A few years ago a lady passed away where I work. She put her piano in the community room for everyone. Occasionally someone would play it, most people thought it was an eyesore. Also, when someone cleaned out a closet they would set things on a table in the community room for anyone to take. When I came in the other morning there was a pile. Not paying any attention to it, I went about my usual routine. Getting off the elevator back on the first floor I could hear the faint sound of the piano playing. It was Music Box Dancer. I headed towards the community room as the music faded the closer I got. The lights were off, only the gloomy rays from the rainy early morning came in. There was silence by the time I turned into the doorway. After the lady died her family took the piano, it’s been gone for over a year but that’s not what caught my attention in there. Sitting in front of the pile of belongings on the table was this wood carved statue looking at me.
For Christmas one year I got a do-it-yourself AM Radio kit. I assembled it with my dad’s help and we ran an antenna out to the tree in the front yard. I was amazed by it. I played with the dials and tried to tune in stations. It was mostly static. What did come through, no matter where I went along the dial, was a low pitched voice. I couldn’t make out the words but he had a distinct hissy laugh, more of a chuckle. He would say a few lines of dialogue then laugh. It didn’t sound like English. There would be a few paragraphs of dialogue a pause then repeat the same thing over through all the static.
One night, while we were asleep, the radio fell from the window. It was loud with all its loose plastic parts going everywhere on the hardwood floor. The sound woke everyone up. My dad wasn’t happy, it was late and they get up early for work. He asked me why I pulled the antenna inside. There in his hand was the entire length of string we used to reach the tree. I was afraid to answer. Looking around him, I could see the drum stick we used as an extra window lock for the bottom sash was still wedged in the aluminum track.
Someone or something, deliberately knocked the radio off the window sill and somehow managed to pull 20’ of string out from under a locked down aluminum window without fraying it or undoing the knot that tied it to the tree. I never saw the radio again after that.
I’ve always found quarters in strange places. I bought a new car there was a quarter in the glove compartment. I look through old boxes, there’s a quarter at the bottom. I hike down a deer trail along the creek, I find a quarter. I never find pennies or nickels or even dimes. It’s only quarters. I asked my younger brother if he was putting quarters in my trunk while I visited him a few years ago. “Why would I do that?” was his reply.
Finding quarters happened so often I don’t even remember when it started happening. I think it became noticeable when I lived in Florida. I didn’t have a phone and always used pay phones. Calls were 25 cents. On several occasions, after I talked to my dad long distance to Ohio, a quarter would come out the change return even if I had used dimes and nickels to make the call. I saved my quarters for the laundry-mat. I wouldn’t use them to make phone calls.
After I had posted “Music Box Dancer”, it finally made sense. I only took quarters from my mom’s purse. When I quit taking them, and started asking, that’s all I would ask for. Foosball was 25 cents a game. My mom was still making her presence known by giving me quarters.
As a teenager I would get into my mom’s purse and take cigarettes and change. I was a foosball addict and smoked. When she got sick, she asked me to quit smoking. I tried not to in the house. From then on I would ask for foosball money. She passed away in 1980 and took my heart with her. But I always remembered the fragrance of her purse. It was leather and she carried Doublemint Gum all the time. A leather and mint smell was unique. Before she got sick, she bought a 45 record, Frank Mills – Music Box Dancer. It was one I remember her playing the most. I went on with life, but never fully healed from my loss. I withdrew from friends. I started doing a lot by myself. No one’s going to leave me again, I thought.
A few years ago, maybe 2011, I was getting my usual yearly stock of clothes. Levi’s, black t-shirts, underwear and socks. I guess there was music always playing in there when i shopped, I just never paid attention to it. Suddenly, the locked away memory of Music Box Dancer’s piano opening came crashing in on me from the store speakers. My mind stopped and was taken over. The best times of my life returned, even if it was just for one song, it was good enough. The fragrance of minted leather filled the air. The entire time the song played I could see my mom dancing on the cloudy stage. Happy, smiling, the way she always was…