Mary Johnson's Piano
Mary Johnson's Piano | Jane Boursaw Photo
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I haven’t done a Reality Wednesday story lately, so here we go! No time like the present, and there’s never a shortage of reality in the Boursaw household.

In fact, we’re steeped in reality around here – the messy, crazy, wild life of two Old Mission farm kids who got married, had kids of their own, and ran straight towards life with no money, no plan, and absolutely no clue what they were doing. Somehow it all works out, though, right? That’s my favorite mantra: “It’ll all work out.”

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Reality Wednesday stories are my answer to all the perfect stories you see on social media – people jetting off to Europe, frolicking with friends on an ocean beach, living their Best.Lives.Ever.

No, you will not see those stories here on Reality Wednesday. Instead you will see stories that typically involve some sort of public shaming of my cluttered, imperfect life, like my messy linen closet, that time the Jeep broke down on the way to town (and later had a tire fall off WHILE I was driving it), the curious case of the exercise ball, when your wood stove project turns into a door project, and a doomed highchair project that’s still in the basement even though the kids are 24 and 22 (scratch that – I took it to the Women’s Resource Center last year).

And oh so many more. Check out all my Reality Wednesday shenanigans here.

Today I come to you with the story of my mom’s piano. When I cleaned my parents’ house out three years ago, I was especially excited to bring my mom’s piano over to my own house. It’s a Gulbransen piano that her parents gave to her in 1942, the year she graduated from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

All of us kids learned to play piano on it, taking lessons from Eloise Mlujeak at her house next to Haserot Beach in Old Mission. It’s the piano of many practices with my mom, her at the keyboard and me on my violin. No matter how complicated the piece, like the ones I learned for my senior recital, Mom was game for anything.

She was also at that piano with my brother Dean beside her, practicing “Oh Holy Night” on his trumpet for a church Christmas program, where she accompanied him on organ. (She played the organ at Ogdensburg United Methodist Church – now Old Mission Peninsula United Methodist Church – for 50+ years. She liked to tell the story of how she filled in for someone in 1948 and suddenly 50 years had gone by.)

It’s the piano that her grandkids played, and at Christmas, we’d all gather around it and sing holiday songs with my niece Heatherlyn Reamer at the keyboard.

I couldn’t find a photo of someone actually playing the piano, but here’s one of me, Heather and Dean (her dad, my brother) sometime in the 1970s. That’s her first reaction to getting a big dollhouse for Christmas. You can see the piano on the right side of the photo. (I apparently just woke up; what can I say? I was a teenager.)

Mary Johnson Piano
Jane, Dean and Heather, who’s getting a dollhouse for Christmas, Circa 1970s | Mary Johnson Photo

So you can see that this piano holds a lot of history in its keys, going back a few generations, spanning from Virginia to Old Mission. Yep, I was pretty excited to bring this cherished piano to my own house. We found a spot for it between our office area and the living room, squeezing it into a space between Tim’s desk and the couch.

I couldn’t wait to play it again! Why, I’d play it every day, learning the stacks of sheet music that came with it from Mom’s house! I’d practice and get good enough to fill in at church when needed!

You know where this is going, right? The picture worth a thousand words is right there at the top of the story. I didn’t, in fact, play the piano every day. I played it a handful of times when we first brought it over, and then life got in the way and stuff started accumulating around it – to the point where you can hardly even see the piano at the moment.

Mary Johnson's Piano
Mary Johnson’s Piano | Jane Boursaw Photo

It became a warehouse for our eBay shipping supplies (we’re selling all the DVDs and Blu-ray discs accumulated during my former life as a movie reviewer).

And then gradually, it became a catch-all place for the mundane and the sundry: light fixtures yet to be installed over bare lightbulbs in the wall, a shopping bag from the now-defunct Middle Earth store in Ann Arbor, the ancient phone that Tim used while working with Jack Solomonson at Peninsula Telephone Company (acquired at Mary Jo’s yard sale, because why not?), assorted guitars and music equipment, shipping boxes for Tim’s cyclosporine labs that need to be sent to U of M Hospital, a plastic figurine of Tom Servo from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (also from former movie reviewer job; I got the coolest press kits), an old camera that may or may not still have film in it, various Chilton’s repair manuals, and so on and so forth.

My Mom’s piano is basically buried under all the stuff that’s representative of our lives over the past 50 years.

There’s another sub-plot about the piano that I can’t leave out. After Dad died in 2004, Mom started taking stock of everything in the house and asking everyone what they wanted. Of course, I had to have the piano. If there was one thing in the house I was hoping to inherit, it was that piano.

Of course, she was happy to send it my way when the time was right. In fact, she kept trying to give it to me over the years, and I would say, “Not yet, Mom. You’re still here, you still play at church now and then … I’ll take it when the time is right.”

But somewhere along the way after Mom started losing her memory, she also gave it to my niece Heather. Then I had to figure out how to diplomatically tell both Mom and Heather that I REALLY WANTED THAT PIANO. And of course, they gracefully obliged my obsession.

So that puts a whole other level of humiliation on the story of the piano, seeing as how you can barely see it under all the stuff. I’m sure Heather would have not only kept it clear of stuff, but would have played it regularly. Clearly, I’m a terrible person.

But, hopefully, now that I’ve told all of you this story, I’ll get it together to dig out the piano and, you know, actually play it. I could give you all kinds of excuses about how we’re busy with work and keeping the bills paid, keeping Tim alive through various medical crises, getting kids through college, yada yada.

But as with most things we “put off” for “when we have time,” what it really boils down to is making time for things that are important to us, despite all the other things that vie for our time. And for me, that means digging out Mom’s piano and playing it regularly. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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