Obviously, the old lady could not have qualified to purchase anything on
credit -- no car, no phone, no real job, nothing but a roof over her head
and not a very good one at that. I could see daylight through it in
several places. Her little granddaughter was about 10, barefoot and
wearing a feedsack dress.
I explained to the old lady that
we could not sell a new piano for $10 a month and that she should stop
writing to us every time she saw our ad. I drove away heartsick, but my
advice had no effect -- she still sent us the same post card every six
weeks. Always wanting a new piano, red mahogany, please, and swearing she
would never miss a $10 payment. It was sad.
A couple of years later, I owned
my own piano company, and when I advertised in that area, the postcards
started coming to me. For months, I ignored them -- what else could I do?
But then, one day when I was in
the area something came over me. I had a red mahogany piano on my little
truck. Despite knowing that I was about to make a terrible business
decision, I delivered the piano to her and told her I would carry the
contract myself at $10 a month with no interest, and that would mean 52
payments. I took the new piano in the house and placed it where I thought
the roof would be least likely to rain on it. I admonished her and the
little girl to try to keep the chickens off of it, and I left -- sure I
had just thrown away a new piano.
But the payments came in, all 52
of them as agreed -- sometimes with coins taped to a 3x5 inch card in the
envelope. It was incredible!
So, I put the incident out of my
mind for 20 years.
Then one day I was in Memphis on
other business, and after dinner at the Holiday Inn on the Levee, I went
into the lounge. As I was sitting at the bar having an after dinner drink,
I heard the most beautiful piano music behind me. I looked around, and
there was a lovely young woman playing a very nice grand piano.
Being a pianist of some ability
myself, I was stunned by her virtuosity, and I picked up my drink and
moved to a table beside her where I could listen and watch. She smiled at
me, asked for requests, and when she took a break she sat down at my
"Aren't you the man who
sold my grandma a piano a long time ago?"
It didn't ring a bell, so I
asked her to explain.
She started to tell me, and I
suddenly remembered. My Lord, it was her! It was the little barefoot girl
in the feedsack dress!
She told me her name was Elise
and since her grandmother couldn't afford to pay for lessons, she had
learned to play by listening to the radio. She said she had started to
play in church where she and her grandmother had to walk over two miles,
and that she had then played in school, had won many awards and a music
scholarship. She had married an attorney in Memphis and he had bought her
that beautiful grand piano she was playing.
Something else entered my mind.
"Elise," I asked, "It's a little dark in here. What color
is that piano?"
"It's red mahogany,"
she said, "Why?"
I couldn't speak.
Did she understand the
significance of the red mahogany? The unbelievable audacity of her
grandmother insisting on a red mahogany piano when no one in his right
mind would have sold her a piano of any kind? I think not.
And then the marvelous
accomplishment of that beautiful, terribly underprivileged child in the
feedsack dress? No, I'm sure she didn't understand that either.
But I did, and my throat
Finally, I found my voice.
"I just wondered," I said. "I'm proud of you, but I have to
go to my room."
And I did have to go to my room,
because men don't like to be seen crying in public.