Writing Prompt #297 - Two people who form a bond through music

Reedsy Prompts


By Jen Gurney

It was 1973 and I was in fifth grade. My family had just bought an old, rickety upright piano from our neighbors who were moving and couldn’t take it with them. My dad and a few neighborhood dads carried it to our house from theirs, swearing a lot the whole time, if memory serves. It was painted this cheesy, antiquey olive green color, sounded really tinny, and more than a few keys stuck. Pretty hideous, but it was only $200, so it became ours. I desperately wanted to take piano lessons, and this was my ticket.

My parents signed up for lessons with my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Frisbie, whom I adored. Turned out she lived just a few blocks away, so I could ride my bike or walk to lessons. When I walked in through her garage, I always thought it was funny that she had carpeting there. My lessons were right before dinner, so I could always smell something good cooking. And typically one or more of her kids, whom I knew a bit from school, were around to say hi. If I got there early, I could wait on the bench outside the studio and listen to the person before my lesson playing. For some reason, I always liked that, so I was usually early.

Mrs. Frisbie was a really good teacher. She would correct mistakes but would do so kindly. And she had this great sense of humor. She was always laughing or telling a good story. Sometimes she would demonstrate what she meant by playing something for me. I loved when she played. I especially loved when we played duets.

When I graduated from junior high - ninth grade at my school - my grandma gave me a Baldwin spinet piano. The difference between the old upright and the new-to-me piano was breathtaking. The new piano sparked a deeper passion in me and I played more earnestly.

As the years went on, Mrs. Frisbie and I got closer, both through music classes at school but mostly through our one-on-one lessons. She was a very good listener as well as teacher. She must have known that there was a lot going on in my life - most of which I really couldn’t talk openly about, but still needed to talk to connect with her. One year, when I was in high school, she suggested that we extend my lessons from a half hour to a full hour. So we wouldn’t be so rushed, she said. Years later we talked and she admitted she knew life was hard at home and that I needed an ear sometimes. That kindness was one of the most profoundly beautiful things anyone has ever done for me.

As I got busier with homework, with an after-school job and with playing tennis, I had less time to practice piano. But I still went to lessons every week. Mostly to see Mrs. Frisbie. And I started paying for my lessons myself, since it was clear I wasn’t practicing and my parents suggested I stop lessons.

At my final piano lesson in high school, Mrs. Frisbie had me go last. That was the position held for the most advanced student. I was pretty sure that was someone else much younger than me, but felt honored for this gesture. Mrs. Frisbie made a speech of sorts after I played, talking about how she would miss me and how much she had enjoyed getting to know me. Then she gave me her guitar - so I could still enjoy music when I was off to college and away from my piano. 

After my high school graduation, we had a small party at my house with family and a few close friends. Mrs. Frisbie came. I was so touched. My mom took a picture of the two of us and Mrs. Frisbie had it framed. She told me years later when I visited her that it was the only non-family photo in her special photo cabinet. I actually cried when she told me that. The sense of belonging was so poignant.

During college, and later when I moved on to start a career, we stayed in touch. She wrote sweet letters and cards. I always loved getting her Christmas cards and hearing what she was up to.

Years went by till I returned to my hometown of Kalamazoo. My parents had moved away and money was tight with a young family. When I did return, it was amazing to reconnect in person. It was truly as if no time had passed. She was one of the few who still called me Jenny. Whenever I was in town, I was lucky to always see her.

Several different visits stood out. Once when my young son and I stayed with Mrs. Frisbie and her wonderful husband, Harold. About that time I finally began to call her Phyllis. She’d asked me to for years, but it was a tough transition, for some reason. We had a beautiful, fun visit … lots of laughter and joy. One day she brought out a huge handful of colored yarn and we sat in amazement, watching the birds pick up the yarn and use it to build nests in her countless bird feeders in her backyard. 

Another time was when my dad, son and I were on a road trip through town. We stopped by for lunch and she put on this amazing spread. She made us feel like visiting royalty, or rock stars. She had a wonderful way of doing that. She kept taking pictures and then printing them out on her little counter-top photo printer. We’d laugh, then she’d take some more.

Our final visit was three years ago, when I last visited my friend Julia who lives there. We three sat out on Phyllis’ patio and caught up. I’ll always remember the hug she gave me.

One day, out of the blue, Phyllis called me up. We talked for ages and even played a duet on our respective pianos over speaker phone. It was such fun! She talked and talked, and we laughed. Then she shared that her cancer was back. I knew she’d had to have a finger removed a few years prior because of cancer. She said she was in treatment and was going to fight this bugger. I wished her all the best with her treatment, gave her a pep talk of sorts, and we said our goodbyes at the end of the call.

About a month later, on her daughter’s Facebook page, I learned that Phyllis had died. I was heartbroken. It was as if a part of me had died.

I was very surprised to learn that she had died of Alzheimers. I had never known she had Alzheimers. She had never shared it with me, nor seemed to exhibit any of the signs. It didn’t say anything about cancer being a cause of death, so I’m actually not even sure she had a relapse. I was stunned. Whenever I had seen her, she was so truly herself. 100%. It made me ache to know she was going through something so difficult and I hadn’t known. And yet, there was joy in the fact that when she was herself, she had reached out to me. 

I will be forever grateful that she called that last time. That we had talked. That we had played a duet together over the miles. That we had closure. 

Now, when I play the piano, I think of Phyllis. I’ve always thought of Phyllis when I played the piano. But now it’s even more special, and poignant. 

In those moments, I am 10 again, she is sitting beside me, and a smile spreads across her lips.

June 03, 2022 18:15

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Chris Morris
05:38 Jun 11, 2022

People like Mrs Frisbie can be so very important in our lives. well done on the submission. Some advice - I think you do a lot of "matter of fact" kind of writing and a lot of showing instead of telling. I would try to slow down a little and describe things in ways that let the reader work it out for themselves. Try to get your main character's thoughts and feelings through by showing emotions and how certain parts of your story effect your character. Well done again.


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Melony Beard
19:56 Jun 11, 2022

Such a sweet story. Good job!


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