|Gil Jr. at the piano in Cincinnati c: 1972|
As I helped my Dad get something out of his garage recently, I noticed our old piano, hidden in the corner where it has gathered dust for the past nine years. Before that, it was at my house at Ventana Ranch on Albuquerque’s West Side. I spent one summer trying to strip the white paint and restore it to its original condition. But I never finished the job, which I regret. But there’s still time.
There isn’t much hope of restoring the piano to a condition in which it functions as a decent musical instrument. But the history is worth preserving. The player piano, a very old Wurlitzer, was given to my parents when we lived in Cincinnati in the early 1970s. I knew the piano was damaged in a fire, but I always thought some neighbors gave us the piano as a result of the fire. But I should have known better – memories often fail us. So I called my mom to see what she remembers.
She said the neighbor, an expecting mother, gave us the piano to make room in her mobile home for her addition to the family. She said the neighbor specifically meant for me to have the piano. Sadly, that neighbor developed a tumor and died within six months. She never delivered the baby she was expecting. My mom said that is the reason the piano has always been sentimental her.
Years later, after we moved back to Albuquerque, the piano was always prominent in our living room. Family photos were displayed on top of the upright piano. I can still remember the scratches on our wood floor from when we pulled the piano bench out, climbed on the bench and played Twinkle Little Star. I also remember pulling up the seat of the piano bench to reveal a secret space where we stored children’s sheet music and the black, plastic flutes we brought home from Ranchos Elementary School.
As I thought about that old piano, I remembered something I thought about in many years. If I remember correctly, we used to pay a blind man to tune the piano. I remember being amazed that someone who was blind could tune an old piano. But now it makes perfect sense to me. Who better than someone who uses his hearing more than any other sense? I also checked that memory with my mom. She said it was true, although he had an aid that would help him. But she said it was that blind man who discovered, as he worked on the inside of the piano, that it had been damaged in a fire.
I took piano lessons when I was in elementary school. I would walk over to the Knudsen’s home off Guadalupe Trail after school, on Wednesdays if I recall. But I never fully embraced the idea. I was into sports, particularly baseball. I lived for recess at school, and I proudly wore my Little League jerseys on game days. Piano was for girls, or so I thought. I resented having to take lessons. But looking back, I regret the fact that I gave up on it. On the other hand, I’m sure those piano lessons prepared me for the trumpet, which played in middle school and during my Freshman year in high school.
But back to that sentimental family piano. My Dad always said that the piano would eventually go to the first-born Gallegos granddaughter. I think that’s why I took on the responsibility of trying to restore it. I must have known that we would have daughters, who could inherit the piano. My oldest daughter, Carin, is 11, and she was just a baby when we last had that piano in the house. I vaguely remember her pounding on the piano keys as a baby. Since then, the piano has been in my father’s garage. And also since then, we had a second daughter, Isabella, who is about to turn 8. Bella was with me when we saw the piano in my Dad’s garage. I told her the stories about that old piano. I also told her how her “Papi” promised it to the first granddaughter. She thought, as the second granddaughter, that was good enough, and she told me she wants it. I later mentioned the piano to Carin, who said that she, too, wants it. I don’t know how I’m going to resolve this dilemma. But one thing is clear. I need to finish restoring the piano because it belongs to both of my daughters.