Johnston Street Blues

I saw a man playing the piano in the street today. He was playing blues and jazz like someone who’d just stepped out of a gin joint in New Orleans. His name was Harold and he was 82 years old. It was the last time he was going to be able to play his piano because he was moving to a retirement home. They wouldn’t let him have a piano in his room in case it disturbed the other residents.

‘It’s going to be a long, slow death,’ he said as he slipped from swing to gospel to boogie woogie as easy as drawing breath.

The piano was in the street waiting to be loaded onto a removalist’s truck. The driver was becoming impatient. He was obviously not a music lover. He kept looking at his watch and pulling on his ear lobe.

Eventually the music stopped and the piano was loaded into the truck. It was like witnessing Jonah being sucked into the belly of the whale.

As the truck drove off Harold stood in the middle of the road watching it disappear. He stood there for a long time afterwards. I knew he was hoping someone would realise taking his piano away from him was a huge mistake and that half way down the road they would come to their senses. But the truck didn’t come back.

Dejected, shoulders slumped, Harold shuffled into his house with the well-tended garden. His face had already grown colourless. He appeared frailer than before. When he closed his door I felt a clutch of tears form in my throat for the click of the latch was like the slight groan someone makes when they have given up.

It is a shame when practicalities fail to acknowledge a true source of joy. Music is a form of light we should let into our rooms as much as we can. To deny what for Harold was obviously a basic need seems heartless. I wonder how Harold will manage in a new home without his old friend.

14 thoughts on “Johnston Street Blues

  1. Maybe some philanthropic person could buy him an electronic key board with earphones? I hope all is not lost for him.
    Great story, well written. Sad but good. I remember when They sold my mother’s sewing machine shortly before she went to an assisted living facility. She had been a seamstress all her life. She knew it was over for her , when they took it down the stairs. She died of cancer shortly thereafter. I often wondered, how much longer she may have lasted at home. I tried to take care of her and moved to Florida, but for some reason , the family hated me for it . They just wanted her gone. I left to work in Panama for 3 months and that’s when they saw the opportunity to put her away.


  2. Terribly sad. Part of me is hoping that, like in my FiL’s place there will be a piano he can play…

    Sad to watch people get old. Sad to have to give up your passion like that…


  3. All our lives we strive to find meaning. Whether the “meaning” in our life is found in a philosophy or a piano, it becomes part of the glue that holds us together, and the salve that carries us through. I think its absolutely devastating that they took away Harold’s piano. The may as well have cut off his oxygen.


  4. Perhaps the retirement home will have a community piano that this man can play AND entertain the residents too. Many of these homes do. I hope so. What a sad story….. 😦


  5. PUNATIK – I am so sorry to hear about your mother. That is awful. That must have been heartbreaking for you. To have her sewing machine taken away from her seems so heartless. I hope Harold can at least get a keyboard. I am going to ask his neighbours where he ended up going to see if I can help as I have an old keyboard in storage that can be used with headphones. He’d be doing me a favour by using it.

    NAT – I hope your FIL does end up in a place with a piano. Music is such a comfort. You’re right – it is so sad.

    EPIPHANY – when that piano was gone he did look like his oxygen supply had been cut off. It was so upsetting.

    GERALDINE – that would be perfect. It would certainly pep everyone up. They could have singalongs and all sorts of things. I really hope they do have a piano.


  6. how sad to know such joy of playing music and then having it to be taken away, I guess that’s life but maybe he will find it back somehow


  7. On a brighter note, this story makes me glad to live in a country where we have easy access to firearms. I would be reaching for one and ending it for myself if I were in his position.

    Brilliant move – talking away an old man’s reason to live. I feel great now, thanks.


  8. It’s a sad retirement home that doesn’t at least have a Joanna in the common room, because the old folks love a sing-song. When my mother was in the home in Kendal, my grandchildren used to take their instruments and play for her,

    And, they all used to love it … even an old guy who I think was only dimly aware of his own existence.


  9. RICHARD – I know. It is upsetting. It’s just not right.

    TRAVELRAT – oh, absolutely. Music is so therapeutic. I’m glad the children came to play for your mother. She must have loved it!


  10. I was going to suggest the same thing as Geraldine. Even if they didn’t have a community piano, they could put Harold’s in the common room and everyone could get a kick out of the music. It might just bring joy to a lot of the residents who have also given up hope like dear old Harold.


  11. GYPSY – well, you won’t believe it. As it turns out Harold’s piano did end up at the retirement home. I found out from his neighbour. I am thrilled for him!


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