Aunt Clara’s House

“So who was Aunt Clara again?”

“Great-aunt, actually. Grandma’s youngest sister.”

“And you were close?”

“Not really. We mostly only saw her at her annual Christmas party. But we moved away when I was twelve, so I missed all the parties after that. By the time I moved back, she’d stopped entertaining.”

“Then why did she leave you her house?”

I wondered as much as Dave did, so I didn’t even try to answer. Aunt Clara had always sent generous birthday and graduation gifts, but she had no children or grandchildren of her own. I assumed my cousins received the same. But only I had received a house. No, a mansion.

I unlocked the front door and stepped inside.

“Bet it’s haunted!” Emily nudged her little brother. Jacob’s eyes went wide.

“No such thing as ghosts,” I said. “Go and explore. Pick your rooms.”

Grinning, they thundered up the stairs in a race to the top. I wandered into the big front room. This was where Aunt Clara had held her parties. I could still picture the enormous Christmas tree in the window and the elegant food on trays. A rosewood grand piano dominated the room, eight feet long if it was an inch. Aunt Clara was a concert pianist and recording artist, one of those glamorous performers in evening gowns or smart pantsuits. I’d had lessons as a child and always played a few carols at her parties, but I’d stopped playing by high school.

I lifted the lid from the keyboard and plunked a few notes. The instrument was in miraculously good tune for having been untouched for months.

“Honey, why is there a piano in the dining room?”

I found my husband across the hall in another elegant room. In the place where most people would have had a china cabinet stood an antique upright piano. I plunked out a melody. It was in nearly as good tune as the grand.

“I guess Aunt Clara never knew when she might want to sit down and play.”

Discordant notes drifted down from the next floor. We exchanged a frown and climbed the stairs. We found the children in the first bedroom, banging away on a spinet.

“I want this room!” Emily cried.

“No fair!” Jacob complained. “Why does she get the room with the piano?”

But upon further exploration, we found the room next door also contained a piano. As did the master bedroom. What I at first took for a writing desk in the kitchen turned out to be—you guessed it—another piano.

Dave scratched his head. “Who has six pianos? Was she a hoarder?”

“Come on, the house is immaculate! Maybe she was … a collector? Or some of them could be rescues.”

“I guess I should be grateful she wasn’t a crazy cat lady.”

Once we’d settled in, we did a full piano census. Total: eight, including one concert grant, one baby grand, one upright, one console, and four spinets. I had a sentimental attachment to the big one, and the children loved theirs, but we did not need eight pianos. They had to find new homes. But have you tried selling a piano these days? We managed to give away the upright from the dining room to someone willing to pay moving costs. The next day we found an even older upright in a previously undiscovered pantry. We moved it to the dining room. A pantry was useful space, and it’s not like we had a china cabinet.

On the bright side, both children were eager for music lessons. I started playing again, too. Our piano teacher traded lessons for studio time in our unused, piano-occupied rooms for students without their own instruments. A couple of those families eventually decided to adopt “their” spinets. We rented other rooms to students from the local arts college—dorm and practice room in one. The elegant front room found new life as an intimate recital venue. Aunt Clara’s house—our house—was once more a home to music.

For months, I opened doors with a mix of eagerness and dread, but the spirit of Aunt Clara must have been appeased. We haven’t found another piano in over a year. We can live with six.

Copyright 2019 Karen Eisenbrey