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Fathers and Daughters

By Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien'
Christine O'Brien
Daddy was the only piano turner in the area, and he sometimes took me with him when he tuned pianos at the local churches. I loved exploring the dark, empty buildings with their peculiar smells and sacred objects, but I was never totally alone, hearing my father play a single note over and over in the distance. Some of the churches had lots of pianos. The First Baptist, a grand place, had thirteen.

On Saturday my father and I drove into the country and down a dusty little dirt road, then pulled into the bare, sandy yard of the poorest, smallest church I had ever seen: an old wooden frame structure with peeling paint, held off the ground by cement blocks. There was no one around, and Daddy went in and started on the piano. Outside, the hot Florida sun baked the yard and the deserted road, and, hearing the single note again and again, I wondered what might have brought my father to this simple, desolate church. When I asked him, he said that since he knew which churches could afford a piano turner -- those who hired him -- he also knew which ones couldn't. He tuned them all, one way or the other. I asked him if the churches knew he did this, and he said he didn't know but that it didn't matter.

Daddy was ultimately run out of his piano-tuning business because my family was friendly with African-Americans, so he started pumping gas, an occupation he truly enjoyed. He used to exchange secret code words with fellow Masons who were driving south on U.S. 27 to Disney World.

My parents are old now and not in good health. A few months ago I told my mother what an inspiration it had been to discover my father's secret good deed that day at the little church in the woods. She laughed and said it hadn't been more than two weeks since he'd tuned a piano in a tiny church just starting up with no money.

My father is a quiet man. He has spoken to me all my life through a single note played again and again.

Published in The Sun in May 1993