Have you ever regretted something--like for example, you wished you had done that before and you deeply regret about that? Well, I do. I do regret about something. And that something is, I wished I had learned to play the piano while my grandmother was still alive. It was one of those moments where I regret the most.
1939, Warsaw, Poland
Papa is reading newspaper in the living room while Mama is playing the piano. She is playing one of Chopin's nocturnes on the piano. Mama looks lost in the music, her fingers delicately moving on the white and black colored keys of the piano. I stare at her in awe, wishing I can be like Mama. I have just started learning to play Chopin--most of the time, for my piano lessons, I have been learning Mozart but Chopin is like the most important person in our music lesson. Because he was Polish. So Mama told us that it was important for us to learn to play Chopin.
Mama stops playing and she catches me looking at me. She asks me to come and so I approach towards her. She makes me sit next to her on the piano stool.
"Do you know the history of this piano?" Mama asked.
I shake my head.
"Your great-grandfather was visiting Austria for his business trip...when he saw this piano for sale. He loved music and so he got down this piano here. He made your grandfather learn piano. And I learned piano from your grandfather," she touches the keys softly and gently touches the shiny surface of the grand piano, as if she was caressing a baby. "Your grandfather said that this piano should be our family heirloom. So someday, you and your brother can inherit this piano from me,"
I smile, looking at the grand piano in front of me. Maybe someday, if I get married, I will teach my children to play the piano and then give this piano to them as a family gift.
The grand piano, which used to belong to my grandmother is lying majestically in the living room. It took more than six months for the piano to arrive all the way from Ohio to here in Sri Lanka. Dad complained about all the money he had to spend on custom clearance and everything but I know that deep inside, he didn't really care.
This piano, is a family heirloom, passing from one generation to another. But during the war, this piano was lost, or rather it was sold for money. After the war of course, my grandmother and her brother, left Poland and moved to the U.S.A to start a fresh new life. But luckily, after being separated from them for almost fifty years, the piano was reunited with the family and was brought to the U.S.A.
How that piano reunited with my grandmother after being away for so many years...that's kind of a long story that I will share later.
I open the lid and stare at the keys on the keyboard. The white keys have yellowed with age. A few days ago, a tuner came and tuned the piano and announced that the piano was in good condition, considering that this piano must be about more than hundred years old.
I sit on the stool and touch a key. The sound from the key resonated around the living room. I touch another key, another until the sound is filling the living room.
I look at the tattered old music books that belonged to my grandmother. I look at those books. Many of the books are Chopin's pieces--nocturnes, waltzes and etudes. Some are Mozart, Schumann, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms...I put the books away.
I take one of Chopin's books and stare at the music notes. They all look like Greek to me. The notes doesn't make any sense to me. But for my grandmother, it made sense to her. She told me that Chopin gets into her soul and emotions. I have no idea how these music notes would make one get lost into the music world.
"Are you going to learn to play the piano?" a voice behind me asked.
I turn around and see my fiance, Rahul watching me, his arms crossed on his chest.
"I don't know," I muttered, closing the lid.
"What's the point of then bringing the piano here if you are not going to learn to play?" he asked unbelievably.
"It's a family heirloom. It rightfully belongs to me," I argued.
Rahul sighed, leaving me alone with the piano.
I stared at the piano again. Maybe Rahul is right. Maybe if I learned to play the piano, I can maybe feel some connection with my American grandmother.
1940, Warsaw, Poland
I wonder what my grandfather would think right now that our piano was sold. The piano that was supposed to be a family heirloom. Would he have forgiven Mama for what she did? Of course he would.
The Germans have made our lives miserable since they invaded here. Jews are not allowed to have even butter but some of Papa's Polish friends shared the butter with us. We only ate potatoes that Mama got sick and tired of cooking potatoes. In her sorrow, Mama would play some pieces on the piano, as it would soothe and calm her. But right now, food is more important.
Now with the piano gone, the living room looks empty, as if someone had ripped the soul from a body. Our faces all looked sorrowful. I tried to imagine those happy memories we had when we had the piano--how Mama would play for the guests, how my brother Jacob and I would fight who played the best, Mama playing one of Chopin's nocturnes--the Nocturne in E flat while Jacob was obsessed with playing jazz music on the piano. A soft tear rolled down on my cheek.
Jacob sits next to Mama and puts a reassuring hand on her hand.
"Mama...someday, I'll buy the piano for you," he assured her.
We all started sobbing and Papa enveloped us into a hug.
I started going for piano classes. I told my teacher that I just wanted to learn to play some songs and wanted to learn some notes. So I started with the basics. Learning Middle C, then D, E, F, G, A, B. I started learning with both left and right hand. To be honest, I felt like a small kid about to learn how to write for the first time. My teacher first started with John Thompson music books and soon, I was able to pick up learning the piano.
By less than six months, I know how to read the notes and identify the keys.
I wonder, if my grandmother will be proud of me, that I have finally learned to play the piano.
I practice the piano pieces on the piano. My fingers touching the yellowed and black keys, slightly curled. For a brief moment, I couldn't stop but reminisce the times when my grandmother and her family touched the very same keys that I am touching right now. Generation after generation have used this piano, touched the very same keys that I am playing right now. Who would have actually thought that I would be this one lucky girl to have a chance to play on our family heirloom?
1980, Warsaw, Poland
After being away from Poland for more than fifty years, Henrik Rubinstein returns back to his homeland...for a visit.
The last time he left Poland was when he was barely eighteen years old, just before the war broke out. He moved to live with his aunt in New York but the war prevented him from even making a visit. Of course, he lost his parents in the Holocaust but was reunited with his younger sister, Ania and his younger brother Jacob. Henrik again wanted to make a visit, to thank those Polish friends of their father's who saved both Ania and Jacob from the horrors of the ghetto and Holocaust. But communism and cold war again prevented Henrik.
Finally, Henrik made the pilgrimage to Poland.
After his arrival to Poland, he got a letter from a professor, that he wanted to meet Henrik.
The professor was an old friend of his father's and was deeply saddened at his father's cruel death. Then the professor said something that made Henrik feel excited.
It was the professor who had bought the piano.
He had heard news about the high ranking German officers moving to the Warsaw. The Rubinstein family had one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood and being Jewish, they would be forced to move into the ghetto soon. The professor knew that a family of a high ranking German officer would soon reside in the Rubinstein house. He knew how much the piano meant for the Rubinstein family, particularly Henrik's mother, who was a pianist herself. So he bought the piano and though he paid simply because he knew they needed money, he was going to return the piano back to the family. But the war tormented both Ania and Jacob, Henrik's parents died in a concentration camp. He had lost in touch and now since Henrik had returned back, he decided to give what belonged to them back.
Henrik soon made arrangements to have the piano transported to the U.S.A. His younger sister, Ania would be excited that their family piano will reunite them in the U.S.A.
I told my teacher that I wanted to learn to play Chopin on the piano. Playing Chopin would help me to reconnect with my grandmother. But my teacher told me that I was still learning to play Chopin and playing Chopin was hard. But I pleaded her, begged her and finally, she promised that she will start with an easy one--learning prelude.
So I started with the prelude first--playing Prelude in B minor. It was very hard--the notes were kind of hard to read. I didn't understand half of the notes--the chords I have to play with my left hand, those ledger line notes, and the dynamics I had to use when playing the piece. I tried and then I wanted to give up.
I can't play any Chopin's pieces. I will never be like my grandmother or her mother or her grandfather. I don't have that music gene in me. Maybe, this piano deserved to someone, who can actually play the piano.
I start sobbing. I wished I had learned to play the piano when I was younger. Maybe I could have played just like how my grandmother used to play. But I didn't. I did go to a couple of classes then I chose sports and was bored with classical stuff.
A thing I regretted most.
I look at the framed picture of me and my grandmother, taken a few years ago. We were both laughing and smiling at the picture. I was her favorite granddaughter. I would spend time with her, whenever I was visiting the U.S.A.
Once, I was going to give up doing my degree in finance. But it was my grandmother, who encouraged me to not give up.
"Malsha..." she advised. "Don't give up...never give up. Work and try hard and then you will get the end result,"
Thanks to her, I didn't drop out of college and graduated with a degree in finance.
I look at the Chopin piece that is on the piano. I can hear my grandmother's voice in my head.
Malsha...don't give up...
Gingerly, I take the Chopin's piece and start practicing.
One Year Later...
It was bright and sunny outside. The birds are chirping merrily. I have opened the doors in the living room, letting the breeze in, the curtains are gently swaying against the wind. And I am happily sitting by the piano, playing Chopin's nocturne. The soothing tunes of the music is filling up the living room and I am into the music, lost in the world of music.
I can see my grandmother, beaming in pride, for the achievement I have made. Finally, I learned to play the piano.
And right now, I feel like I am in Poland. That I am in the living room of my grandmother's childhood home in Warsaw. I can see my grandmother playing Mozart on the piano, her fingers are literally floating over the keys. Her brother takes over, playing one of Chopin's Mazurkas and my great-grandmother, playing another one of hard etudes of Chopin. This piano was reunited back into our family.
And someday, if I had a daughter, I will give this piano to her, as a family heirloom.
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