Tuesday Book Feature: Love Letters in the Grand

Note: Since Thanksgiving falls on the day I normally review books here, I’m changing things around a bit. I’ll have a special treat for you on Thanksgiving Day, so stay tuned.

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Love Letters in the Grand: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Big City Piano Tuner

By John Justice

Copyright 2017

In this collection of stories, the author, totally blind, relates his experiences tuning pianos in New York City and Philadelphia during the 1960’s and 70’s. Some tales are humorous like “It Won’t Play If You Don’t Pay,” in which he describes his underhanded way of dealing with a customer who refused to pay for his services. Others showcase how unfairly he was treated by some customers, e.g. “Unintended Disaster,” in which he was blamed for breaking a music lamp on a piano top after being told it was clear.

Some stories don’t have much to do with piano tuning like “Star’s Rippingly Good Solution,” in which he explains how his guide dog handled a mugger on a New York City subway. In the title story, he relates how he found a packet of love letters inside a grand piano. At the end, he explains how he met his second wife at a rehabilitation facility for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, and eventually married her and found other employment while still tuning pianos on the side.

Since I play the piano, I was fascinated by his explanation of the inner workings of the instrument, as he related his various experiences. I liked his descriptions of Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center where he was sent to tune pianos. As a registered music therapist, my favorite piece was “Song for Adrienne,” in which his playing of a familiar Christmas carol touched the heart of a young woman in a psychiatric hospital. I loved his quote at the end. “Life is like a piano. It has highs and lows, but when all is said and done, it is an instrument on which we all must play our tunes.”

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Sunday Best: My In Perspective Interview

Late last Tuesday afternoon, I was interviewed on a podcast called In Perspective, hosted by Bob Branco, an author who is blind and loves to talk about blindness and other related topics. He and his co-host interviewed me about my life and writing with particular attention paid to My Ideal Partner. This program can be heard on various Internet radio stations, but you can click below to hear my interview.

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http://www.brancoevents.com/in-perspective-1172017/

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What’s the best thing that happened to you this past week? Please tell me about it. I hope something good happens to you next week.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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LIBRARY Days

Thanks to blogger Alice Massa for inspiring this. In her post, she shares fond memories of visiting a public library as a child. Reading it brought back reminiscences of my own.

In the fall of 1973 after we moved here to Sheridan, Wyoming, from Tucson, Arizona, my younger brother Andy took an interest in library science. He’d started kindergarten, and I was in the sixth grade. Since Mother had taken us to a public library in Tucson on a regular basis, it was only natural that we would continue to do this once we were settled here.

The Sheridan library was an old building with a children’s section in the basement. Once a week or so, we would descend a creaking stairway to a world of wonder. The aroma in the large room reminded me of the library at the school for the blind in Arizona, where I’d enjoyed browsing shelves of Braille books. I couldn’t do that here, but there were records and cassettes containing stories and sometimes just plain music. Mother encouraged me to check out such books as Understood Betsy and Ann of Green Gables, which she read to me. Eventually, a librarian came to our home once a week and brought books on records that were issued by a library in Utah that specialized in recorded books for those with visual and other impairments that made reading difficult or impossible.

The check-out process at the Sheridan library was what fascinated Andy. He watched, wide-eyed, as the librarian stamped each of our selections with that day’s date. One day after we got home, we discovered that Andy had walked away with the librarian’s stamp.

Nonchalant, Mother told Andy he could keep the stamp for now, but the next day after school, he would have to return it and apologize for taking it. The librarian must have had extra stamps on hand for when we showed up the next day, and Andy handed her the stamp and told her he was sorry for stealing it, she only smiled and said it wasn’t a problem. At Christmas that year, Santa Claus gave Andy his own stamp and ink pad. For the next few months, he enjoyed playing “library” until he took an interest in something else.

A couple of years ago, Andy, now living in Florida, sent me, for my birthday, a t-shirt emblazoned with library stampings. He’d forgotten about his petty theft until I brought it up after receiving the shirt. It was apparently a coincidence that he, knowing I appreciated books as a writer, thought I would like the shirt, and he was right.

Today, the Sheridan library is located in a modern building with books and other items for both children and adults on the ground floor and an art gallery and meeting rooms on the second floor. With an elevator, it’s no longer necessary to ascend or descend any stairs. Instead of a card catalog, there are computers, and records and cassettes have been replaced by CD’s and devices called playaways, which contain one recorded book each. However, I download books from other sources, so I only visit the library to attend monthly Range Writers meetings and other programs. As for Andy, with a P.H.D. in physics, a family, and a full-time teaching job at a private high school in Jupiter, I imagine he has little time to visit a library, but we can still remember.

What do you remember about visiting your public library as a child? What kinds of books did you like to check out? Did you ever bring food or drink into the library, as Alice and her cousin did?

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Giving Care with Love

This morning, I heard, on NPR, one of many reports about the sentencing hearing for the U.S. Army sergeant who went AWOL in the Middle East and was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for five years before being released. During yesterday’s proceedings, Shannon, the wife of one of the soldiers injured while searching for the missing sergeant, said that her husband’s severe injuries impacted their interactions, and she felt more like a caregiver than a wife.

My heart goes out to Shannon and others in her situation. For six years, I cared for my late husband Bill, who suffered two strokes and became partially paralyzed. However, I showed him my love all the time, and he showed me his in return. After dressing him in the morning and transferring him to his wheelchair, I put my arms around his waist and held him for a moment, then kissed his cheek and positioned my cheek in front of his mouth so he could do the same, which he did. At mealtime after I put food in front of him or gave him his pills, I put my arm around his shoulder and kissed the top of his head. He often put his good arm around my waist, and we both held each other momentarily. Of course Shannon’s husband may not be able to return her affections, but he can surely feel hers, and at a time when he can do nothing else, it’s important for him to feel loved.

In My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, I explain other ways Bill and I showed love for each other during the years I cared for him at home. Through this book, I hope to reach out to Shannon and others who are caring for loved ones at home. If you’re in such a situation, you’re not alone. No doubt your community has a support group, and the Internet is full of blogs and other resources for caregivers. I hope Shannon and others can find a way to put love back in their relationships.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

Thursday Book Feature- A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home:

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher

by Sue Halpern

Copyright 2012

This title sounds like the start of a joke, but it really isn’t. The author describes how she trained her Labradoodle, Pransky, to be a therapy dog, and how for years, they visited a county nursing home in Vermont once a week. She starts by talking about how she acquired Pransky and came up with her name. Years later after her daughter left home to go away to school, Halpern decided she and Pransky needed something to do, since her job as a stay-at-home mom no longer existed. Hence, she decided to train Pransky to be a therapy dog.

She describes the arduous process, which wasn’t easy for her or Pransky. Nevertheless, Pransky managed to pass the test.

Halpern then relates many experiences with residents at the nursing home who’s lives Pransky touched, like Dottie, hard of hearing, who enjoyed taking Pransky for walks with her wheelchair, Lizzie, who had difficulty speaking due to a rare genetic disorder but greeted Pransky whenever she saw her, and the Carters, a couple who always had plenty of dog biscuits to spare. Then there was Janis, who loved telling jokes but not about a dog walking into a nursing home. The author also touches on the history of therapy dogs and reflects on nursing homes and other topics related to aging.

The book is divided into seven chapters centered around each of the seven Catholic virtues. This is one thing I didn’t like about it, maybe because I’m not Catholic. I found her reflections on this and other religious and philosophical subjects irrelevant to her story. In fact, they either distracted me or put me to sleep.

Also, the ending was a bit up in the air. She talks about her daughter going off to study in Norway and then returning home briefly to accept a scholarship and give a speech. This had nothing to do with Pransky’s visit to the county nursing home. It might have been better to end by explaining how long she and Pransky volunteered there or if she and the dog were still visiting the facility on a regular basis when she finished writing the book.

On the other hand, having worked as a registered music therapist in a nursing home for fifteen years, I could relate to some of Halpern’s stories, since I had similar experiences. I could also understand her feelings of rejection when residents refused a visit from Pransky, since not all residents I encountered enjoyed music activities or wanted me to visit them in their rooms.

Since October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, I thought this would be a fun book to read, and it was, although Pransky didn’t come from a shelter. There’s no reason why a shelter dog couldn’t be a therapy dog if the pooch has the right disposition and receives proper training.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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A Book and a Chat with Yours Truly

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for a radio show broadcast live in the UK. You can visit the host’s blog or click below to hear a recording of the interview. Enjoy!

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http://romance2read.com/A%20Book%20And%20A%20Chat%209-19-17%20with%20Abbie%20Johnson%20Taylor.mp3

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Breast Exam

I posted this here a couple of years ago, but since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s worth re-blogging. I wrote it several years ago when my husband Bill was still alive. Ladies, if you’re over forty and/or have a high risk of getting breast cancer, you should, at least once a year, “get your boobies squeezed,” as Bill would have said.

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I’m sitting on the toilet, moving the index and middle fingers of my right hand up, down, and around each breast, as the radiology technician showed me. There are no lumps. I stand, repeat the procedure, and still find no lumps. In the shower, I rub a generous amount of soap on both breasts and repeat the examination a third time. Still, there are no lumps.

As I finish showering, I reflect on my first mammogram eight years ago. A friend e-mailed me a list of ways to prepare. One suggestion was to insert my boob into the refrigerator and close the door. Another was to place my breast behind one of the back tires of my car and have someone drive over it. Either way, I would have a feeling of what it would be like to have a mammogram. These suggestions didn’t make sense until I had my first procedure.

The mammogram machine was a tall contraption with an adjustable top. I stood, leaning against it while my breast was squashed between the top and bottom. I held my arm corresponding to the breast being examined straight out to the side and clutched a bar on the side of the machine.

Two views were taken of each breast, one side to side and one top to bottom. The top to bottom ones weren’t bad, but the side to side were excruciating because of my short stature. I had to stand on tiptoe so my breast could be aligned properly. At one point while the picture was being taken, I wondered what would happen if the power went out. Would the machine lock, trapping my boob between its metal jaws? For the next eight years, I allowed my bosom to be subjected to this torture, and for what?

As I step out of the shower and reach for my towel, I think about my mother who died of cancer ten years ago. Not in her breast, it was the dreaded disease all the same. During the last six months of her life, she was weak from chemotherapy, and Dad took care of her. The oncologist gave her a good prognosis a couple of weeks before she passed. It was a shock when she lay down on the afternoon of December 15, 1999, closed her eyes, and never woke up.

Fortunately, this didn’t happen while I was a child in need of her care. I was living on my own and holding down a job, and I only needed her companionship and moral support. I realize now that if I were to die, my husband Bill would be lost without me. Unable to care for himself, he would be forced to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. After working in one for fifteen years, I know they’re not bad places, but living in an institution, no matter how pleasant the surroundings or friendly the staff, isn’t the same as living at home and being cared for by the one you love.

So I’ll continue to examine my breasts once a month. When I receive a card in the mail from the radiology clinic reminding me it’s time for my yearly mammogram, I’ll pick up the phone and arrange to have my boobs squashed.

“What are you doing?” Bill asks, as I climb in bed beside him and reach under my pajama top.

“I’m doing my monthly breast exam. Remember? I do it when I’m sitting, standing, in the shower, and lying down.” There are still no lumps.

I turn, put my arm around him, snuggle against him, bury my face in his hair. “You don’t want me to die of breast cancer, do you?” I say, as I kiss him.

“No,” he answers with a laugh. “Can I examine your breasts?”

“Sure,” I answer, positioning myself so he can reach them.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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