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


Just for Fun: Signs around E-town



In June, my sister Jan and I visited our Longenecker kin in Elizabethtown and the village of Rheems close by. One morning we took a stroll around the square in E-Town and found that though the town clock was still planted in place, the merchants we knew had disappeared. Dorsheimer’s News, Bishop’s Photography, Moose’s Five & Ten, The David Martin Store, and Zarfoss Hardware had changed into something else entirely: a bakery, a coffee shop, a train specialty store, and further down Market Street, an antique shop about to open.

These signs caught our eyes at the opening-soon antique shop:

Not-so-discreet advice: Notation reads July 14, 1941 Reno - Las Vegas
Tactful notice: Notation reads July 14, 1941 Reno Hotel Association, Las Vegas


Pay up! Notation reads: Virginia Beach, VA  1943
Pay up! Notation reads: Virginia Beach, VA 1943

Next we visited The Shoppes on Market, brim full of signs and mottoes for sale:


Then we admired the always festive store front of Flowers in the Kitchen Cafe all gussied up for the Fourth of July celebration:

Flowers in the Kitchen Cafe with patio dining. Used to be
Flowers in the Kitchen Cafe with patio dining. Used to be

Greek Gus @ Gus’ Keystone Restaurant tweaks his menu to suit Pennsylvania Dutch palates. Dried beef gravy on mashed potatoes, Wenger’s ham loaf, pork and sauerkraut any day, and pig stomach just on Wednesdays. As I snap this photo, one obliging soul obligingly rubs the belly of the greeter.


Less than a mile from Bossler’s Mennonite Church, the truck on the Kevin Charles farm delivers fresh bounty from the field. We buy 2 boxes of strawberries, a pint box of sugar peas, and 5-6 stalks of rhubarb. (See recipe for rhubarb sauce below.)


Miniature tractors for sale at Darrenkamp’s Grocery Market near Mt. Joy, PA


* Mom’s Rhubarb Sauce Recipe

Soak 5-6 stalks of fresh rhubarb

in water to “cut the bitterness,” Mom says.

Drain off the water.

Add fresh water.

Cut up stalks into 1/2 inch chunks and bring to a boil.

Add sugar to taste   “. . . until it’s sweet enough”

and 2 tablespoons of tapioca  “. . . just what you think,” Mom says.

Mixture will thicken as it cools.

  *  *  *

Have you returned to your home town recently and found it changed?

How have these changes affected your memory, your emotions?


♥ Coming next: Happy Birthday to my One and Onlies

Two Vignettes: Mom’s Green Stamps & E-town’s Rexall Drug Store

All images: Google Images

“Mare – yun,” my mother calls (yells, actually), “It’s time to lick the green stamps again. The books are on top of the kitchen table.” Mom likes to interrupt my reading. To me time with my books is serious business but to her it’s play. Not working. Wasting time with books unless it’s homework, she thinks.

As I moisten the stamps with my tongue, the glue tastes gooey and sweet. Mom usually receives one Green Stamp in exchange for every dime spent at check-out. I fill the two or three green books until they are fat, each stuffed with 24 pages of unevenly gummed and incompletely perforated paper rectangles. Books of these items can be redeemed for gifts. Mother gets a catalog from the stamp company’s showroom, then matches the item she wants against its price in stamps, paying for it with stamps rather than with cash. She probably has something picked out already. I notice the cover on the ironing board has lots of scorch marks and is wearing thin, so I guess she’ll get an ironing-board cover with one of the books.

Illustrations: Google Images
Illustrations: Google Images

The gifts are usually household items like a set of mixing bowls, an ironing-board cover or something big, as writer Phyllis Tickle describes when she traded her green stamps for her daughter Nora’s baby stroller:

Surprisingly cheap is usually just cheap in premium exchanges, I have found. It certainly was in this case. The thing was made of aluminum so light and thin that the frame itself could not have weighed in at a full pound. The whole stroller did not weigh in at two. The wheels were scarcely a half-inch wide and definitely not a quarter-inch thick.


The sides and back of the contraption were of a plasticized, loosely woven plaid fabric neither Sam [husband] nor I could identify. The result was a kind of sling-on-wheels that had grown less and less appealing to my maternal instincts as I had become more and more of a mother and less and less of a mother-to-be. However, we did have a stroller. Hmmmm . . . .


Later, she concedes though “those were the good old days when strollers were strollers and not miniature, padded tanks.” (294).

A shoppers’ rewards program for loyal customers, the Sperry and Hutchinson Company dates as far back as 1896. During the 1960s, the  company issued three times as many green stamps as the U.S. Postal Service. After a series of recessions and the decreasing value of the stamps most house-wives didn’t think saving stamps was worth the trouble. However, green stamps still persist in popular culture. In A Hard Day’s Night (1964), starring the Beatles, John Lennon mentions Green Stamps when joking to Paul McCartney that he’ll get the best lawyer they can buy. In the hit “Speedy Gonzales” (1962) by Pat Boone, Mel Blanc sings the final words of the song in Speedy Gonzales’ voice, “Hey Rosita, come quick, down at the cantina they’re giving green stamps with tequila!”

*  *  *

Mother doesn’t drive to the Green Stamp showroom on her own to redeem her stamps because she doesn’t have a license.  But there’s a Lancaster – Elizabethtown bus that goes right by our house along Old Route 230. She knows when to tell me to pull on the cord over-head that buzzes to tell the driver where to stop in town. We’ll go to the W. T. Grant store because it has most of what she needs. Our next stop is  the Gladdell Shop with pretty dresses. In the window I see a sleek, lavender dress made of chiffon fabric on the mannikin. It’s pleated at the waist and has a belt with a rhinestone-studded buckle. I imagine jut how slithery and cool it would feel gliding over my skin. I would be instantly chic and stylish, not plain. But Mother is completely blind to the fancy frocks and heads for the lingerie department. A night-gown? Some hosiery? (She always orders a boring shade called “gun-metal.”) No, she has picked out a smocked, tricot bed jacket in blue with a bow to wear in the hospital over her gown when Mark is born and visitors appear.

The shopping trip gets even sweeter near the end. Mom will check her watch, so that we will have just enough time to go to the Rex-All Drug Store before the bus picks us up heading back east. Dr. Garber usually dispenses pills in little white envelopes from his office, so we are not interested in the pharmacy at the drug store.

ice cream soda

Instead we head straight to the soda fountain which is as close to theatre as I’m going to get. Stepping inside the chrome rails that mark the fountain area off from the rest of the store, we sit on the red leatherette cushioned stools that spin. Fluorescent tubes of light above the fountain equipment advertise bubbly ice cream sodas with a straw. Above it like rays from the aurora borealis but stretched around the perimeter of the fountain area is a glow of bluish-purple lights illuminating the walls. Then I look up and see stars sparkling from the ceiling. I’m in heaven. Until the bus comes all too soon.

What story can you tell about green stamps or soda fountains?

Something you can add about a different memory from the 1950s or 60s?