This Christmas, I am like the little boy, Ralphie, from A Christmas Story. Instead of wanting a Red-Ryder BB Gun, I want a touch sensitive, 88-key keyboard. And my boyfriend might make this dream a reality.
But as wishes of a new keyboard float around my mind, I look back to when I got the one I have now. This one was actually purchased by my Uncle (my mom’s uncle, actually) Nat, because all my mother could afford to get me at the time was a tiny child’s one that made a cranky whiny noise and couldn’t handle chords. But I will get to that soon.
I think it was Christmas of fourth grade that I received my first keyboard. I only remember because I was still living in Kaneohe and that is the only way I remember my ages: from where I was living that particular year. It was a light-up one (not touch-sensitive). And I loved it.
I never had formal classes but was quickly able to teach myself a few impressive numbers such as Three Blind Mice, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I would eventually attempt to charge my mother and step-father for exclusive shows.
But after a move to Indiana and, a couple years after that, to Virginia the middle keys became touchy and would only sometimes play their tune. I eventually sold it at a yard sale for the fairly reasonable price of five dollars, as I still had the one my uncle bought for me that worked perfectly fine.
When we first moved to Virginia (where my mom’s family is) the first keyboard remained in Indiana in storage. So I had nothing to practice with when Uncle Nat started picking my sister and me up after school on Wednesdays to go to the church for his informal piano lessons.
That is what led my mother to buying me the small one, and then to my uncle to buying me a real one. That is the one I use to this day.
My mother’s side of the family is naturally musical, which was how I was able to teach myself to play those songs so young. My uncle wanted to expand my musical gene into something a little more complex, but only with church hymns. However, I was able learn some excellent techniques.
The class consisted of me, my sister doing her seventh grade homework in one of the pews in the back, a mentally retarded young man from the nearby neighborhood (who was better on the piano than all of us combined), and a church-going woman whose nails were too long to play properly. Did I mention it was informal?
I picked it up quickly and was soon ready for the performance that was to take place at the church. As an eighth grader (and the youngest in the class) everyone was interested in watching me play. But little did we know the show was part of a five- to six-hour service that surrounded the time we were allotted. My mother and I weren’t (and aren’t) very religious, so this was not the most comfortable thing in the world.
That is part of why my family is so distant from us. If we aren’t like them, they will show us attention only as long as we seem interested in becoming like them. If we stop showing interest in their lifestyle, they will drop us like trash.
And that was what happened this time. After attending that service, which dragged on past 11:00 pm on a school night, we went for months without having contact with my uncle and that whole side of the family.
One evening – I was in ninth grade at the time – I was gabbing on the phone with a friend when a call came through from a number I didn’t recognize. Upon answering, however, I was shocked to hear Aunt Tine on the other line, letting me know that my Uncle Nat had passed away.
That was my first funeral. At my uncle’s request, it was held like a regular church service and lasted for many hours. I was there to mourn while others were there to worship.
We were not notified of my uncle’s death until about a week after it happened. We were not invited to sit with the family during the ceremony, nor were we asked to join them in the limousine on the way to the burial. We were not even family to them at that moment. So we skipped the burial and went home to mourn in our own way.
By then, we realized that we had to mourn the loss of a family member along with the entire family. We were – once again – completely on our own. Why did this keep happening to us?
One person who never judged us, no matter how we lived our lives or what we chose to believe in, was my Uncle Nat. He was almost literally the glue sticking us to the rest of Mom’s side of the family. Without him, the connection wore away.
Every time I sit at my keyboard to practice, I am reminded of that unconditional love – the type of love that should be expected from true family. It is his spirit that I feel flowing out of the speakers as I use the techniques and chords he taught me when I was in eighth grade.