A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
OUR BEAT UP OLD PIANO
I wasn’t trying to take advantage of Chris.
Honest, I wasn’t.
Not only was he a close and trusted work associate, but he was a friend. We did things together socially. We had some great times together (except when he was trying to convert me to British farce comedy, which I could never really appreciate no matter how many times Chris made me watch Monty Python). Why would I want to risk ruining that?
Especially over a beat up old piano?
But Chris and his wife were in the middle of an ugly divorce (which is not to say there is such a thing as a beautiful divorce, but only to suggest that this one was particularly nasty), and Chris was getting rid of stuff.
“Hey, you want a piano?” he asked me one day at work.
It was an intriguing idea. Anita and I had talked about the value of music in the home, and we loved the idea of piano lessons for our young children. But things were tight for us, and there wasn’t a lot of room in the budget for lessons – much less, a piano.
“How much?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Chris said. “How much can you afford?”
I really had no idea how much a piano is worth. Honest, I didn’t. So I said the first number that popped into my mind – an amount that sounded like a lot of money to me at the time, but was still relatively doable for us financially.
“Fifty dollars,” I said.
“Sold!” Chris said, smiling. “But you have to come get it on Saturday. I want it gone.”
So for $50 and the cost of a rental truck we bought a piano. It wasn’t much to look at – time and children had already taken their toll on the piano case – but it worked just fine. Once we had it tuned it became a focal point for family musical growth and appreciation. All five of our children have taken piano lessons on it (if you count Joe Jr.’s three-month exercise in pain and suffering as piano lessons) and we have all used it for musical expression through the years.
Today that beat up old piano is still positioned prominently in our front room – older and more beat up than it was when we bought it from Chris. It rarely gets played anymore except by our granddaughters, who delight in pounding on the keys whenever they visit. But it is part of us, part of our history, part of our home.
And I’ve always felt a little guilty about it, especially after I found out how much a good piano is actually worth. Even with a slightly battered case, Chris probably could have demanded – and received – 10 times what we paid for it. My guess is he probably never thought another thing about it. But I did, even after I changed jobs and lost contact with Chris. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable about it, like I got away with something even though I wasn’t trying to.
Honest. I wasn’t.
Thankfully, life will usually give you an opportunity to repay a debt like that. Our opportunity came a few weeks ago. A young man in our neighborhood was looking to borrow a fiddle to use during a four-day camping activity that our church was sponsoring, and it just so happened that during our family’s musical journey we had purchased a nice violin that was now sitting in our basement gathering dust. We were pleased to let the young man use it, and we enjoyed the beautiful sounds he was able to coax out of those old, dusty strings.
At the end of the camp the young man’s mother asked if we would be willing to sell the old violin. Anita and I looked at each other and smiled.
“Sure,” we said. “And we already know the perfect price.”
The young man’s mother balked at the suggestion. “That violin is worth way more than $50,” she said. “I’d feel like I was taking advantage of you.”
So we told her the story of our beat up old piano, and we sold her the violin for $50.
And we didn’t feel the least bit taken advantage of.
Honest. We didn’t.
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— © Joseph Walker
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