Kathleen’s Piano


by Roberta L. Messner

One cold December morning some years back, my husband, Mark, and I were  driving to the airport, headed to the West Coast to speak at a medical  convention. As we voiced our anticipation of warm weather and the excitement of  the big city, Mark dashed into a convenience mart to purchase some last-minute  items. He returned with a small brown package in his hand and a shivering  elderly lady at his side.


What a contrast they were   Mark in a gray wool pinstriped suit  and the stranger clothed in a green polyester coat with two missing buttons and  a stain on the front. Her half-frozen toes peeked out from time worn  sandals.


As the determined lady struggled into the back seat of the car, she flashed a  tender smile my way. “My name’s Kathleen,” she announced boldly. I understand  you folks are headed down Kentucky way.”


Her husband, it turned out, was a patient at a nearby nursing home, and was  not expected to survive through the Christmas holidays. The two had married late  in life, never had any children, and when their small monthly allotment  dwindled, Kathleen often hitched a ride to the nursing home. Like so many  Appalachian women of her generation, Kathleen was fiercely independent a  survivor. She usually stayed at the nursing home all day, for even though her  husband was in a hopeless coma, the facility was warm, the food was great, and  there was a piano in the day room where she could while away the hours and her  cares at the keyboard.


As we approached the small, brick convalescent center, I remembered the  calling cards in my briefcase. I handed my ivory linen card to Kathleen. “Don’t  hesitate to call us if we can ever give you a lift to the nursing home,” I said.  Kathleen smiled, thanked us for the ride, then confronted the unyielding wind,  her thin coat blowing wildly.


When we returned home after our trip, baking, buying gifts and an endless  array of holiday errands consumed our days. Kathleen called a couple of times to  chat, but it wasn’t until Christmas that our paths actually crossed again.


“Did you take Kathleen anything for Christmas?” Mark asked late Christmas  night. How could I have forgotten?


We scurried about the house gathering some remnants of Christmas for  Kathleen. As we approached her tiny frame residence, the porch light was still  burning. We rang the doorbell and waited. Soon, Kathleen opened the door and  invited us in, saying she just knew we were coming for Christmas.


As we stepped inside the living room, our eyes took I Kathleen’s  short-sleeved cotton dress, the tattered sofa and chair, and rugs taped around  each window to protect her from the harsh weather. A bare bulb dangled >from d  ceiling wire, scarcely lighting the room.


“This is ‘Honey.’ She’s an alley cat plus a better breed,” Kathleen  announced, stroking the animal’s soft yellow fur. “And Honey and I have a  special present for you.” Kathleen picked up a xylophone and methodically  plunked out “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” on its rusted, paint-chipped keys.  “I found this for a quarter last summer at a rummage sale,” she said proudly,”  and I’ve been saving it for just the right occasion.


“Do you have a piano?” Kathleen quizzed. I nodded, feeling uncomfortable  about the grand piano in our living room at home and the nice clothes in our  closet. Christmas was nearly over, and in my busyness I hadn’t even played a  Christmas carol. In our pursuit of the things money could buy, it seemed  we had overlooked many of the things it couldn’t buy.


“Could you... would you go home and play ‘Silent Night’? You could hold the  telephone next to your piano, and I could celebrate Christmas one more time,”  Kathleen pleaded. Then she shared with us her dream of finding a piano,  preferably an old upright model like she’d played as a child. She had little  money, but she had faith that God would send one her way.


After the holidays, I combed the classifieds in hopes of buying a used piano  for Kathleen. It became apparent, though, that all the bargains had been  snatched up by the area piano dealers. I tried to compensate with other small  gifts a pretty blouse, an African violet, a tin of talcum powder.


On Valentine’s Day, Kathleen hardly noticed the chocolates I bought her. “My  piano will be here soon” she insisted. And, throughout the winter, Kathleen’s  faith intensified. Her strong faith in the midst of poverty was an unsettling  paradox; it amazed me, yet amused me.


But later that spring, something wonderful happened, and Mark and I dropped  by to tell Kathleen about it. Some family members had sold their home and were  moving. The new owner’s sole request was that the heavy upright piano in the  basement be removed from the premises. Soon.


“Can you think of anyone who could use that old relic?” they had asked. It’s  theirs if they move it.” Could we ever!


Kathleen ran to meet us when she spotted our car. “My piano... it’s  coming...I had a dream last night. It’s coming from a little town I’ve never  heard of near Point Pleasant, West Virginia,” she squealed.


“God s not too far off” Mark mumbled, maintaining a reserved amazement for  God’s handiwork. The piano was indeed located in a tiny, postage-stamp-sized  town only thirty miles from Point Pleasant.


Mark and I could hardly contain our joy. Kathleen was baffled not that a  piano was coming, but that we were surprised. For she had been joyfully  expectant since Christmas night, when she put her faith into action. “I’ve been  playing my piano already in my mind,” she explained. “Without faith, we can’t  please God, you know.”


And ever since the massive, oak upright was rolled into Kathleen’s living  room, music hasn’t stopped flowing. Artistic expression hasn’t been limited by  her advancing age or glaucoma. Kathleen’s husband has since passed away. But  music be it the classics, roaring-twenties tunes or gospel songs recalled from  childhood tent meetings-connects Kathleen with the world. She accompanies the  congregation at her neighborhood church and joined a senior citizens’ band.  Kathleen doesn’t read music, but she beautifully reproduces what she hears.


Before I met Kathleen, I understood faith in my mind; now I understand it in  my heart. For as with all acts of faith, Kathleen’s miracle happened not when  she received, but the moment she first believed.


© 1992 Roberta L. Messner. Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for  the Golden Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Paul J. Meyer, Barbara  Russell Chesser, Amy Seeger. No part of this publication may be reproduced,  stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without  the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc.,  3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442. $12.95 Available in local bookstores or call 800-441-5569 or click here.