There are professional movers in my house. They are carrying my whole life through the front door in the form of furniture and boxes. And the memories are getting so thick you have to swat them like mosquitoes.
“Where’s this go, boss?” one of the movers asks.
He looks about 18 or 19. He is a walking tattoo exhibit. He is rolling a piano across the house. My piano.
You don’t know how special this instrument is to me. My mother bought me this upright when I was a young man. She had no money, she lived in a trailer, and yet she dug deep to buy me a Yamaha U1 because her baby boy wanted to be a pianist.
The first song I played on this piano was “Danny Boy,” in honor of my late father.
Over the years, I have played “Danny Boy” in beer joints, mildewed taverns, inside foggy VFW bars, and at Catholic funerals.
I have been playing piano in earnest since my 9th birthday. I’ve played at civic meetings, school plays, Rotary Club fundraisers, hotel lobbies, tiki bars, and honky tonks.
Playing piano is also how I met my wife—sorta. I got a job working as a part-time pianist for our Baptist church.
Each Wednesday, this Baptist young woman would sit on the front row near the Mason & Hamlin to watch me accompany choir practice. She asked me to play a tune for her one evening after practice was over. I played “Danny Boy.”
My attention is diverted from the piano when I see another mover carrying a large cardboard box containing office supplies.
Inside this box is my Letera 32 manual typewriter. Sea foam green. The typewriter of my childhood, my adolescence, and my adult years.
Back in the days before computers were mainstream, there were only two things a writer was required to own. A copy of “The Elements of Style” by E.B. White, and a manual typewriter.
Over the years, I have produced so many rough drafts on this workhorse that my fingers have worn the S, E, and D from the keyfaces.
More movers walk by, carrying more of my things. And it’s hard not to be overcome by the dusty scent of my own history. Nostalgia is a powerful narcotic.
There is the magic kit from when I was a boy. The kit contains the linking rings illusion, magnetized half dollars, and the exploding BIC pen that caused my uncle to write me out of the will.
In another box is my first cellphone; a Motorola about the size of a cinderblock with an antenna tall enough to interfere with commercial air traffic.
I come across my father’s old pocketknife, a Case XX, butter-yellow handle, dual blade.
My grandmother’s Bible—held together with Scotch tape and glue. With a handwritten note inside: “Have I not commanded thee, be strong and of good courage; be not afraid and neither thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
There are the old Kathryn Tucker Windham books, given to me by my mother-in-law. The porcelain Corningware coffee percolator my mother gave me when I left home, when we both wept while standing in the driveway.
The army surplus duffel bag my father used for our Little League team’s collection of bats and balls.
The photographs from the time my wife and I camped at the Disney World campground in a tent because we were so broke we often went to KFC just to lick other people’s fingers.
And my office desk, which is a library desk I bought from the my childhood library when they had a going-out-of-business sale. The desk where I once read books as a youth is the same surface on which I have written 13 books.
And it all makes me wonder, where has my life gone?
Ten minutes ago I was courting a young brunette who sat on the front pew during choir practice. Just yesterday afternoon, I was graduating from community college, and announcing to my old boss that I was quitting my job to become a writer. “I’ll keep your name on the schedule,” was my boss’s reaction.
How did life canter by so quickly? Where will the next 20 years lead? Which loved ones will I lose in the next two decades? Years from now, when I look in the mirror, will I recognize the old man I see? The old man who is about to take over my life?
If I’m being honest, this thought is a little frightening. And it’s humbling. And terrifying. And wonderful. And heartrending. And sobering. And joyous. And it also makes me a little sad, although I can’t pinpoint why.
But then I see a cheerful brunette bouncing from the back room, breathless from carrying boxes. She sees me looking at my old piano.
“Play one for me,” she says.
So I do. I raise the keyboard cover. I play an F. I clear my throat and sing about as prettily as a braying jackmule.
“I’ve never heard that song before,” says one of the teenage movers. “What’s it called?”
“Danny Boy,” I said.