52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Music

The Glasschrank Piano

Jeanette can recall the time in 1943 when she, Delores, and Bernhardt were outside their house in Port Arthur watching some furniture being delivered. She saw some chairs unloaded, then a table, and then something that would change her life. “Hey! We got a piano! Look, we got a piano!” she shouted to all who would hear. Later that afternoon, the neighbor girls Marilyn, Arlene, and Helen Wagner came to say hello. Jeanette shared the good news that they had just gotten a new piano. Marilyn was learning to play the piano and was so happy to hear that Jeanette would also be learning. The girls waited outside by the window while Jeanette ran into the house to play. “Blem, blem, blem” she sang, as her chubby fingers pounded away enthusiastically. “Blem, blem, BLEMMMMM.”  Marilyn laughingly remarked “Oh that sounds better than ours!” Jeanette’s parents heard the racket and walked into the room. Upon seeing them, Jeanette hopped up and ran out of the house.

You see, this was not a piano at all. It was a glasschrank, or “glass cabinet.” But to Jeanette, this was a magical instrument, taking her to a world of music that only she could hear.

When the family moved back to the farm in 1946, Jeanette’s Piano, as it was called, came along too. It was placed in the living room and for many years, Jeanette would “play music” on the flat surface with her younger sister Edith sitting beside her as the audience. Her father had some old song books that served as her sheet music. One story she often tells is about the time she made pedals. She sneaked off with three of her mother’s good serving spoons and a roll of her father’s duct tape. When nobody was around, she used the entire roll of tape to affix the spoons to the bottom of the piano.  When she saw that the pedals would not come back up after pressing them down, she placed a pillow underneath them. Later that day, Henry was looking for the tape to repair some egg crates and Lillie was looking for her spoons. They looked down and saw what Jeanette had done and walked out of the room laughing. How could they be angry with a child who wanted so badly to play music? They always said they wished Jeanette could learn to play, but lessons were 75 cents a week, a luxury that a large family could not afford on a farmer’s income.

When Liberace’s television show debuted in 1953, Jeanette was in love. Every Saturday from 2:00 – 2:30 p.m., she would run down to her father’s store to watch the show. She would listen to the music and pretend she was there beside her hero, sitting at his Baldwin baby grand and sparkly candelabra.

Jeanette wanted a real piano so badly that she would pretend to play music on anything. A box, a board, even sticks. She would often look for a large stick and place it beside her bed and pray for it to become a piano. Each morning she woke up disappointed. Her mother said finally, “God doesn’t answer prayers like that. But one day you’ll get your piano.”

When Jeanette grew up and moved into her own apartment in Houston with her sister, she saved up her money and purchased an electric organ at Montgomery Ward for $152. She learned some basic hymns which she played over and over on her little organ. But she never forgot about her very first piano. It was so scratched up from her playing that her mother said Jeanette could come take it whenever she wanted. Sadly, the Glasschrank Piano was lost when the house caught fire in 1981.

Jeanette and her Montgomery Ward organ, circa 1970.

Encouraged by son George, who had been studying piano since he was a child, Jeanette began taking formal lessons at the age of 70. And true to her mother’s words, she finally got her piano.

Jeanette at home with her piano, 2021.
Never stop laughing!


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