“I’m having flashbacks,” I said.
“What do you mean?” Mom asked.
“It’s like I’m making this walk on one of those days where I didn’t practice enough all week and she’s gonna yell at me.”
So it went that I walked the block I walked starting almost 30 years ago over to Mrs. Fogarty’s house. Her name isn’t Mrs. Fogarty anymore though. She told me what it is now but I have forgotten. Maybe I’ve mentioned the problems I have with my memory, but more on that later. As we walked up the cement stairs to her porch, Mom commented on how cold it was and I reminded her that I need her to take the photos. Turns out she filled a much more crucial role.
“Hello Andy! So good to see you again!” I hugged Mrs. Fogarty and we stepped into her living room where the piano I first learned on has been sitting for these 30 years and more. She didn’t bother to correct me to call her by the new name she took when she married Dwayne who joined us after a while. And I didn’t think to ask her. Funny how at 39 years old, it still felt strange to call anything other than Mrs. Fogarty. I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable with another name anyway. The relationships we have seem to always call for certain monikers no matter how much time has passed.
“You weren’t bad if I remember correctly,” she said. I have always said that one of the three biggest mistakes I ever made was quitting piano at age 15 precisely because I quit just when I started to get good. And the other two mistakes change depending on the day. She sat on the other side of them room by the fireplace in the old house my parents’ area of town is known for. Property values skyrocketed when many, many people decided they wanted to live in the quaint little area of town that has seen quite a bit of rejuvenation in the last 20 years. My hackles would go up when my former fiancé would refer to the Dundee neighborhood with disdain because of what she perceived as a kind of hoighty-toighty air to the neighborhood and I had to remind her that when we moved in, the biggest intersection in the area had a drug store, a hardware store, a little neighborhood grocery store (where I had one of my first jobs. My first job ever being as a dishwasher, paid under the table, at a little Italian restaurant across the street from the grocery store, and a gas station). Most recently, the intersection’s claim to fame is that it was where Warren Buffett and Paul McCartney were walking along with the ice cream they purchased from a parlor where the drug store used to be when they were approached by a young girl who sought Sir Paul’s autograph (word is she didn’t know who Buffett was).
Anyway, I had written down a half dozen questions that I intended to ask Mrs. Fogarty about her career teaching, her professional life in the arts and other things. But in my excitement I forgot the notebook with the questions and the digital camera I planned to give to Mom to take pictures. The meeting turned out to be a lot less formal than that. I told her about the TEDTalk presentation I had seen that depicted the neurological benefits of playing an instrument, how actually playing an instrument and not just listening to music is like a full-on party going on in your brain. Then I told her that a couple months ago I had purchased my brand new digital piano with pet-sitting money I had earned taking care of my parents’ next door neighbor’s dog for 3 weeks. I had set it up in my basement and was already starting to see improvements in my memory that was severely damaged by the bacterial meningitis I survived. She and her husband shared similar stories they had read and heard about the wonders that playing music can do for one’s brain. I told her about the book I am working on that chronicles my life after the meningitis and coming out clean in recovery from alcoholism. It’s a good thing I brought my Mom too because she had to remind me of the biggest reason I came to Pat’s house in the first place.
I told her I wanted to thank her for starting me on piano all those years ago, even before I ever really took pen to paper and became a writer. I told her about the 4 years I reported for the Omaha newsweekly, which she knew well, and that I never really thought about playing piano again until I saw the TED presentation. She smiled and told me how wonderful it was to hear from me and how my story was certainly one of the most remarkable she had ever heard. I sat on the bench next to her at the old piano that was a faded gold now (when I started playing, it was black) and she even offered me the Alumni-Seniors discount if I wanted to start taking lessons with her again. I told her that so far, I was doing very well with the “teach yourself” book and that if I took lessons from her again, she would most likely tell me I was doing it all wrong and start instructing me from scratch. To this we both laughed before we parted company.
I’m glad I didn’t ask the questions I had punched up. It was so much more natural and touchy-feely-warm-fuzzy just sitting with her and thanking her after all these years. Maybe when I settle into a more humanoid schedule with my job, I will take her up on her offer of letting her teach me again.