Grandpa Sings The Blues

Grandpa danced with Auntie-Jo in the living room, hi fi blaring the BeeGees. It was 1978 and I was jealous.

They held hands,  disco dancing, and I watched them from the sofa, my feet tapping the floor. He dipped her low and her long dark hair fell to the hardwood floor.

I used to love that floor. Of course, this was back when hardwood floors were out of style. It was original and it creaked badly with each step. Sometimes the sounds it made sounded like plaintive kitten cries. Sometimes, it sounded like words I could only partway make out. Help. Heehaw. Cricket.

It was also slippery, layered with decades of old wax, and I liked to slide down the hallway in my socks even though Grandma would yell because she did want me crashing through the French doors into the parlour. The French doors had a decorative iron handle and a keyhole shaped like the kind in cartoons and old movies. If I peeked through it, I only saw the back of the second hand upright piano my Grandpa got for twenty-five dollars. It was stationed there because they never used the French doors. They were always locked and had curtains on them that were always shut. The parlour opened up to the living room through an arched doorway so there was really no point to the French doors which gave them an aura of mystique.

The parlour was where Grandpa played his piano. Auntie-Jo played the piano too and I desperately wanted to play as well. My mother finally relented, even though she didn’t see the purpose in it, and paid for some private lessons but that didn’t last long. It was only five dollars a week but it was an unnecessary expense and we were poor.

But, in the time I took lessons, I learned the scales and how to read the notes on the music sheets in Grandpa’s piano bench, and I decided to try and teach myself. I’d go to his house and wait in line for a chance at the piano. Sometimes, Jo would be playing. She didn’t like it when I listened. She’d roll her eyes which is what she always did with her eyes when I was around. And then she’d shut the top over the keys, go to her room and close the door.

Grandpa seemed to like it when showed up. He’d sit me down beside him on the piano bench and play songs and sing into a microphone he’d hooked up to a reel to reel recorder. Sometimes, he’d even take requests and I always chose Frankie and Johnnie because it had a dramatic story to it. He liked an appreciative audience.

Grandpa was self taught on the piano which was very encouraging. He didn’t read notes on paper. Instead, he learned by ear and played Honky Tonk and Blues. When he played, he spread his long fingers out like fans and wavered them on the keys, up and down the keyboard. When he sang, his Adam’s apple travelled up and down his long throat. He always closed his eyes. His voice vibrated everything in the room.

I never learned how to play the blues but I’ve been attracted to it ever since.