I avoided the living room when I could, pristine white carpet stretching under straight-back furniture, breakable family heirlooms in every direction – the pocket watch my Great-Grandpa brought over from Switzerland and the faded black-and-white picture taken before my Great-Grandma left Austria – she and her parents and her nine siblings, all in their Sunday best, not a single smile in the bunch.
But for thirty minutes every evening, I was held hostage, shackled to the centerpiece of the living room, the antique upright piano my parents had seen advertised in the newspaper and purchased with the doomed hope that I might turn out to be a protégée concert pianist. I hated that beautiful piano, intricate floral carvings and real ivory keys, piled with the sheet music my fingers refused to learn, and topped with a taskmaster metronome.
There I sat on the hard bench, surrounded by fussy knick-knacks and shivering from a real or imagined draft, trapped while my mom moved freely about the adjoining kitchen, making dinner, counting down my servitude with the unforgiving oven timer.
She hummed along every now and then, though how she managed to find the tune, I’ll never know. My fingers slipping and tripping all over the keys while she mashed potatoes and rolled out pie crusts. The tantalizing smell of a roast in the crockpot while I muddled my way through the “Entertainer.” Sharp where I should have been flat. Flat where I should have been sharp.
I paused in frustration and my mom’s voice immediately carried from the kitchen,
“14 more minutes! Keep playing!”
Several measures later, the front door opened and my dad appeared, suit rumpled, tie loosened. He immediately dropped his heavy briefcase on the floor, a tired smile on his face. Daring to hope I might be off the hook with his arrival, I lifted my hands once more.
“Keep playing!” came my mom’s voice, unrelenting.
My dad shrugged apologetically, giving my shoulder a hello squeeze before escaping from the living room to greet my mom in the warm, comfy kitchen.