by Eloise Hawking
I fell asleep that night to the sound of the rain hitting my window while counting the flashes of lightning. The gray and spindly trees outside of my window looked like something out of a horror movie. Fortunately, I am a sound sleeper and rarely dream, so this thought didn’t keep me tossing and turning through the night.
I awakened the next morning to the sound of the piano playing. That meant it was time for the lesson. I untwisted my legs from the blankets and squinted at the alarm clock. It read 8:00. My mother must have turned it off for me so I could sleep a little later than I normally do during the school week. I was tired from the excitement of the game, the homecoming ceremony, and my near death experience from electrocution. My wet clothes were still lying in a rumpled pile next to my pajama drawer.
I gathered them up and went to the bathroom and deposited them into the laundry basket. My bedroom is on the second floor of our house near the stairs. It overlooks the open living room from a little balcony when I open my door. The piano sits along the wall by the steps. I looked down to see a bird’s eye view of my mother tapping away at the keys.
“Morning, Wolfgang,” she greeted me without even looking up or breaking the rhythm of her melody.
“Guten morgan, Mutter,” I replied back in German.
I greeted her the way Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would have in his native country—“Good morning, Mother.” I could see the corner of her mouth turn up in a smile.
My mother would not let us sleep too late on Saturdays. She said that one pays the price on Monday. She makes my siblings and I get up, get dressed, and make our beds right away. Once we were semi presentable, we could come downstairs and lay around and watch TV and relax. Mother agreed that our bodies needed some time to rest on weekend—rejuvenation she called it. Sleeping until noon, though—no way.
I slid in next to her on the piano bench. She was practicing Edelweiss in the Piano for Beginners Book. “No, Mom—that is a dotted quarter note. You have to hold that for three counts because it has the dot next to it.”
“Oh, yes—I forgot that,” Mother replied. “Should I start from right there or go back to the beginning?”
“Go back to the beginning to see if you can play it through with more fluency,” I said. “You are getting better.”
The piano lesson was a bit different from every other kid’s dreaded weekly lesson. I gave my mother twenty minutes of piano instruction every Saturday morning. I’ve been playing the piano since Kindergarten and have already moved through the first four sets of books. I caught my mother trying to play Three Blind Mice one day out of my Step One Piano for Beginners book. She was always curious about the instrument, but had no musical training herself. I showed her a few things and she caught on right away. I suggested having me play the teacher once in awhile. Mom liked the idea and she has been my student every Saturday since.
“Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever..” my mother sang.
She always sang right along with playing if she knew the song well enough. It really didn’t matter if she knew the melody or not because she sang them all in the same key anyway. I really think she was tone deaf. I told her that once and she said a college professor of hers said the same thing, but it didn’t seem to bother her one bit.
Mother Eloise stopped playing for a minute, paused , looked at me and said, “What color is it?”
“What color is what?” I said.
She frowned at me, quickly glanced at the clock and probably realized it was a bit too early for puzzling questions and cut me a break.
“The flower—eidelweiss. The song is about a flower, you know.”
As with any song, any story, any Bible verse, any anything, Mom forced me to think about it. Mother Eloise always took things to the next level. Some people would think of it as “raising the bar” to challenge their children. Not us. It’s not about raising at all. It is about going down and digging deeper to find the meaning of something.
“Yes, I know that,” I replied. I watched The Sound of Music with you a hundred times, remember? It’s white. It looks kind of like the daisy. It grows in the Alps.”
“Good girl. The song gives you a clue. Which line is the clue in?” Mom asked.
“….small and white, clean and bright…” I said with a touch of annoyance. “Isn’t this supposed to be your lesson?”
Mother nodded and resumed her play. She was a very good student if I could keep her on track. In no time our twenty minutes was up and I marked her next lessons in the book. I wrote the date of her next lesson on a post it note to remind her, just like my piano teacher did with me.
October 1st –I printed neatly on the paper. “Is that next week? Is that right?” I asked.
“Looks like it,” replied mom. “Fall has indeed arrived……and you know what,” she paused a moment, “I’m actually glad.”
“Grandma says she is ready for fall, too,” I said. “She’s tired of these storms.”
As if on cue, the phone rang. My mother answered it on first ring as it was sitting on top of the piano. I could read the called ID screen because I was sitting beside her on the piano bench. It was Grandma.
“Morning…………………….I don’t know………………I don’t feel like guessing………………an inch ………..(a little louder this time) ONE INCH……………….Wow, that’s a lot………………..no I didn’t read it yet………………..OK bye.”
Mom got up from the piano bench and shouted to my dad who was in the bathroom with the newspaper, his morning ritual he called it.
“My mother says we got two inches of rain in that storm last night. And she says there is something about the Harbor Creek game that I need to read. Are you done with the paper yet?”
I heard a muffled, “come get it” and my mother frowned. She kicked open the semi closed door with her foot and jumped backward. I couldn’t help but notice that her movement was nearly identical to the one that Grandma used on the stadium gate last night. I guess the apple really does not fall from the tree. The newspaper flung out the door, pages opening up like the wings of a butterfly, then scattering all over the floor.
Mom scooped it up and brought it out into the kitchen. She found the sports section after a minute of reorganizing. I moved to my spot at the kitchen counter watching her face and waiting.
My mother is tough to read because she keeps everything inside most of the time, until she blows her stack every so often in one of her tirades. I saw her close her eyes and inhale deeply—she saw something within that newsprint that she didn’t like.
I heard the flush from the bathroom and my dad emerged laughing. “I told you that you should have stayed home with Hope and I. You could have been spared the humiliation.”
Mom pointed her finger at him back in the direction of the bathroom. He turned around obediently like a school boy. “I didn’t hear the water run—WASH THOSE HANDS!” she barked. I could tell she was looking for a reason to release some anger. “Besides, there wasn’t a name mentioned. No one will be able to figure it out,” she said to my dad.
“Only the people from the thirty yard line west,” he said while shaking his head.
This conversation was puzzling. I had no idea what my parents were talking about. I felt bad about eavesdropping, but is it really eavesdropping when you are standing right there?
My mom remembered I was sitting at the counter. I was dying to see what she read in the newspaper. I knew it was something she didn’t want me to read because she pulled one of her Eloise tricks on me. I'm on to her game though.
My mother is a subject changer. When she wants to avoid a topic of conversation, she will quickly switch gears to another one to throw people off. “Let’s check the puzzle today Ellen and see if we can get a good start on it.”
My mother did the newspaper puzzles most days. Her favorites were the letter drops. Not many people do them because they are so hard. The newspaper tried to do away with them once and my Mother launched a full blown attack with hundreds of readers’ signatures to keep the letter drops in. And so they stayed.
The letter drop puzzles are actually pretty cool. I am getting good at them. The puzzle is usually a well known phrase. The phrase is put into a grid and the possible letter choices are listed above the boxes vertically. It is up to the puzzle solver to figure out which boxes get which letters. It is a logical deduction puzzle, mixed with a fair degree of trial and error. You always needed a pencil with a big eraser in order to even attempt a letter drop.
“Remember the rules of attack, Schwarzkopf,” reminded my Mother. “Single letters, short words, apostrophes, and words with double letters give you the most clues. Let’s take a look at this.”
And so it went. She diverted my attention so that I would forget about what I was not supposed to see in the newspaper. I am the daughter of Eloise, though. She may have invented the trick, but I know it well. I’d play her game for a bit, but I wouldn’t forget. I’d come back to the article later. For now, I had to see what I could do with the puzzle.
The puzzle read:
Mom passed me her pencil and I went straight to work. Most people would start at the beginning, but I saw an open window at the end. The U was a single letter, making the fourth word in that nine word phrase a three letter word that ended in U. The only possibility was Y-O-U. Yeah! I already had a word, just by following my mother’s good advice. Now let’s see……..if I used the O in the second to last column for the word you, that meant that long word ended in a D.
I continued working the puzzle going back and forth from the front end to the back end, trying words here and there. I got lost in it for a few minutes until the sound coming from the living room brought me out of my brain exercise.
Plunk, plunk, plong, plunk. That was the sound of “music” from the piano. Hope was up and she was having a go at the instrument herself.
My mother always encouraged her to try it and praised her when she did, no matter how awful the music and singing sounded. I knew my mother always secretly wished that Hope would have some sort of hidden talent that often people like Hope sometimes have. We’ve heard stories before about people with amazing abilities, who are very limited otherwise. I don’t think music was Hope’s hidden talent judging from the sound coming from the living room.
Mom left the kitchen and headed into the living room to sit with Hope for a few minutes.
“Hey, wait!” I said stopping my mother in her tracks. She turned around to face me and I held out my hand, palm up. She owed me some cash.
“Oh, yes, Wolfie. I owe you for the lesson. Let me find five bucks,” Mom paid me five dollars for a twenty minute lesson. That equaled an easy twenty bucks a month for me.
“Oh, no,” I corrected her. “That’s $16 this week. Five for the lesson, ten for risking my life to get your keys, and a dollar for getting Andrew Hamilton right.”
“You didn’t risk your life,” Mom said flatly. “Hold on a minute—I have to sit with Hope then I’ll get it for you.”
Just as she sat down at the bench with Hope I heard the pitter patter of little feet on the ceiling above my head. They paused at the top of the stairs and a gravelly voice said, “Hey! Stop that noise you stinkin' honkin’ girl!”
Sam was awake. He’s taken a recent dislike to Hope piano playing and also has drawn lines down gender lines as of late. Boys are good, girls are bad in Sam’s world.
I knew with the two of them to deal with, my mother would soon forget about the money she owed me. But I wouldn’t. I’d bug her about it later.
I was fine with it for the moment, because it gave me time to sneak a look at the newspaper. I found the article as a sidebar on the front page of the sports section. It wasn’t really an article, more of a short news report reported by the police. It read:
The football game between Harbor Creek and Northwestern ended abruptly Friday night do to hazardous weather conditions. An inch of rain fell within an hour on the area and the game was called due to flooding and dangerous lightning. Confusion among the spectators and game officials became apparent as an unidentified fan released an air horn, causing pandemonium in the home stands. Spectators confused this sound with the weather alert warning and it caused undue panic. Administration for the Harbor Creek School District will be releasing an official statement later today about banning the use of noisemakers during football games. The game will be rescheduled to finish play at 7:00 pm Saturday, at Paul Weitz Stadium in Harbor Creek.
I smiled and shook my head and secretly was happy that I was in some small way, part of that news event. I went back to my puzzle and worked it through to the end. Maybe the answer to this morning’s puzzle was the key to all things. After all, the Huskies would have another try tonight at 7:00. I couldn’t wait to see if success would be in their grasp.