My mother asked me to look for a piece of sheet music on the computer--"What'll I Do?" by Irving Berlin. I told her I would, but I wondered if she might have it already. I looked inside the piano bench first. I didn't find, "What'll I Do," but I found my parents' "song," "Always," as well as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "I'll Be Seeing You," and "As Time Goes By," among others.
Then I began going through a large plastic box of sheet music in my closet. Halfway through I shouted, "Hah!" and walked into my mother's bedroom, to show her the music for "What'll I Do?" I haven't seen her so happy in a long time.
From the moment she asked about it, I wondered what my mother intended to do with this particular piece of sheet music. After I showed it to her, she returned to her nap and I placed the music on the piano stand.
My mother's parents gave her that piano. I couldn't remember the last time I heard her play it.
After her nap, my mother sat down at the piano, her dominant right arm in a sling, opened the sheet music and began to pick out the melody with her left hand, singing the words softly, in a quavering voice. It was incredibly moving to listen to, and to watch.
A couple of months ago, my mother had asked me if I was going to take the piano, meaning, we both knew, if I was going to take the piano after she died.
I told her I couldn't. I didn't think I'd have enough room, and besides, I hadn't played the piano in years, wasn't even sure if I could remember how.
But later, I started thinking that I could take lessons again.
Watching and listening to my mother play and sing, purely for her own pleasure, I had a vision of myself sitting there, playing and singing the old standards that I love. My mother, who will be 87 this month, still has things to teach me.