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.

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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.

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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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Sins of the Parents

Late last Thursday afternoon, I was in my office, working on my new novel, when I heard a vehicle with a diesel engine pull into my driveway. I live next door to a day care center, and some parents park at the bottom of my driveway momentarily while picking up or dropping off their kids. I paid no attention to this diesel engine’s rumbling until a few minutes later when I heard a crash.

I stepped outside my kitchen door and noticed that a big, black truck had bashed in my garage door. There appeared to be no action around the truck, but because of my limited vision, I couldn’t tell for sure. Not knowing what else to do, I called 911.

As it turned out, a little girl of about four or five was in the back seat of the truck with her seat belt on when the truck crashed into my garage door. Her parents were apparently inside the day care center, having left her alone in the truck. The good news is that the driver’s insurance will no doubt cover the cost of repairing my garage door.

This reminded me of an incident that happened years ago when I was about the same age as this child. We were living in Tucson, Arizona, at the time. My mother and I stopped one evening at a small market on our way home from somewhere.

When we pulled into the store’s parking lot which sloped up to the entrance, my mother turned off the ignition and asked me if I wanted to go in with her or stay in the car. I opted to stay in the car, but after a few minutes, I was bored, so I went inside and found my mother.

When we came out, we discovered that the car had rolled to the edge of the parking lot near the busy street. Naturally, my mother thought I’d been in the car when it rolled, but I assured her I hadn’t. I had only wandered into the store because I was bored.

I’m thankful now that I did. If I’d stayed in the car, and it rolled, it would definitely have been a frightening experience. I’m sure this child was just as scared, especially with a crazy lady, me, running around the truck yelling, opening the driver’s side door to find no one there, closing it, then disappearing.

After I posted about the incident on Facebook, a friend commented that Social Services needed to know about this. I reasoned, though, that if the policeman who responded to my 911 call thought it was necessary to notify Social Services, he would have done so. Besides, if Social Services were called, and the child was removed to a foster home, that would have been more traumatic than being in a rolling vehicle that collided with a garage door. Also, since my mother left me alone in a car when I was a child, I don’t want to be the one to cast the first stone.

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.

How I Coped with Summer

Now that fall has come, I reflect back to “those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” and as the song says, I wish we could just stay in that season. Like most, this past summer went by way too fast. It wasn’t as long or hot as other summers. Of course, like everyone else, I complained about the heat, but I had my ways of dealing with it.

The window air conditioning unit in the spare room was my best friend. With the help of ceiling fans scattered throughout the house, it kept things pretty cool. I drank plenty of water, as I always do. With a few pieces of ice, it also kept me cool. Then of course, there was my old pal, Dr. Pepper. It was just what the doctor ordered, although it took away some of the water I drank, but that was okay because I could always drink more water.

On summer evenings when the weather cooled, I sat in my back yard and did email or read a book, slapping mosquitos when necessary and eventually moving indoors to avoid being bitten. I sometimes went with friends to concerts in the park, where we bought ice cream at a nearby stand.

In the early mornings before it got hot, I took long walks by the creek, feeling the cool breeze caress my bare legs and arms. It was a great way to start a hot summer day.

When I was growing up, my family often took trips to the mountains to cool off during the summer, but now, my family is either dead or scattered across the country, and I don’t have many opportunities to visit the highlands, especially since I don’t drive.

In my younger adult years, I attended a camp for the visually impaired on Casper Mountain, approximately 200 miles south, then west of Sheridan, Wyoming, where I now live. Here, I made friends and learned computer and other skills and had plenty of opportunities to walk in the woods and enjoy nature. Although the camp is still there today, there’s no adult program anymore due to an unwillingness by the state and other entities to pay for it.

Now, summer is gone, and fall is upon us. I already miss those days of relaxing in my back yard with a Dr. Pepper and a good book, the sounds of band music floating through the air at the park, the salted caramel ice cream I enjoyed during such a concert. Oh well, there’s always next year, isn’t there?

How did you cope with summer heat? Are you glad fall is here? Why or why not?

 

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.

 

 

Forbidden Underwear

In the winter of 1975 at the age of thirteen, I was hospitalized with pneumonia. Because I was so dehydrated, it was necessary to do a cut-down in my ankle in order to inject fluids and medicine. As a result, I couldn’t wear underwear.

One day, not realizing this, perhaps in an attempt to cheer me up, Mother bought me a pair of purple underwear from Gibson’s, a local department store. Because of my limited vision, I really appreciated scents, and I loved the smell of the store and its products. I breathed in the underwear’s aroma and longed to be in that store instead of in the hospital room with its antiseptic odors.

I also wanted to wear that pair of underwear. An aide took pity on me. She devised what she thought was an ingenious plan. She threaded the garment through the IV tubing and was able to slip my feet in the appropriate holes and pull up the underwear. I loved the feel of the cotton against my skin, and with my private parts no longer exposed to the elements, I was more comfortable.

Late that night, I awoke to find two nurses fussing with my IV tubing. Apparently, the underwear was clogging it, and the medicine wasn’t getting through. One nurse commented that whoever did this should have their head examined. I wasn’t about to say who did it. Needless to say, the underwear came off.

I never saw it again. It probably went the way of many such garments belonging to patients. Now, I always wear underwear unless I’m in the shower or working out in the YMCA swimming pool. Like the apples on the tree in the Garden of Eden, it was once forbidden fruit.

In your life, was there anything you wanted that you couldn’t have? Why couldn’t you have it? Please tell me about it. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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.