Nils Peterson: Talk in the Reading Room
About Nils Peterson

 The Reading Room
 Xmas Eve at the Big House 
 Christmas Mysteries 
Summers in Long Island 
 Father Arrives in the    Triumphal Car 
 Yankee Stadium Gone 
 A Thing of Beauty 
 Learning From My Father 
Learning From My Mother 
The Bus


 Next Stop 
 Going to College
 My Lecture on Romanticism 
 A Story 
 Go Way From My Window 
• Singing in the Rain 
 On the Nature of Exposition 
 A Latin Class
 A Hero's Life
 Letter to Paul Cantrell
• Homecoming 
 The Moon and the Bulldozer


Learning From My Mother

Mother at the Piano

Her piano — tall, dark, no-nonsense, upright like an unmarried uncle — followed us from house to house.  After the bed and maybe a chair, it was the next piece of furniture my father bought for her. 

To a small boy, all music seemed hers. “I’m Called Little Buttercup” flowed into “Just a Song at Twilight,” then “Welcome Sweet Springtime,” some words set to a Chopin prelude. Sometimes, at parties, she’d improvise under the beery tenor of Nels Nelson as he tried to sing “Jeg Elsker Dig” like Jussi Bjørling.

Sometimes, when she was sad, she’d play “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen” so she’d have from me a shadow sadness. I did not want her to be sad, and I was fearful she’d go back to Sweden.

When Dad died, she moved 600 miles back to an apartment in a town where there were still Swedes. What happened to the piano?  Was it given away, sold for a hundred bucks, or abandoned like a relative you can no longer care for? I was in California.  My brother did this arranging. 

When she had to leave that apartment for the old people’s home. I was the one to fly back to help. She was 80 and filled with grief at the thought of more change in her life. She’ll last maybe a year, I thought to myself, but she went on for 20.

There was a piano, lonely, yes, like an uncle, in the lounge of Friendship House. Towards the end she’d have an attendant push her up to the keys, lean forward, and watch as her fingers brought forth, accurate as a music box, “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.

One of the other women, out of the thin exasperations of her old age, told me, “We wish once in awhile she’d play something else,” but she played — by heaven, she played.


  © 2014, Nils Peterson

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