story about keepsakes. Most never get written down. Thanks for sharing yours here, Melodie.


  5. What a wonderful story, Marian. I felt for poor little Joel, as I read about the accident. When I was five, I accidentally “drove,” the family car. I still remember hiding under my bed, and my father on his knees, peeking underneath the bed spread. Your son and Ian are quite handsome. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Jill, was the car running and you coaxed it from park to drive? Your comment reminds me that something similar happened (again, to Joel) when he got inside our van with the ignition turned on. Then he moved the gears into reverse whereupon the van floated across the street and hit our neighbor’s car. He has become the perfect teacher/trainer for middle school students.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lovely story and object! I can only assume that the reason for getting it must have made that beautiful music box all the more special. What a wonderful family heirloom to pass on to future generations! ☺👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a family heirloom with a story attached. Whatever happens to the music box from now on, the story will remain as part of our family memories. We always appreciate your stopping here with a comment, Fatima.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed this story and the pictures! It’s good when lessons are taught and learned through actual experience, even though it’s often painful at the time. What a great gift for your grandson and a lesson. Yes, I have some memories of lessons taught and learned. Thanks for sharing this along with pictures! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the piano and the story. Much more passing to your grandson along with his Dad. What a precious moment. I’m so impressed at how you keep things. I’m learning still haven’t mastered it. After awhile I get rid of things. That’s what these grandchildren have learned. Every three monthscwe have to clean draws and closets get rid of clothes we give to repeat boutique who gives it away to community and misssionaries. Well my grandchildren last month did it on their own I gave the bags to my daughter to go through them before I take to the boutique. Low and behold all of a sudden I see my daughter wearing clothes like mine. I finally said I’m amazed that you and I have a lot of the same clothes. She looked and smiled and said no these are some of the things you got rid of they were in the bags. I was stunned I asked the girls did you go though my things. They said no you had a plastic bag of clothes on the side of your dresser thought that was what you were getting rid of. Well no I didn’t have the laundry basket when I folded my laundry pit in a laundry bag to take to room forget to put away now they were given away oh wel at least my daughter got it wish I still did laugh out loud.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keeping things is both a blessing and a curse. Now that we are downsizing, I want to pass along special keepsakes. I’d rather give them to family members than to another charity although Angel Aid close to us is very deserving because it’s a ministry to women and children exclusively.

      What a trick that you gave away what you thought you hadn’t. Ha! Well, it all stays in the family! Thanks for story here. It deserves a smiley face too 🙂


  9. Thanks Marian a lovely story! Which has me taxing my brain cells again .. I know that when my brother, sister and I get together and we remember events, how broken the telephone is. We live a distance from each other so these get togethers are rare. Naughty stuff that I got up to, my sister would confess that it was she who was the guilty party. Things I thought she had done would be corrected by going over the event – and do it goes –

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I actually read it that way – funny how the brain sometimes does an auto-correct. (And sometimes doesn’t – ha.!) If every family member wrote a memoir, there would be different stories and different versions of the same tale, I guarantee you. Just ask my sisters.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Marian — You hit it out of the park with I the story, the photographs, and the lesson! And you’re right, not a word had to be spoken about doing the right or wrong thing—they simply weren’t necessary.

    As to memory… It’s as if my sister and I (only 13 months apart) were raised in two different households because we remember things completely differently from each other:
    I’ll remember red, she’ll remember green.
    I’ll say it was a weekend, she’ll remember it as a month.
    I’ll remember it as peppermint, she’ll say it was butterscotch.
    She remembers it as me pulling her hair, but trust me — she was the one who pulled mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so true. Writing memoir now, I go mostly with my memory and what I find in printed and visual research, but sometimes my sisters add spice to the story and I love them for that. I have a graphite mark where one of my sister’s pencil penetrated my arm. No disputing this fact! 😉

      I also like the disclaimer to readers my author friend Kathy Pooler has printed in her memoir: This is a work of non-fiction. However since objective reality is dubious given the limitations of perception and memory, this memoir makes no claim to objective certainty of anything. This book represents the author’s story based on her own point of view, enhanced by extended interviews with many of the people who appear in this book.


  11. We had a German-style beer stein (one of the ones with a lid that lifts up on a hinge) on our shelves at home for years for the same reason. My parents rarely drank alcohol, so it looked out of place in our house for sure. Oddly, I can’t remember if I broke it or if it was one of my brothers – there’s the memory challenge. I just know that we broke it, we bought it.
    We were a farm family with no spare cash. I can imagine that my mother felt much the same way as you did when she had to hand over much needed money for a most unwanted beer stein!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can easily picture your beer stein from the description. It probably sported a brightly colored design on an embossed surface too. Does someone in your family still have the beer stein I wonder?

      I’ve discovered that though memories become fuzzy or erratic, we can still remember years later how we felt years. Thanks for sharing your recollection here, Arlene.


  12. Marian, this post is rich with so many lessons. In addition to being a cautionary tale, it is also a wonderful combination of memories, connections, and love. Beautifully done.
    For my daughter’s recent 38th birthday, I gave her the music box I had given her grandmother on her birthday after Molly was born. The music box is carved wood with a Mary Cassatt mother/child picture on the top and plays a lullaby. My mother’s dementia is so deep now that only a few CDs of children singing catch her attention, and Molly was thrilled to have the music box she’d listened to as a child. There’s a legacy of magic in music boxes. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, “cautionary tale” was part of my original title.

      I love when you describe your artifacts along with the warm family feelings they generate. There IS a legacy of magic in music boxes, so well said.

      We seem to be on somewhat parallel tracks with close family members’ dementia. My Aunt Ruthie has been moved to a more skilled facility, but there is a bright spot for her. The “house” where she is resident now has an organ and best of all a piano. We know she won’t volunteer to play anymore as she did for the “old people” in a nursing home when she was 90. But she will hear music and be encouraged with old songs. “Pre-cious mem’ries, how they linger . . . “


  13. What a lovely story to tell you grandson how intent he looks on your every word .
    Do you know I’m stuck for words , which is usual , especially when I have a pen poised , or in this case, a finger poised on my iPad …it usually flows .
    I have a story not of a broken piano that goes back 30 years but a broken friendship of 25 years .
    I met friend for lunch yesterday… a friend I have known all my life . When her brother married for second time she gained a sister , a sister like no other ,…almost a soul mate . When her brother and her soul mate sister ended their marriage 25 years ago so did my friend’s friendship end , as loyalty to brother ( so wrong …her brother couldn’t have care a jolt)
    Would you belive the two of them met up a week or so ago 😂😂😂😂 it was tears and hugs and promises never to cut each other off again ….it was like they’d never said goodbye .❣❣❣
    Not quite what you were asking for but I hope you like my story as I like yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is the best story of all, Cherry. Broken toys or keepsakes can often be mended, but it takes a different talent altogether to fix a broken friendship. What a happy, happy ending. . . actually, the beginning of a new lease on life for both of them. All my readers will perk up their ears with this story. Thanks!


  15. What a wonderful memory Marian. You said it exactly, our memories are how we perceived them. Until shown proof otherwise, we are left to believe what we remember as truth. And how lovely that you could pass that, now heirloom, on to your grandson. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debby, you must have read the disclaimer I quoted to Laurie. Unless we keep detailed journals or the memory is recent, there is a margin of error. Even then, our recollections are colored by so many other factors.

      Thanks for your observations. Always grateful for your point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Wonderful and such delightful photos. The third photo shows the gravity of the moment and the piano lesson. Thank you, Marian. Love wins!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ian, like most boys his age, is mischievous and daring. But he is also artistic, so maybe the image of the piano and the fact that he sees it every day in his room will make a difference. Thanks for reading & commenting here, Marie.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. That’s a sweet story, and it’s good you have the piano to maintain the memory (however fuzzy) of a day that might otherwise have been forgotten. I just hope Ian doesn’t decide to maintain the family tradition of breaking expensive items!

    Liked by 1 person

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