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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Leaving (Fiction)

Sally felt a strange tension at the breakfast table one sunny April morning. Her husband Jack appeared nervous. He usually seemed confident and in control, but today, it was as if he were waiting for the right moment to tell her something, something she didn’t want to hear. Just as she took a bite of her bagel, he looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, honey, but I’m leaving you for another woman.”

She choked on her bagel and wondered why she was bothering to try and remove the obstacle. Maybe it would be for the best if I went right here and now.

Jack, a prominent heart surgeon at a Denver hospital, knew the Heimlich maneuver. In a flash, he was behind her, his arms wrapped around her middle, his fingers on her chest pressing inward and upward. After a few thrusts, the piece of bagel flew out of her mouth and landed on her plate with a soft plop.

“Here honey, drink some orange juice.”

Obedient as usual, she took the glass in her trembling hand and sipped from it. “April Fools, right?” she said.

“No, it’s no joke.”

Sally stared at him, trying to comprehend. “Is it that bitch you recently hired as your receptionist?”

“That’s not a nice thing to say about Martha. She’s been a big help in the office, and I was lucky to find her after Darleen quit at the last minute.”

“And she’s a good looker,” said Sally, her body stiffening. “Don’t think I didn’t notice her that day last week when you forgot your lunch, and I dropped it off on my way to the DAR meeting. I saw her skirt cut just above the knees, her see-through blouse that showed way too much cleavage. She would have been a good catch for any man. Why did it have to be you?” She fought back tears.

Jack knelt by her side and took her hand. “Honey, I don’t know how it happened. I guess I was captivated by the long blonde hair falling down her back.”

Sally ran her free hand through her short dark curls. “I thought you liked my hair,” she said, as tears cascaded down her cheeks.

“I did like your hair before you had it cut short and got that permanent and coloring.”

“I’m fifty-five years old. My hair is turning gray. I wanted to look good for you.”

Jack stroked the top of her head with his free hand. “Honey, you were beautiful the way you were.”

Sally brightened. “Okay, I’ll grow my hair long. I won’t have Rachel at Clips and More curl it, and I’ll ask her if she can restore it to its natural color. Will you stay with me if I do that?”

Jack sighed. “Honey, I’m afraid it’s too late for that. Martha’s pregnant.”

“Pregnant!” Sally jerked her hand away and shoved her chair back from the table. “You’re the same age I am. How could you be so stupid? She must be at least twenty years younger.”

“I don’t know,” said Jack with a sigh, as he hung his head. “but I have to do the right thing.”

“She could get rid of the baby like I had to do with Shirley.”

“That’s not funny. You know as well as I do that our daughter would have been mentally retarded. She wouldn’t have had a happy life. As far as we know, Martha’s baby is healthy. I see no reason why she should have an abortion.”

“You bastard!” said Sally. It was all she could do to keep from striking him. “Do you love Martha?”

“I guess I do.”

“More than you love me,” said Sally, wiping her nose with the sleeve of her bathrobe. Jack sighed again.

“I should have known something like this was going on. You seemed to be spending too much time away from home. I know how dedicated you are to your work, and you don’t like to leave your patients until they’re out of the woods, so I shrugged off my suspicions. Then last week when I saw Martha, I wondered if you two were having an affair. I had no reason to think so.”

She rested her head in her hands. “Last night when Maria Gonzales was rejecting her heart transplant, and you needed to stay with her, I tried to reach you on your cell a couple of hours later, and you didn’t answer. I called the hospital, and the operator said you left an hour earlier.”

Fresh tears fell, and Sally removed a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped her eyes. “I told myself Maria had died, and you and your colleagues were drowning your sorrows at My Buddy’s Place like you do sometimes after you lose a patient. You didn’t come home until two in the morning, but when I smelled booze on your breath, I was reassured. Now, before I can offer my condolences, you drop this… this… bomb.” She blew her nose.

“I called the hospital a little while ago. Maria is doing much better. The anti-rejection medication we gave her last night seems to be working.”

“I sacrificed a lot. It was bad enough I had to give up my job at the flower shop when I married you and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“I thought you wanted to…”

“I loved you, damn it, and I wanted to make you happy, and look where that got me.”

“You had Judy. You were involved in the Garden Club, the DAR, and the Civic Theater Guild. Wasn’t that enough?”

“It was until I had to give up Shirley. You don’t know what it’s like to kill your own baby, a child of your own flesh and blood. You don’t know the emptiness I felt all these years. She was just an embryo to you, but to me, she’s still a human being, and I miss her.” Huge, racking sobs shook her, as she buried her head in her hands a second time.

“Now you’re being dramatic,” said Jack, rising to his feet. “Save it for your next play, why don’t you?”

“Then I had to have my tubes tied,” said Sally through her tears.

Jack paced the floor. “You and I both know that there was a good chance you could have carried another disabled child. We were lucky Judy was normal.”

A car horn sounded outside. “Who the hell’s that?” asked Sally, jerking upright.

“That’s Martha. Since my car’s still in the shop, she offered to give me a ride.” He picked up his coat from a nearby chair and put it on.

“That’s it. You’re going to walk out, just like that.”

“I’ll come back this afternoon and pick up some of my stuff while you’re at your Garden Club meeting,” he said, jingling the car keys in his pocket. “My car ought to be ready by lunchtime.”

Sally felt a sense of desperation, as he turned toward the door. “What about me? What am I going to tell Judy if she ever calls and asks to talk to you? Just like you, she works too hard and can’t get away. She hardly ever calls or e-mails. She didn’t even come home for your fiftieth birthday party.”

“I’ll call Judy tonight when I get settled at Martha’s. You’ll be hearing from our lawyer soon. You can have the house and your car, and I’ll pay you a generous alimony each month.”

He turned back to her, and his face softened. “Maybe you and your friends should think about opening that flower shop. I’m sorry I discouraged you from doing that last year. You’ve always been interested in flowers, and I shouldn’t have insisted you quit your job and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“And you shouldn’t have made me have an abortion and then get my tubes tied. Just get the hell out of my sight!” Sally rose to her feet.

The horn sounded a second time. Jack turned and hurried out the door. Sally stood and gazed out the kitchen’s bay window at Martha’s red BMW, as it idled in the driveway. She watched Jack climb into the passenger seat and the car pull away.

She grabbed several trash bags before heading upstairs. In the master bedroom, she emptied Jack’s closet, shoving his pants, shirts, jackets, and shoes into the bags. She cleared his dresser drawers of briefs, socks, and ties. His toiletries on the dresser and in the adjoining bathroom and books and CDs in the study downstairs met the same fate. She even disposed of his medical school diploma, home insurance records, and other important papers in the bottom drawer of his desk.

She would have taken a hatchet to the computer, stereo, and other items, but that would have been too much work. Besides, the sanitation truck would be there any minute, and she had better things to do.

She needed to make several trips to the dumpster in the alley behind the house. As she was stuffing the last bag into the bin, the truck pulled up. Self-conscious about being seen in her bathrobe, she waved to the crew before hurrying indoors.

She retrieved a notepad and pen from the top drawer of Jack’s desk in the study and went upstairs. The note she left on Jack’s dresser read, “You fucking son of a bitch, you are trash, and so is all your stuff.”

In the bathroom, she ran hot water in the tub. In the bedroom, she removed her bathrobe and hung it on the closet door. She placed her slippers on the floor at her side of the bed. She took off her nightgown, folded it, and placed it in its usual drawer.

In the bathroom, she stepped into the tub. Leaving the water running, she sat back, let the warmth surround her, and thought of Shirley. She hoped she and her daughter could make up for lost time.

With her right hand, she picked up the razor that lay on the side of the tub and held it poised over her left wrist. She hesitated for a moment, then cut deep, ignoring the pain. As the bath water gradually turned red, she closed her eyes.

***

The above story appears in the fall/winter issue of Magnets and Ladders, an online magazine featuring work by authors with disabilities. It also won second place in a contest sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.

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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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My Late Husband in Summer (Poetry)

Summer arrived sometime last week, so here’s a poem that appears in the current issue of Magnets and Ladders. You can click the title to hear me read it. Enjoy and stay cool.

 

MY LATE HUSBAND IN SUMMER

 

He sits outside in the sun

at the picnic table in his wheelchair.

Sometimes he wears a hat—

often he does not.

 

With headphones, he listens

either to a recorded book or ball game.

His favorite books are westerns, mysteries.

The more blood and guts the better,

as far as he’s concerned.

 

His favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies,

don’t often play well.

Nevertheless, he’s ever faithful to the end.

 

He asks me to bring watermelon in a bowl,

already sliced, the seeds gone,

so all he has to do is enjoy their taste.

Like a little boy with a sweet tooth,

he asks for cookies, candy

with Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or Propel.

 

In late afternoon or early evening,

picnic table shaded, I join him,

check email on my lap top,

listen to an audiobook of my own.

With the two of us side by side,

I feel a sense of peace

despite the work involved

in getting us here.

 

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.

 

 

Review: My Ideal Partner

I’m pleased to report that last week, a review of My Ideal Partner was posted on the Wyoming State Library’s website. I’ll paste the text below, but you can read the review here.

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

by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Denver, Colo.: DLD Books, 2016

My Ideal Partner is the true story of one woman’s love, struggles, heartache, personal growth, and loss. Newlywed Abbie’s happily-ever-after was shattered when her husband Bill suffered two debilitating strokes, leaving him unable to care for himself. In the course of three months, Abbie went from being a single, independent, visually-challenged adult to being a bride, a newlywed, and ultimately caregiver to her husband. In sharing her hardships, Abbie sheds light on many of the challenges caregivers face. Her difficult journey is both unique and yet universal. While this is Abbie’s story, it is also the story of many others who find their lives drastically changed when they become caregivers to the people they love. The subject matter is tough, but Taylor’s writing style is relaxed and conversational, making this a quick read. Perhaps because this was her first serious relationship, her descriptions of her relationship with Bill are told with the innocence of someone much younger. Grab a box of Kleenex! This is a powerful story that takes readers on an emotional journey, and has the power to move them to both tears and laughter.

Lisa Scroggins, Executive Director

Natrona County Library

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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.

 

A New Me

Abbie-1

Recently while my homemaker from the local senior center was cleaning, she found plaster falling from the ceiling near my kitchen door. Apparently, it had gotten wet. This could only mean one thing. My roof was leaking again.

Why didn’t I see this? Well, with my limited vision, I don’t see things unless they’re close to me. Although I walk by my kitchen door every day, it never occurred to me to look up.

When my homemaker pointed out the offending area, I saw it, and it looked awful. I could just reach it by standing on tiptoe, and when my finger touched the spot, more flecks of plaster went flying. Yuck!

My roof was replaced in 2008 when I bought the house, and I was assured it would last at least thirty years. It wasn’t even ten years old. I called the same roofer, and after taking a look, he reported that the material he used was only supposed to last ten years, and it was aging. Like me, I thought.

As long as I’m getting part of my roof replaced, why not have my me replaced? Maybe I could get a younger me who can see, a me who doesn’t recoil at the prospect of dealing with contractors and insurance bureaucrats, a me who doesn’t hate being around any kind of construction, a me who can drive and not rely on others to get me everywhere, especially in winter, a me with more confidence when walking in treacherous conditions and less fear of falling on ice, braking bones, and ending up in a nursing home.

When I suggested as much to a friend though, she pointed out that with better eyesight, I might not like the way the world looks. It also occurred to me that with no disability, I wouldn’t earn income from social security. To make car payments and support my writing habit, I’d have to go back to my forty-hour-a-week job conducting activities with nursing home residents who fell on ice and broke bones.

Although the other features of a new me would be nice, this investment will have to wait until I get the roof fixed. Apparently, although my homeowner’s insurance will cover fixing the plaster on my ceiling, it won’t cover the replacement of part of my roof unless the damage was a result of a storm. Hmm, maybe with a better me, I could get up on the roof and make it look like storm damage.

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Note: After I wrote the above, the insurance adjuster came and said that a piece has fallen off the roof, so it’s definitely storm damage. Whether it’s the type of storm damage my policy covers remains to be seen.

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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.

 

Circus in the Bedroom

Abbie-1

In light of the announcement that the Ringling Brothers circus is closing after 100 years of operation, I decided to re-blog a poem from a couple of months ago that appears in My Ideal Partner. At one point during the six years I cared for my late husband Bill, we had to purchase a mechanical lift to make it easier for home health care aides to transfer him from the bed to the commode in order to give him a shower. As you’ll note from the excerpt below, Bill didn’t like the lift, but I came up with a pretty good solution to that problem. Click on the poem’s title to hear me read it.

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At first, Bill didn’t like the lift, because it suspended him in mid–air while he was transferred from the bed to the commode and vice versa. I almost laughed when I saw the process for the first time, because it reminded me of the song about the man on the flying trapeze. Because Bill had no vision, I could imagine how insecure he felt during the process. We kept reassuring him that he was securely fastened into the sling and wouldn’t fall, but after his first shower, he said, “I’m not using that damn lift again.”

I was flabbergasted. It had taken one month to get the lift, and another for the carpet in the bedroom to be replaced. For two months, Bill traipsed back and forth to Eventide (the nursing home) for his showers. I had to dress him every day, not just on the days when his showers at home weren’t scheduled. My own back was starting to bother me. I was ready for a break. “Please, honey, just try it for another week,” I said. “It takes some getting used to.”

“It’s not a problem,” said Bonnie. (Bill’s case worker) “Jean said you can keep getting your showers at Eventide if you don’t want to use the lift.”

I wasn’t about to settle for that. Because Bill joked about girls seeing him naked, I got an idea. “Okay, honey, just imagine you’re naked on a flying trapeze in a big circus tent, and fifty women are in that tent who paid $50 each to see you naked on that flying trapeze, and you’re going to get all that money.”

It sounded outrageous, but it worked. After another week, he seemed happy as a clam, being propelled across the room, hanging in mid air.

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UNDER THE BIG TOP

 

Like the daring young man on the flying trapeze,

he glides through the air, smiles down on me.

I wink, say, “Bravo!”

 

We’re not in a circus but in our bedroom.

His left arm and leg useless,

a mechanical lift raises him off the bed,

propels him across the room,

lowers him to the commode, ready for the shower.

***

It’s too bad men on flying trapezes don’t bring in as much money for circuses as elephants do.

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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.