My mother's ability to meet new and interesting people had an unexpected way of trickling down into my reserved and shy world. She would come into my room and announce I would be taking some lesson or another from someone who was now her friend. This is how I came to take piano lessons from Mrs. Rhodes.
Mrs. Rhodes lived in an older neighborhood whose houses had been built just after World War II. Postage stamp small, cookie cutter cute, several steps up to knock on the door. A very thin woman with not a smile to been seen, a cane at her side, motioned me to the piano bench just inside the door.
John Thompson red primer set above the keys, a small red spiral notebook given at the end of the lesson with practice warnings made very clear. Mrs. Rhodes was not someone to tolerate a student who did not practice. I was in fear of Mrs. Rhodes.
Trepidation soon set in, fingers shaking over keys I knew by heart, taps to the wrists if ever they should sag. A sticker placed at the top of the page signaling satisfaction complete. I begged my mother not to make me go, Mrs. Rhodes had a heart of stone.
Christmas holidays approaching, good cheer not to be found, John Thompson red clutched to my chest, doorbell waiting, four o'clock dread. A different Mrs. Rhodes greeted me at the door.
Every surface, every nook and cranny, from the ceiling to the mantle, from the kitchen to the piano was decked in red and green. Poinsettias and garlands, stockings and packages, holiday scenes for the eye to catch, Christmas cards one after the other hung along the ceiling. I could not believe my eyes.
Page after page of stickers at the top, red notebook practice warning, satisfaction complete. Mrs. Rhodes set aside her cane and began to play along with me. She began to play alone. City sidewalks and silver bells, I didn't want the moment to end.
I would take lessons from Mrs. Rhodes for four more years and came to love my days in her small home. Not a single day would pass that I didn't practice for hours in the hopes of pleasing Mrs. Rhodes. My brother would tire of my endless attempts at perfection and would push me aside to play my pieces through perfectly by ear.
My brother is a gifted pianist who teaches now at school. At Christmas time my brother will tell me he can see red and green through the windows of Mrs. Rhodes home. I didn't know she suffered terribly from arthritis and was always in great pain. I like to believe the Christmases I spent with Mrs. Rhodes let me see who she was at heart.