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

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Big House in the Little Town

As a kid, I always wanted to live in a house with a lot of stairs. The irony was that due to my visual impairment, I was more prone to falling down them. In 1973, we moved from the big city of Tucson, Arizona, to the little town of Sheridan, Wyoming. I was twelve years old, and my brother Andy was seven years younger.

Grandpa Johnson passed away two years earlier, and Grandma needed someone to run the family’s coin-operated machine business. Since Dad’s siblings weren’t interested, he felt compelled to make the move. We found my dream house a couple of years later.

It was a three-story red brick structure on a quiet street. The house faced south with a basement containing the furnace and hot water heater.

The ground floor consisted of a living and dining room, kitchen, and breakfast nook. Off the living room was a small study and a bathroom containing only a toilet and sink.

The second floor had three small bedrooms, a full bath, and a laundry room. My room was next to the laundry room.

The washing machine never worked right after Dad and my uncles dropped it down the second floor stairs while moving it. Sometimes, it agitated more slowly than usual, making an ominous buzzing noise. During the spin cycle, no matter how evenly clothes were distributed throughout the machine’s interior, it shook, as if in in an earthquake.

For a while, there was also a jukebox in the laundry room. Andy and I spent many happy hours with friends, listening to music and watching the washer dance.

My parents occupied the bedroom across from mine, and the one next to it was made into a study containing my closed-circuit television magnifier, Mother’s typewriter table and desk, a couch that folded into a bed, and for a time, Grandma’s old recliner.

The area off the living room downstairs was what we called the book room. Shelves were installed, and for a while, there was even a pinball machine, a couch, and a stereo. When nobody was playing pinball, it was a place where one could sit and read and/or listen to music.

The third floor was Andy’s domain. It contained two large rooms and a full bath which he later converted into a dark room when he took up photography. He used the front room as a work area where he built model airplanes. The middle room served as his bedroom.

The back yard, surrounded mostly by a fence, consisted of a large open area where at one time, we had a trampoline. Andy and others with better eyes played ping pong and croquet. There was also a wooded area near the back gate, just right for barbecues.

A circular driveway led from the street around back to the garage. Next to the garage was a carriage house with a loft. We moved in the spring of 1976 at the end of my eighth grade year while Andy was in elementary school.

When I was in high school, I pretended to be a singing star like Olivia Newton-John. I stood on the front porch and sang, using a wood chip as a microphone while Andy banged an old paint can to accompany me. Neighborhood kids acted as our audience.

Eventually, Mother and Dad got Andy a drum set and lessons. The drums were set up in the dining room, and our little band was formed with me on piano and vocals and Andy on drums. Dad occasionally joined us on string bass. A couple of years later, the breakfast nook was converted into a music room, and all our equipment, including the stereo, was moved in there.

Now, my parents are gone. Andy lives in Florida with a family of his own. The house was sold long ago, but I still remember.

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What do you recall about a childhood home?

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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