53 years ago, I was 6. It is my most favorite year of childhood. It was the year I discovered the outside world. I had to have a boot bag, a book bag, a lunch box, and a library card. These possessions gave me substance. I had stuff. I had a life in the big outside world. I had things for which I was wholly responsible. Of course, all my classmates had the same substance and stuff. However – I had piano books in my book bag. That made me feel special.
In 1959, my father purchased a spinet piano for my mother as a gift – the nicest piece of furniture in our modest home. Mom was delighted with this gift and played often. I loved to hear her play – and I accompanied her performance with song and dance in the tiny living room. But it was not enough.
Being ever the performer, I really wanted to play the piano, too. I was not allowed to touch the piano unless I was sitting beside mom at the piano and pressing the keys gently; but I knew that instrument had some power and volume. SO when mom was feeding the baby, in the bathroom, or otherwise unable to restrain me, I would take it for a test drive. “CHERYL ANN! STOP POUNDING ON THE PIANO!”
I knew I to figure out a way to get to play this wonderful piano.
The music teacher who came into Sister Pius’ first grade once a week also gave piano lessons to the bigger kids. Sister Consolata was her name and she lived behind the blue door near the school entrance. Every day, on the way in and on the way out, I could see her through the slit of window in the closed blue door – laughing, talking, smiling, nodding, pointing – with the bigger girl or boy seated beside her at the piano. I felt confident that if I could talk to her, I might be able to make a case for learning to play. THEN they’d have to let me play the piano at home!
I got my chance late in September when the blue door was open at the end of the school day. At first, Sister Consolata refused. She didn’t teach piano to First Graders, she explained. A piano student had to be able to read words and count and be responsible for the piano books. And, she added, your parents would have to be able to buy the piano books and pay for the lessons.
Some kind of magic was stirred up in that conversation, however – a magic I cannot explain. Sister Consolata took it on herself to call my mother and offer to take me on as her first and ONLY First Grade student and would teach me even if my parents couldn’t pay for the books and lessons. Of course, my parents couldn’t refuse. I began lessons the next week and was one of those piano students who got to sit beside Sister Consolata at the piano behind the blue door at the end of the hall – laughing, smiling, counting, nodding.
I was gifted with three years of Piano Lessons and Life Lessons from Sister Consolata. We had several adventures together and I continued to be her pet – even as she took other First Graders after me and as I became a big 2nd and 3rd grader. She was my first experience of a reciprocal relationship with a grownup outside my family where I felt significant to another human being as an individual.
I am eternally grateful for the gift of Sister Consolata, PBVM