On a winter morning the comfort of a functioning laptop, a hot cup of herbal tea. Then comes a vivid barrage of memories of my early childhood. There was in the dining room of my house in Youngstown, Ohio, a player piano—the exact model in the photo—with a collection of enlongated spools of yellowed paper with tiny vertical rectangles cut into strange patterns. Song titles: Good Night Irene. Jelly Roll Blues. Jimmy Crack Corn, and I Don’t Care. I tired several times to get the thing working by threading in one of the rolls, pumping the pedals furiously, and thumbing the little brass levers below the keyboard, but I got nothing but silence. No matter, because it was dreadfully out of tune, and many keys simply didn’t work.
The first human I recall at three in 1945 was my grandmother, Josephine. A tall, dour, mostly silent white-haired old woman who wore rimless glasses that reflected the light and hid her eyes. I saw her animated only once before she died, and it was when our white blue-eyed cat shat behind this piano. She seized a broom, chased the terrified animal through the house, and out the front door. I read later that some white, blue-eyed cats are deaf. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would explain why the creature seemed so detached from the clamor of the world.