The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Mountain Man and The Player Piano - Part 2

By Robert G. Back © 1985

Issue: September, 1985

Continued from last month

As we left our story last month, Dad had (without Mom's knowledge or approval) bought a player piano at auction. It is now installed in the home and ready for its first trial.

Dad put one of the two rolls he'd gotten with the piano into its' small compartment in front and began to pump its' pedals. The entire house became filled with a rousing rendition of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." At least that's what Dad said it was. Evidently, a few keys had been knocked out of tune when the piano slid off the sled.

"How do ya like'er now, Georgia?" Dad yelled above the racket.

"I like it 'bout as much as I like snakes!" she yelled back. "That contraption is playin' notes sour enough to taste!"

Was she ever right! It was hitting notes that were trying their best to murder the musical scale. That didn't bother us kids, though. On the contrary...we loved it. The sight of those keys jumping up and down by themselves thoroughly delighted us. We giggled while Mama winced, Dad grinned from ear to ear, and our seven dogs stood just outside the front screen door and howled like someone was beating them.

"Stop that infernal thang!" Mama finally commanded.

Dad stopped pumping and Mama sighed like somebody who'd been shot at and missed.

"Aw, Mama, let's hear some more," we kids begged.

"Ya hear any more and ya'll mos' likely never hear anything else again. That clatterin' thang'll drive all of us deefer'en a box of rocks," she said, waving aside our pleas.

"I'll admit it don't sound quite as good as it did at the sale, but I'll straighten that out soon enough," Dad said, undaunted by her harsh criticism.

Throughout the next two weeks, bedlam reigned supreme at our house. The combination of off-key renditions of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Sweet Betsy From Pike", six kids forever underfoot, and the dogs constant howling had Mama ready to scale the walls. What's more, curious neighbors from all around us showed up at all hours of the day and night to watch and hear the piano that played by itself.

On the fifteenth day of Dad's ownership of the player piano, Mama decided to put her foot down. It came down with a resounding thud. "Frank, the dog can stay, but the piano has to go," she firmly decreed.

"Aw, Georgia, don't be so contrary. That's a fine musical instrument," Dad tried to argue.

"I mean it. It goes or ya'd best learn to cook inna big hurry," she said.

"Woman, ya don't leave a man much room, do ya?" Dad growled.

"Jus' enough fer ya to lug that noise machine outta my house."

The next morning Seth Holcomb, our string bean neighbor from down the road, came to borrow a claw hammer. He was one of the very few people around who hadn't seen nor heard the player piano. Dad was on him like a frog on a June bug.

"Ya're jus' the man I wanna see, Seth. I gotta dandy proposition to make to ya," Dad said, laying his arm around Seth's narrow shoulders.

"What kinda proposition?" a puzzled Seth asked.

"How'd ya like to buy a fine player piano?"

"A player what? Shucks, I don't even know what 'at is."

"Come inside the house an' I'll show ya one," Dad said, guiding the skinny man up the porch steps.

They went into the living room and Dad stuck "The Yellow Rose of Texas" into the piano and started pumping.

"Well, I'll be dogged! Wouldja look at that thang!" Seth exclaimed, his eyes glistening with wonder.

"She's really somethin', ain't she?" Dad said, grinning the grin of the over-confident.

"Hit beats all I ever seed! How's 'at thang play by hitself atta way?" said Seth.

"Ya put a roll of paper that has a bunch of holes in it right into this little compartment here in front, and then ya jus' pump these pedals down here. Now, how'd ya like to be the owner of this fine, music-makin' treasure? I can let ya have it fer twenty bucks," Dad said, mentally counting his money.

"Haint got no use fer it," Seth answered.

"What!" Dad squawked, unable to believe his ears.

"Frank, I jus' come by to burry a hammer. I don' wanna buy no pi-ana. 'Sides, my old lady'd set my clothes out in the yard if I come home with somethin' like 'at."

"I'll take fifteen,'" Dad offered.

"Still can't use'er, Frank," Seth sighed.

"How 'bout ten? I know ya ain't gonna turn down a deal like that."

"Yeah, I reckon I am."

"Aw, fer pete sake, Seth. Look, why don't I jus' give it to ya. Now the deal ain't gonna git no better 'en that," Dad said, completely exasperated.

"Can't use it. Tell ya what I will do, though. Ya gimme five dollars an' I'll haul it away fer ya. I may be able to fin' someone who can use it fer firewood." "I'll give ya four," Dad countered.

"The price is five, Frank. In two minutes, hit's gonna jump to seven," Seth drawled, hooking his bony thumbs under the bib of his faded overalls.

"Ya gotta deal," Dad said, reaching into his pocket for the money. He quickly counted five ones into Seth's out-stretched hand before the old horse-trader had time to jack his price.

Seth and a couple of his boys came by that afternoon and loaded Dad's player piano onto the back of an old pickup truck. Although he hated to see it go, Mama was tickled pink and our seven dogs were happier than they'd been in over two weeks.

After Seth's truck was out of sight, Dad sat down in his rocking chair on the porch and lit his pipe. "Well, I hope ya're satisfied," he muttered.

"I'd be lyin' if I said I wasn't," Mama answered from her rocker.

"I wudn't talkin' to you," Dad snapped.

"Then who was ya talkin' to? Ain't nobody here but me an' you."

"That horseback preacher."


"Oh, never mind, Georgia... jus' never mind."