Keys to the kingdom

Among the meaningful and useful gifts I received for Christmas (or possibly my birthday—they’re two days apart so sometimes I forget) was this hanging key holder made for me by my dad. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece with a backstory, and I just love it.

The piano keys come from the piano once played by my grandmother, my mother’s mom. The upright grand piano, a magnificent musical instrument, was the centerpiece of the living room in my grandparent’s house in northwestern North Dakota. On days like today, when the wind is whipping subzero air across the Plains, you can imagine how folks back in the era before television might gather around the piano for indoor entertainment.

When my grandmother died, my mother got the piano. Dad built a trailer out of junk on my grandfather’s farm in order to transport the unbelievably heavy instrument from North Dakota to southern Minnesota, where we lived at the time. (The sound board of an upright grand hangs the piano strings vertically instead of horizontally like a grand piano does so the upright grand piano takes up a lot less space, but it’s still very heavy.) The piano survived the trip, and then another trip when my parents moved to Central Minnesota.

I, my sister and my little brother all learned to play piano on that instrument of my grandmother’s. Even now, I can imagine how the strips of ivory covering the white keys felt beneath my fingertips when I played Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre or piano arrangements of Beatles tunes.

We grew up and moved out, and Mom and Dad no longer needed nor wanted a piano. I was married to a musician at the time, so I took it. My ex and I moved it twice, and when we parted ways, I kept the piano. Being a little, shall we say, unmoored at the time, I asked my sister to keep it for me at her house, which she obliged for a decade. My nephews played it a bit, but it stood mostly as a testiment to my grandmother and an enormous artifact of the childhoods of my sister and me.

Eventually, my sister decided she could no longer store it for me. Tyler and I were living in a camper at the time, so we couldn’t take it. During one of its moves, the sound board cracked so piano tuners could no longer find a true A, or whatever note the tune to. Browsing Craig’s List, it was apparent pianos like Grandma’s couldn’t be given away.

So we demolished it.

We kept the good parts and threw the rest away (kind of like we would later do with the church).

We retrieved some of the parts at some point last year, but my sister squirreled away some of the piano keys, which she turned over to Dad who made them into a beautiful and functional display. I was thrilled when I opened it at Christmas.

Tyler mounted it on the wall by the back door in the church. I smile inside every time I hang my keys there (and every time I know where to find my keys on the way out the door). It’s a great gift, and it found the perfect place in Church Sweet Home.

By the way, my keys? My keychain, the one I carry around everywhere I go, is the one that came with the church. It’s a cheap plastic one that says “Loaves and Fishes,” the name of the food pantry that was housed in the church before we purchased it. All the keys that came with it are obsolete because we changed the locks. But the fob has history. It belongs to the church. Just like the piano keys have history. And now they belong to the church, too.

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