From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1951 –
She Shall Have Music
By Frances Carter Yost
The warm golden sunlight poured over the valley like butter and honey. The leaves of the climbing vine outside the window turned listlessly. As Ann Marley watched Parley working in the nearby field, time seemed to dissolve with the sound of his mower.
For three days now Ann had wanted to tell Parley about the spinet piano the Warrens had for sale, but every time he was around words congealed in her throat. If it had been a new washer, or a sewing machine, or even a deep freeze, practical Parley would understand the need. He would even get busy doing some dickering to see that she had it. But a piano, to Parley, would be considered a toy, something to play with. Parley wouldn’t want to pay his hard-earned money for a piano. Parley didn’t know either about the inward music in Ann’s soul, the deep desire which had somehow spun itself, through the years, into a hard ball of dissatisfaction.
Then from nowhere and everywhere the memory came. It surged into Ann’s mind like a wave breaking on a beach and washed away the view of vine and scented hay fields. Ann fought against the memory, for the recollections were distasteful …
Ann was twelve years of age, twelve, with its problems and perplexities, and a deep urge for music. “Daddy, do you s’pose we could buy a piano? Oh, it doesn’t have to be a brand new one,” Ann added quickly, “just an upright that has keys and will sound the right notes.”
Jacob Coles looked over his newspaper at his youngest daughter, a thin, gangling, skimmed-milk slip of a girl. “What do you want with a piano?” Ann’s father inquired. His older daughters hadn’t pestered him about such things. Ann seemed to be different.
“I want one to play, Daddy. If I had a piano here at home to practice on I could learn to play well enough to play for church. I just know I could, Daddy!” Ann pleaded her case with her eyes water-logged, and her hands tight clasped.
“How do you know you can play?” Jacob Coles hadn’t taken the time to get acquainted with this daughter before. It was hard at this late date. He found himself wishing she would go about her play, so he could return to his newspaper. What was she saying?
“Oh, I can play, Daddy. I can! I play on the church piano every day the doors are open.” Ann blurted out her secret and immediately regretted it.
“And who gave you permission to enter the church?” Jacob Coles snatched at an opportunity to be done with the piano subject. His long, narrow eyes were surprisingly green, like blades of grass.
“Why … Why, no one,” Ann stammered. “But nobody would care. I just play the piano. I don’t hurt anything.” Ann made an impulsive gesture with her hands.
“Don’t raise your voice, Ann.” Jacob Coles modulated his own voice and turned the corners of his mouth into a somewhat uncertain smile. “Who taught you to play, Ann?”
“Nobody, Daddy. I just pick tunes out by ear. I know they aren’t exactly right,” Ann added, hopefully, “though they do sound good. If I had a piano I could take some lessons.” Ann regretted this last statement. She hadn’t meant to approach the subject of lessons until she had safely acquired a piano.
“I couldn’t give you advantages your older sisters didn’t have, Ann,” Mr. Coles said, fairness and firmness being his policy. “And remember, no going into the church again except for services.”
Mr. Coles resumed his reading. Ann knew her interview was over. She had humbled herself, had revealed her secrets – her innermost desires. Even the daily rendezvous at the church must stop. She had gambled everything she had on a chance of getting a piano in her home, but she had failed to convince her father.
Ann never mentioned the piano, or music lessons, to anyone from that day forward. She hadn’t gone to the church to play the piano, for Jacob Coles’ family followed his wishes to the letter. Ann had grown up, had moved about in the whirlpool of life, with the desire for music burning in her being.
* * *
“I must talk to Parley about the Warren piano right away,” Ann said aloud, though no one was within earshot. “If I don’t someone else will buy it first.” She opened the screen door and started walking toward the hay field.
Now the logical time to bring up an important subject with Parley was when he was rested and well-fed, and sitting in his chair with his slippers on and his evening paper in his hands. But Ann saw again, in her mind’s eye, her father’s long, slit green eyes as they peered at her over a newspaper. That approach hadn’t worked out then, and she wouldn’t risk it now. She decided to try the hay field this time, and hurried faster toward the moving mowing machine.
As Parley mowed the fresh green hay, the scented clover sprayed the air with sweet perfume. Ann watched him riding the mower around and around the field, cutting wide swaths. Usually he reminded Ann of a Roman in a two-wheel chariot when he worked on the tractor. Today, however, her mind tugged at the spinet piano which the Warrens had for sale. She started to run through the cut hay, then stopped, for she didn’t want to appear like a house afire. She must be calm and collected with her approach. She mustn’t fumble now as she had done so many years ago. As she neared the mower, Parley stopped the tractor and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his glove and jumped off into the shade of the tractor.
“I made some punch,” Ann said, pouring out a glass, “and some cookies.”
“Good girl,” Parley said, with a grin. “Let’s sit here in the tractor shade and eat some together. The hay is clean and cool.”
Parley Marley was a handsome fellow, even with the dirt of the day upon him. He had a lean, brown face under thick waves of dark, unruly hair. He had won his callouses as an honest hard-working farmer, and enjoyed the fruits of his labor. He drove a good bargain in selling his product, and was known for his ability to get the better of a deal in all tradings.
Within Ann’s soul, timidity fought a battle with desire. To approach the subject of the piano was now or never. Parley noted a bright pink flush on her cheeks, and her lips trembled. When she spoke, however, it was with her usual calmness.
“Parley, the Warrens have their spinet piano for sale. I … I want to buy it.” Ann had laid her problem out in one sentence. She realized she should have been more conniving, but it was good to have worded her desire, as if she had dispelled a large gas balloon from around her heart.
“A spinet piano! Good grief, Girl! What are you thinking of?” Parley whistled. Then he smiled at Ann as if she were joking.
“I mean it, Parley, I want to buy it.” Ann’s blue eyes looked directly into his brown ones. Now the subject was out, she had to see it through. “We can manage. I’ll skimp and save, honest I will.”
Parley pointed to the sky getting black behind the deep blue of the afternoon. “See those clouds, Ann. I’ve got to get this hay down and baled before the rain breaks.”
With one leap Parley straddled his tractor seat, and started the motor. Ann called above the tractor’s hum: “What about the piano?”
Parley merely waved as he started mowing again.
Ann picked up the empty pitcher, the glasses, and the cookie plate. Again she had gambled everything on her inward desire for music. Again she had failed. She found herself balancing her father’s answer – “I couldn’t give you advantages the older girls didn’t have,” with that of Parley’s, “Good grief, Girl, a spinet piano! What are you thinking of?” The scales balanced.
* * *
Ann had fried chicken, hot rolls, and sliced tomato salad arranged attractively on the table when Parley entered the cheery breakfast nook after his shower that evening. He was dressed in a tan sports shirt and gabardine slacks. He hadn’t said he had a Farm Bureau meeting, and it wasn’t ball practice night.
“Going places?” Ann questioned as they finished eating.
“Yeah, yeah. I have to see a fellow. I’m dickering on some machinery,” Parley said, wiping his mouth with his napkin.
“Machinery?” Ann almost bit the word. Why, Parley had the latest and best machinery for his farming. Was machinery always more important than a piano? Was it wrong, Ann asked herself, to invest in inner qualities, the heart, the mind, the spirit? Yet to bring up the subject of the Warren piano again would be useless.
Parley folded his napkin carefully, pushed in his chair, and went over to the back of Ann’s chair and tipped her chin up. “Good supper. Good girl. Now excuse me, honey. I gotta hurry, but I’ll be back soon.” He kissed her on both cheeks and was gone.
“More machinery,” Ann sobbed, “more machinery.” Tears so veiled her vision that she didn’t see the car drive away.
Ann was in the living room embroidering some dish towels for the Relief Society bazaar, when the car slid to the curb. Parley unfolded himself as he got out of the car, and walked up to the house. He wasn’t whistling which meant one thing, he hadn’t been successful. He dropped into his favorite easy chair, not even bothering to take off his sports jacket. But he didn’t pick up the evening paper as usual. He just sat, chewing on the end of a match, a trait he always had when he figured and dickered.
After a long silence, Ann said: “Did you buy?” She kept her eyes glued on her sewing.
“Buy what?” Parley questioned back. He had thrown one leg over the arm of the chair, but still chewed on the match and mentally tabulated and figured.
“Why, the machinery you went to see about,” Ann answered. Her outward placid disposition was a triumph of mind over matter. There was a long silence.
“Ann,” Parley spoke at length, his voice almost inaudible, “is a piano worth two fifty?”
“Piano!” The word lifted Ann’s soul, and sent it off into space again.
“Yeah, a piano like that spinet of Warren’s,” Parley said in a wry way of his, still chewing on the match and making mental tabulations.
“Oh, Parley!” Ann dropped her sewing and came over and put her arms around his neck. “You’re a dear.”
“Wait a minute!” Parley chewed his match and stopped to reconnoiter. “I didn’t say I bought a piano. I merely stated that they wanted two hundred and fifty dollars for it.”
“Then you turned that grand offer down? Oh, Parley, that was a wonderful buy,” Ann reasoned unreasonably. Her arms fell limp from his neck with disappointment and hung at her sides.
“What else could I do? They wouldn’t dicker, Baby.” It was not so much a question of money with Parley, as a question of values. “They wouldn’t even knock off ten bucks. What was I to do?”
Ann felt the tears streak down her face. She turned to run to her bedroom before Parley saw that her emotions were out of control, but it was too late. Parley was out of the chair and was at her heels. She felt her arms, like bands of steel about her. Parley was behind her walking her to the large dressing mirror. Panic made her rigid in his arms.
Parley stood her in front of the mirror and jokingly said: “See how pretty you are when you cry!” His arms held her firmly, she could not escape. Since she could not break the bands of his grip, there was but one way to avoid her reflection in the mirror, drop her eyes. Through the veil of moisture Ann saw Parley’s checkbook lying open on the vanity. There it was in black and white, the stub of a check which was made out to Mark Warren, for two hundred fifty dollars.
Parley still held Ann’s hands firmly. She bent her face and wiped the tears on her sleeve, then looked at Parley’s reflection in the mirror. His smile was different now, not teasing, not blundering, but touching the corners of his mouth and gently.
“But, Parley, I don’t understand. You said the Warrens were asking two fifty. That’s what you paid!” Ann was baffled.
“Well, I made Warren come through with delivery at that price.” Parley smiled. Parley had capitulated without losing his pride. Everything was wonderful.
It seemed to Ann the world had never been so beautiful. She could take lessons now. She would make up for every wasted moment since she was twelve. It was never too late to begin a life’s dream. She would still learn to be an accompanist for the church.
It had been a queer day, like a patchwork quilt, with light and dark places. Ann blinked the last tears from their ducts and smiled at Parley. She realized now it was his little imperfections that made him lovable. Behind Parley’s dickering and conniving, she saw a quality of warmth, a lovingness that had been lying fallow. Ann wanted to tell him these things, how wonderful she thought he was, for new love had opened up like a water lily in her heart. But the words couldn’t leap the lump in her throat.
Parley’s arms encircled her then, and holding her tightly and leaning over gently, he placed his lips on her pink flushed ear. Each word was laid out alone, like an important jewel, as he whispered … “She … shall … have … music.”