Great Grandmother Piano Lessons

Published in Personal History

“Don’t forget your music bag, Winifred.” Mother called as she came down the front steps waving the multi-colored canvas bag in my direction. Today was my piano lesson with Mrs. Burton. I would have liked to forget, but I never could. My Tuesday piano lesson hung heavily over my head each and every week

Every Tuesday afternoon after school, I walked to Mrs. Burton’s big old home on Black Oak Grove for my weekly music lesson. She lived across the street and just a few doors down from my Aunt Kitty’s house. It was right on my way home.

Mrs. Burton lived in a large, old Victorian home and had the largest oak tree in the town right in her front lawn. Anna, Mrs. Burtons daughter always thought it was big stuff and boosted whenever she could. I took the bag from my mother and walked to the corner bus stop that gloomy Tuesday morning. I knew I didn’t know my songs very well that week. I always practiced every day for my required 30 minutes; Mother saw to that. She would set the portable timer and place it on top of the piano and I was to practice until it rang. Many afternoons Mother sat on the bench with me to make sure I made the most of my time.

Every Tuesday as I sat in my third grade classroom, ‘The piano lesson’ loomed in my mind. I couldn’t make it go away. I didn’t like to think about running into Anna either. No one knew where Anna attended school; she certainly didn’t go to same school like the rest of us. We figured she attended some private school for spoiled brats. A couple of other girls I knew took piano from Mrs. Burton and we’d discuss Anna. They didn’t like her much either.

The piano was in the front room in front of two very large windows facing the street. Anyone who walked past on the sidewalk could look in to see who was having a lesson that day. Each Tuesday, precisely at 3:30 pm, I’d ring Mrs. Burton’s front door bell and she’d let me in to the hall where I was to deposit my coat, lunch box, school books and anything I had with me other than my music books. I was to take my music out of the multi-colored canvas bag and leave the bag with my other things. Then she would usher me into the front room and close the sliding door behind us.

I’d sit at the huge walnut grand piano and wait for Mrs. Burton to settle herself in the small, dusty rose colored wing back chair next to the piano stool. Everything was fancy, but slightly worn and old in Mrs. Burton’s home except the beautiful, polished grand piano.

Mrs. Burton seemed fancy and old too. She was tall and slim with very pale, transparent skin. The blue veins were prominent on the backs of her slim hands, and her fingers were extremely long with short, functional piano-playing nails, finely manicured and painted with clear gloss polish. She wore long, flowing garments made of a filmy material that floated as she walked, mostly in varying shades of dusty rose, and she smelled of roses and lavender. I thought this was peculiar because Mrs. Burton’s first name was Rose. The rose-lavender scent was particularly strong when she pulled her lacy handkerchief from its hiding place somewhere deep inside her pocket to cover her mouth and cough. The thing I remember most about Mrs. Burton was that cough. It was a tiny muffled fake-sounding one.
She coughed quite frequently and was constantly putting her rose-lavender scented handkerchief to her mouth to muffle the already almost non-existent sound.

Frequently during my lesson, Anna would burst in to ask her mother something. Mrs. Burton would sigh and tell me to practice my scales, then escort Anna out, closing the sliding door behind them. I could never hear what was said beyond the door in the dining room, but when Mrs. Burton returned, the house was quiet again and Anna didn’t reappear that day.

I took piano lessons for two years from Mrs. Burton, then one day my mother told me I would have a new piano teacher as Mrs. Burton was very ill and dying. I remember feeling terrible about the unkind thoughts I’d had about Anna and Mrs. Burton.

Not too long after that, the oak tree split and broke in half during a silver thaw, leaving only a very short stump in the Burton’s front yard.


Gregory Kelleher 4c


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