The mother looks back at her child with concern and replies, “But honey, you can’t do both.”
I was told by my Mom that I had always wanted to play the piano, even as a toddler. If there was a spinet in the room, I would inevitably be found scaling it, like a mountain climber ascending the shear face of a mountain, looking for a foothold or outcropping, daring gravity to grasp a handful of ivory above me. It got to the point that my parents decided to get me piano lessons—at the age of “almost five.” By the time I was eleven years old or so, six years of piano lessons on our family’s old mahogany upright had convinced me of my life calling: I wanted to be a classical pianist.
Encouragement is a good thing. It seemed that every week or so, I would hear Mom calling me from the living room with that familiar request: “Manny, come here! Play something for your Auntie!” Friends and acquaintances of my parents (everyone is called “uncle” or “auntie” when you grow up in a Filipino household) would be suddenly barraged with a smattering of Mozart and Beethoven and Bach. My Mom and Dad would smile approvingly, our guests would nod politely, and my little brown fingers would start flying around the key of G. I remember finding her requests a little embarrassing and certainly inconvenient. Little boys would rather be outside playing ball or watching TV. Little did I know that these impromptu living room concerts became the training ground for my future life as a professional musician.
Fast forward to the last few years. My Father had passed, and my Mom was now in her eighties, with health issues and more than a touch of dementia. In addition to her failing memory and reason, a stroke had taken away her ability to speak to us. She was living with my brother and family, and I would visit her periodically and stay at a nearby hotel which conveniently had a baby grand in their lobby. My brother didn’t have a piano, so I would drive her to the hotel and wheel her into the lobby where I would visit with her and play the piano for her—Jazz standards, some soft rock, a Filipino love song she knew.
Occasionally, there would be a sparkle in her eyes as she leaned forward ever so slightly, her head tilted just so. And that was always good to see. Most of our communication in her last days was non-verbal, so when I played for her, it was more than just a song. I played for her because it put a smile on her face, and I wanted to see her smile again. I played for her because I wanted her to know that I appreciated all that she had done for me. I played for her because I wanted her to know that her encouragement made a difference. I played for her as a simple act of love.
Mom passed away this month, at the age of 86. And I miss her.