Submitted by Don Doman
When I was a child my mother insisted on purchasing a piano. My dad was against it and he would bring up this expense in arguments throughout their marriage. At the time I didn’t understand what my mother must have gone through to stand up to my father. It wasn’t even a used piano, it was a brand new one. In the early 1950s this Baldwin Acrosonic Spinet piano would have cost about seven hundred dollars. Minimum wage was seventy-five cents an hour and a postage stamp was three cents.
The purchase price of a 1951 Chrysler was $2,628. At the time my mom was working for the Mount Rainier Ordinance Depot at Fort Lewis and then worked for the Boy Scouts in downtown Tacoma. I remember we traded in the 51 Chrysler and then bought a new one in 1953. The cars made pilgrimages from Tacoma back to Nevada, Missouri where my parents grew up and married, and where I was born.
The piano was placed in the living room of our home at 2520 South Ferry. I remember my mother reading me and perhaps playing the classic American cowboy song, When the Work’s All Done This Fall. It was first written as a poem and then later put to music. My mother would play some Chopin études, plus sheet music like Patti Page’s Mockingbird Hill, and Kay Starr’s The Wheel of Fortune.
One day it was announced that I was taking piano lessons. I recall no conversation and no discussion about this. With both parents working I was a latchkey kid. My best friends’ mother kept an eye on me from next door making sure I didn’t run completely wild. (“Hah!” – Comment by Peg) My mother came home early from work one afternoon and kicking and screaming I went with her to meet my piano teacher.
I had lessons each week. My Uncle James gave me a 22. single shot rifle when I was in the first grade. My dad hid the bolt, so it wouldn’t fire. As always I would wait to practice until it was almost time to leave for a lesson. I would stop playing cowboys and Indians and sit down at the piano. If you’re a cowboy you should have a real gun. I sat down to play once and leaned my rifle against the piano bench and the rifle slid into the piano. The gunsight left a pyramid shaped indentation in the wood. I ran for the furniture wax and buffed it up. I laughed when I told my mom . . . forty-some years later. She never knew about the incident.
My first teacher died the next year and then my mom found another teacher a few blocks away between home and Stanley Elementary School. The summer before the fifth grade we moved to Lakewood, 9511 Maple Avenue. I thought I was free of piano lessons, but no . . . I was soon taking lessons in the Lakewood Colonial Center. I had to suffer through recitals (playing boogie-woogie), while in the fifth grade at Park Lodge School and the sixth grade at Navy Base. Since I began playing saxophone in the fifth grade I was finally allowed to stop my piano lessons.
The Baldwin Acrosonic made the move from Maple Avenue to Ponders Corner, then to North D Street, and then to North 11th. When my mother died, the piano passed to my daughter Andrea in University Place. She never took piano lessons, but rather tried violin. Later she made her twin daughters take lessons on violin and cello. They were actually, pretty good.
I don’t recall my mother ever playing anything else other than Mockingbird Hill and Wheel of Fortune . . . and Chopin. She eventually found a Chickering square grand piano that supposedly Liberace considered buying. She bought it for me. It moved from North Fife to North Huson and finally to a friend’s house in Bothell. My wife Peg and I have almost always had a piano in our home. When the huge square grand moved out, we bought a baby grand, which sits in our living room. I play for my own amusement and Peg’s. It relaxes me. I rarely play for anyone else. I found out years later that my older son, Del, would sit on the basement stairs and listen to me play.
My mother was cremated. I think my sister Marsha has the ashes, but every once in a while I find myself playing Mockingbird Hill. It’s my own remembrance of Mary Lavinia Doman. I tear up a little bit at the song, but I know I could never make it through the verses of When the Work’s All Done This Fall . . .
“Now when I left my home, boys, my Mother for me cried
She begged me not to go, boys, for me she would have died
My Mother’s heart is breaking
I’ve broken it that’s all
But with God’s help I’ll see her when the work’s all done this fall.”