And The Winner Is . . .


The house was small . . . two bedrooms.  An upright piano dominated the living room.  The big window was convenient . . . left of  the piano bench where he was sitting.

“Matthew William Hansen!” his mother called out. “You’re supposed to be practicing!”

Mom was in the kitchen.  She could hear Matt poking away at chopsticks . . . and not doing particularly well at it.  His challenge was trying to concentrate on the latest assignment from his music teacher.  His heart just wasn’t in it.  It was baseball season!

Matt’s mother was determined he and his sisters should learn music.  And the best way, she thought, was by them learning to play an instrument.  The family didn’t have much money and the second-hand piano seemed the most cost-effective solution.


His older sister Carmen had a natural talent for music.  She took to the piano almost immediately and was doing remarkably well.  The whole family was impressed

But . . . let’s get real, now.

Forcing a boy to practice the piano during baseball season is asking an awful lot . . . especially, if that boy can turn his head and see the great outdoors through the living room window.  It just so happened, the great outdoors included a view of friends hanging around waiting for him to finish piano practice.

Matt was 13 and he enjoyed baseball . . . a lot.   All his friends did too.  Being short, he wasn’t a very fast runner.  But his upper body strength made him a good hitter.  His friends counted on him for their pick-up games after school and on weekends.  One friend called his ability to hit the ball a long way their secret weapon.

But sometimes, piano practice got in the way.  That’s when Matt would bring his glove, ball and bat with him.  He’d tuck them under the piano bench.  That way, he could get out faster after piano practice.

One Saturday afternoon, a big game was planned.  It was against another pick up team that Matt and his friends had grown to dislike.  They said the players were big mouths and show offs.  Perhaps that’s because the team, whose players were a year or two older, regularly beat Matt’s team.

Game time was approaching.  Matt was still at the piano.   They needed practice . . . all they could get.  But give him credit.  Matt was trying really, really hard to figure out the white keys and the black keys, and to understand how they related to all those weird squiggles on the music propped up in front of him.

It just wasn’t working.  His Mom knew the reason.  Matt’s three closest friends, and teammates, were in his front yard, waiting for him to finish.  They were clearly visible through the front window.  His Mom considered chasing them away, but decided against causing a fuss.  After all, they were Matt’s friends.

The waiting boys decided to pass the time playing catch.  It had to be three-way catch.  They went out onto the street.  Matt cringed . . . painfully aware it should be four-way catch.  He was one unhappy boy.  His fumbling attempts to practice kept getting worse.


The plinking and the plunking continued.  Matt knew his Mom was listening.  He also knew he couldn’t escape captivity.  But as much as he kept trying, his fingers always seemed to end up in one wrong place after another . . . and his attention ending up elsewhere.

Not surprising, it all became too much for his Mom.  Matt heard her footsteps stomp loudly down the hardwood floor in the hallway and then become muted stomps as they crossed the living room carpet.  The footsteps came to an end behind him.

Matt prepared for a scolding.  It wouldn’t be the first, for this failed effort, or for a lifetime of growing-boy misdeeds that somehow just kept happening . . . all by themselves.

He sensed that his glove, ball and bat were being removed from under the piano bench.  That didn’t bode well.

‘Oh, oh!’ he thought.  ‘I could be in for a long time on this hard bench!’  He was already feeling the effects of hardwood on bum muscle.  It seemed inevitable, now, that his Mom’s next move would be to chase his friends away.

‘Boy, I’ve sure done it this time!’ he was thinking, wishing he could reverse and relive the last 15 minutes, resolved to do better the next time.  It wasn’t to be.

Matt felt his Mom nudge his back.  He turned around, apprehensive.

“Here,” she said, trying without success to hide the smile beaming from her bright blue eyes.

“Take these and get outta here before I change my mind.”

Matthew’s music lessons were over . . . for good.


5 thoughts on “And The Winner Is . . .

  1. James,

    What a cute story! I can picture it all as it unfolds. I’ve seen some very old TV shows over the years where the boys are made to practice piano when they really want to be outside playing ball with their friends. I think you captured that feeling very well.



  2. I can relate–I know that feeling. Kids don’t get it at the time, but sometimes they regret it years later. I wish I had practiced more.


  3. Matt is me all over again. I remember my piano lessons, and my desire to be outside with the rest of the “gang”, getting ready tp play a pick up game of baseball. This was New York in the late 40s and early 50s. I became a musician, and a some what decent baseball player. Your story captured my childhood. What a ride. Thank you. Well done.


  4. Nice story, tension builds well – I felt I was there. Except with me it was the other way round – forced to play rugby, wanted to write poetry. Made me feel 13 again. Very vivid!


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