Some things persist in memory longer than others. One such is of a young woman probably approaching her majority sitting at a piano playing Melody in F. I couldn’t have been much more than 6 as it was shortly after we moved from Detroit to northern Indiana. The piano was in the dining room of the resort hotel where I was later the cook. As far as I can remember, we were the only two in the room and the simple melody echoed through the empty space. Ghosts of another time, for some reason they haunt me as that simple piano tune fills my mind. Dah dahdah dah dahdah dah dahdah dah, and so it goes.
The hotel and Melody in F are intimately intertwined. When we first moved to northern Indiana, we stayed for a time in a house in town. The chronology can get a little garbled, but we probably were not in the house more than three or four months before we moved into a couple of rooms on the first floor of the hotel. These rooms were not ideally suited to this type of arrangement, meant, as they were, for summer guests. The rooms were connected by a door and shared a bathroom. It was not equipped for cooking but there was a hotplate and a refrigerator had been brought in for perishables. We were there but a short time before moving on to yet another rental house about half a mile down the road, finally settling in our house shortly before Christmas.
The hotel, a large three-storied affair, stood empty between September and May. The owners lived there alone for a time before they moved out to a house a couple of blocks away. My parents owned a roller rink down the road (this building may have been part of a livery stable associated with the hotel when it was a stage stop) which was open until 10 or so in the evening on weekends and for special events during the week. I would normally go there when my parents opened for the evening, skate for a while, but invariably would grow tired and leave. By leaving, I mean just that. I would walk alone up the street to the hotel, enter through the kitchen and walk through the dining room to our rooms and go to bed. The owners may have heard me when I passed through the dining room as I invariably would plunk a few notes on the piano that stood along the wall and then stand before a large floor to ceiling mirror on the wall opposite the entrance to the dining room, dancing to my reflection in the dark room. It has been reported that after my few note concert on the piano, I would say “boogie woogie.”
I didn’t like the hotel that much. It was dark in the corridors which were carpeted with a red-patterned runner. The same runner was used on the stairs which ran up one side of the entrance hall. The corridors themselves were illuminated by low wattage bulbs that gave off a red cast. Other than the carpet, there was no adornment, and the row of transomed-doors on either side of the corridor did little to alleviate the gloom. All of the rooms were papered with a floral pattern over a light yellow background. The dining room, also papered, was blue. I had free run of the place while we were there and although I did some exploring, I steadfastly avoided the 3rd floor. Since the corridor lights were not used during the off season, very little light penetrated to this level from the lobby below or from the transoms above the doors; the glow of the transoms merely adding to the weirdness. I was aware that someone or something waited at the back of the hall, watching, and the presence caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. Actually, I had the impression that more than one something was waiting there. They were no where else in the building and, as far as I knew, did not stand beside me as I played “boogie woogie” on the piano, nor did they dance with me before the mirror. Had they done so, I doubt that I could have walked through the darkness to the hotel, let alone enter the dark kitchen or the dining room illuminated only by a light in the lobby.
Some evenings, my parents and the owners of the hotel, as well as anyone else who happened to be in the neighborhood would sit down around a large table in the kitchen and talk about the state of affairs over coffee, boring to a six year old. It was on one such an evening that some people stopped by with their teen-aged daughter. She too soon tired of the conversation and asked me to show here the rest of the hotel. We wandered for a time through the dark halls and I may even have taken her to the 3rd floor, supported as I was by an almost grownup. I showed her the mirror and I showed her the piano. It was then that she opened the piano bench, found the music book and sat down to play, her light-colored dress seeming to glow in the semi-darkness of the room. Although taller than me by a good bit, she looked small as she sat facing the tall upright piano. Thumbing through the pages of the music book, she would try a few chords, turn some more pages, play a few more notes and turn again until she came to Melody in F. She stopped here and said something like “here’s something you’ll like.” I had never seen or heard a piano properly played before and stood hypnotized by the music issuing from her slim fingers as they ran over the keys. It was, I thought, the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.
Finishing, she said “let me show you” and pressed my index fingers on the keys comprising the beginning of the melody. Not quite the same, but recognizable and I understood the purpose to the markings on the page. It would be a few years before I could read music, but I used to pick out those few notes whenever I was near the piano. Dah dahdah dah dahdah dah dahdah dah That was all but it was enough to prompt the repetition of the entire song in my mind.
The memory is sweet as I mark the end of summer. The memory also is sweet since she played it for me and taught me where to put my fingers to pick out a reasonable duplication of that tune. Years later, when the guests had left the dining room for the day, I visited that piano again and took the tattered book that contained Melody in F. I have it still.