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  • Writer's pictureJen Britton

Finding the keys.

Rory has been teaching himself to play the piano on the same set of black and white keys that my fingers used to touch when I was his age. The piano was in better tune thirty years ago, but then again, so was I.


I can tell that he’s going to be good. He’s not reading sheet music yet, but that will come. Or maybe it won’t -sheet music never really did it for me, either. I needed to feel the notes. If I listened carefully, I could hear the right ones in my head, and somehow my hands would find the keys. Rory does the same.

I took this picture for the same reason all parents do. We want to catch moments in time. We try to pin them down before they get away -before they merge into the blur that is childhood. We come back to the images later, to try and piece together the memory. It wasn’t until a few months later that I looked at the picture and noticed the framed photo of my grandpa and I on the left hand side of the piano.


Grandpa Jeffrey taught me to play. He used to sit with me on that same bench and show me which chords were the happy ones and which ones made you think. He used cut up paper to mark middle C, and told me that as long as I found that one, I’d always know where to go from there.


At some point along the way, the paper slipped under the keys and made it so that we couldn’t play middle C anymore. I remember a piano tuner coming to fix it, and for whatever reason, he wasn’t able to remove the paper. But over time, Grandpa and I figured out that if you held down the damper pedal at the same time as you played, you’d find middle C just fine. And the rest of the song would come together from there.


Eventually, the piano came to live with me, and I thought I should have it tuned after the move. I guess piano tuning technology has come a long way over the past few decades, because the tuner asked me if I knew that there was a piece of paper under the keys, and did I want him to remove it.

“Absolutely not.” I said it without even thinking.


Rory pushes those same pedals now to play the notes as he hears them in his head. He told me that he always knows how to find middle C. “That’s where the sound stops until you help it.”


Grandpa passed away before any of our kids were born. But every now and then it feels like he’s still reminding us to look down and find our bearings. We’ll know where to go from there.



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