Sometimes we don’t know what we have until it is gone

My Turn
Susan Cort Johnson

    When I look at a sheet of music the notes provide no clue to the melody. Once I could say, “I read music,” and my fingers would press the right keys on the piano interpreting the works of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.

    Yet, as a high school freshman, I decided I no longer had a half-hour I could devote to practice. There was no time to play songs that had become familiar and so they were soon forgotten. The intention was not to let them slip away, but early mornings in front of a mirror putting on makeup; late nights practicing French for an oral test; poring over math equations; long chats with girlfriends; securing tickets to a rock concert; living out the details from the latest fashion magazine; dances; Friday night football games … “childish” pursuits were set aside.

    I was 7 or 8 years old when I asked — no, begged — for piano lessons. Well, actually, I wanted to take ballet, but my mother thought piano was more practical. Lessons were granted with the promise of practice, not only for myself but two of my sisters. We drove to Folsom once a week and took turns at the keyboard with Mrs. Guernsey, the piano teacher.

    At first we played simple songs, some based on nursery rhymes. At one recital I played “Three Blind Mice” with my sister and a friend.

    The rhythm of the timer atop the piano became a common sound each afternoon at our house as each of us worked to get the music right. During summer vacations, visiting family in Southern California while taking in Disneyland and Sea World, we would play for my uncle who was a pianist. He had a degree in music from the University of the Pacific. We would wipe the sweat from the palms of our hands and tentatively strike the piano keys. He was always encouraging.

    As a teenager, it did not occur to me that I might want to keep playing just because someday I might find it is a way to relax or that it is fun to gather and sing around a piano. My mother frequently played and sang in the evening after dinner. The words to many old tunes are now stuck in my head.

    Often we let activities go as we move to another season of life. Once I drove to Tahoe up Highway 80 from Sacramento quite frequently for mid-week skiing at resorts such as North Star and Sugar Bowl. Now my skis are dated because I can no longer go midweek when lift tickets are cheaper and lines are short. For years I was part of the planning committee for the Old Sacramento Triathlon. At one time I enjoyed embroidering.

            Mostly old pursuits are just something to look back upon fondly, but at other times there is a twinge of regret. When it comes to piano skills, I am reminded of an old folk song that has the words, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it is gone.” At least with piano skills, it is something I can ge

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