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me sticks

Kimballs, 1982 croppedPen home taught two families — their Bishop’s and the Bombs — each month delivering them a gospel message. But Brother Bomb, a union shop foreman during the week, was incensed over the Bishop’s handling of their unmarried daughter, who was pregnant, while the Bishop was outraged at their unceasing criticism. So Pen one Sunday evening took two plates of Cady’s sweet rolls and set out by car to soothe feelings. The Bishop was in his basement in front of the TV, still simmering over the dispute and unwilling to come to the door for Pen or any other Church contact after a hard day. Pen left the sweet plate with one of the kids and drove on to the Bombs, who invited him in for an earful of carping. Later, after their daughter had the baby, the Bomb family pointedly excluded the Bishop and his management team from the blessing circle at Testimony Meeting.
…..One month during a home teaching visit, as Sister Bomb began to rant about other families in the Ward, Pen gingerly interrupted to deliver his prepared message: speak kind words only. Momentarily abashed, Sister Bomb tried justifying her harsh talk as meant only to correct and uplift and, warming to the theme, was soon spraying barbs again like buckshot.
…..The Bishop, who also believed in correction, saw punctuality to meetings as almost a test of fellowship. An FBI man during the work week, he stood at the podium one Sabbath as starting time came and passed, glaring impatiently down on the chattering congregation, many still visiting in aisles and foyer, then leaned into the microphone and pronounced with gusto: “SEX.” When an immediate hush followed, he declared with satisfaction: “I thought that would get your attention,” and asked the worshippers to take their seats.
…..At home, daily life remained hectically normal. Cady painted the upstairs hallway, feeling deep satisfaction as the black scuffs and dirty handprints sank below the rising white tide from her brush. She took the station wagon in for a state inspection sticker and associated repairs, but when the desk charged $100 more than the estimate, felt cornered and couldn’t stop her tears, explaining to the cashier she didn’t have money in the bank to cover the check. The credit manager instructed her to postdate the check, then let her have her car, but she drove home rattled and defeated.
…..When an ice storm slicked the roads on the night of the Ward Christmas party, Cady and Pen refused to go out in a car with no snow tires and a failing battery. Pen called in an apology to the public phone in the chapel foyer, but the Bishop picked up and joshed and pushed until finally Pen, feeling disgusted and guilty both, gave in. Bundling on snowsuits and boots for the five oldest and then four more children they were babysitting, Pen grabbed the assigned party-tray of cookies and drove off, sliding up and down icy north hills in starless black. They arrived an hour and a half late to a disorganized noisy melee. Eventually a Santa appeared, with a gunnysack of 10-roll lifesaver boxes for each child. After that, Pen rounded up his five and the other four, all of them bouncing like super balls, along with their ninety rolls of lifesavers, and crept the car back along the torturous steep roads, cautiously accelerating on bald tires at the foot of each new icy hill, while his headlights grew ominously dimmer. A block from home the battery died. Father Piano coaxed everyone out onto the icy road and tramped them through the blanketing snow, as the little ones wept in fear. Then after more hours of jump-starts and failed runs up the sloped driveway, Pen finally abandoned the car on the street and slunk inside to collapse. “I was very crabby.”
…..One Sunday after Church, Mother Piano fried egg sandwiches, everyone’s favorite, Father Piano built a fire with smoke that rose up the chimney, and everyone constructed “me sticks” for family home evening, writing down on little green paper leaves the things they did well and glueing them on flat tree sticks to hang from nails on the kitchen wall. Then Pen and Cady sat together at last before the fire, alone in their rainbow room, and once again, side by side, everything seemed to make sense.

Thatcher croppedTM had two new teeth and dirty knees as he crawled the house. Done being baby, Weez willingly ceded her place to the newcomer. His sisters carted him about. Shelley across the street asked to borrow him. His brothers nicknamed him Hammer, and Fox told grandma, “I am enjoying him.” In her diary, under the heading “Bright Spots,” Cady listed TM.
…..He smiled and was squeezable. When a twelve-year-old girl asked to hold him but then hugged too hard, making him cry, she quickly apologized, explaining to Mother Piano: “Sorry, my passion carried me away.”
…..From crawling, he would soon graduate to standing, then to the first unsteady steps, then toy trucks and balls, as he attached to the earth and its ways. The voices he heard were benign and safe. His cares were brief and easily kissed away. No one yet could see the final desert landscape and rush of waters or guess at the mystery of this soul.
…..There were parts of every Piano in TM. There was Apple’s need for fairness and rectitude. There was eagerness to explore and dare, like Fox. He shared Cat’s loyal heart and unflinching eye for hypocrisy. As with Cam, spiritual compassion would beckon him too like a second mother. When at his happiest, he could see things with Weez’s droll and affectionate eye. He would even come to navigate the solitudes in which Father Piano dwelled and find inward comforts to compensate. But Mother’s was the voice he heard from before birth and memory, felt in his spine and burgeoning awareness, familiar as a heartbeat persisting beneath the distractions of the world’s noise, present now and to his latest moment.
…..Everything was laid out for them, the entire Piano score, start to finish, every harmony and dissonance, each staccato, each pianissimo, the pauses and rests, the key signature, the coda, the repeat. Nothing was ever missing, and nothing would ever end, like the return of light on each new morning.

    CODA: to Cady /1988

…..On your 40th birthday, we head face forward into storms of change, eager & together. You, my fearless traveling companion, strike out across a trackless expanse of dangers & uncharted wonders. You face this astonishing life boldly, like a Cortés marching on the interior of Mexico. Not looking back. Only a blank horizon and the lure of glory. You advance on your future with the energy of a hero, pressing ahead into the darkness of intellectual & institutional confusion, armed to the teeth with dazzling honesty, curiosity, and intellectual vitality. Like a saint in solitary quest, or Perry stepping into the Arctic Circle, you squarely face things that matter: what it means to enjoy this life, from dancing to skinny dipping; what it means to care for matters of the spirit–friends, women’s issues, God. You are bravely open to life, with a resolve that seems selfless & boundless.
…..Cady, my love, you are a red red rose. Red red lipstick; white white face. Black & sexy swimsuit. The wonderful smell of your springy black hair. Your incredible photogenic smile, like a watermelon half-slice. My siren. My saint. Gorgeous in purple and turquoise blouses. An aura of aliveness, like a halo around all of you. In your hands, healing & love.
…..I am your companion eternally. I will take your hand and move into whatever unspeakable brightness exists after death or, if death is a dark shadow of final loss, I can face that too by your side. I am reconciled to death & to life, knowing that we share them as fast friends. There will never come a time when I will leave you, Cady. Always I am there, like a safety net to your incredible high wire act. You pass through life with the ease & daring of an artist. I hold the tightrope taut; I am your audience; I applaud the performance. I look at you & my heart beats like a snare drum. Cady, my lover, my wife.
…..You are the central miracle of my life. I am tied to you by a deeperRed Door logic than chance. Perhaps nothing ever happens by accident; if so, then every minute of the endless chain of lives that led to this one was anticipation of the unique moment in which we met. And all of eternity to come is the natural unfolding of that moment’s implications. Every strand of my destiny is entwined with yours. If we live again, if we live a hundred times again, I will know you even through the veil of forgetfulness and rejoin you. In time & eternity. My soulmate. My sister. My beloved.


every needful thing

McCandless Author, croppedThe local paper featured Pen in a human interest piece: “McCandless author has sold 300,000 books.” A reporter came to the house for an interview about the book and Mormon beliefs, while her camera man grouped the Pianos around Pen in a pictorial of old-fashioned values. Mormons emphasize children, noted the reporter, so “Pen and Cady never considered postponing a family while he pursued his advanced degrees.” Their finances had been stretched thin, but, she quoted Pen, “we muddled through.” However, the article continued, Cady did not intend to spend the rest of her life at home, but expected to return to graduate school and one day teach, plans she disclosed as “she discreetly breastfed their youngest.”
…..The real world of money and numbers seemed like a place to start. Cady took a night course in introductory accounting at a local junior college, pedaling the bicycle to class one evening after the car wouldn’t start. When someone unexpectedly dropped off kids for babysitting, Cady had to “whiz through” her unfinished homework assignment, only “got 3 out of 4 done, went to class, but the prof. dismissed us early because he tore his pants in a conspicuous place.” On her first quiz, she scored 49 out of 50.
…..She took charge from Pen of the family budget, pinching pennies to balance the books. Although paying their overdue tithing left her too few dollars to feed family and guests going into Thanksgiving, she always expected the best and was not too surprised when the cashier at Giant Eagle accepted her stack of expired coupons. She baked the family a cake and left for the library to do homework. “I have no right to complain,” she acknowledged. They were lucky to have a steady income, while others were out of work. Political tensions in the news left her unsettled and wondering if man’s efforts on earth were doomed to end in nuclear holocaust. She felt the need to “prepare every needful thing.”
…..“On to Christmas” noted Cady unenthusiastically in her diary as Thanksgiving passed. “I am not ready, as usual.” It was the season of heightened expectations, toy lists, and Ward parties, and she felt boxed in by her life, “with responsibilities like rocks rolling in upon me.” She struggled with the many demands as Relief Society president, reading sadly a note from Sister L who was dying in excruciating pain of lupus and experiencing depression. After a hectic morning at the Church, she returned home, gave a manicure to Cat, who “loves her nails long and polished,” then left the kids playing xmas party with a $2 bag of candy they had bought and crawled into bed, wondering if she could ever crawl out again.
…..Pen instituted prizes for reading or listening to scriptures daily. After the first week, each contestant was polled. “Regretfully,” conceded Mother Piano, “I did not earn my pack of gum.” Everyone else tore open their earned Bubble Yum, enjoying the sugary fruits of righteousness, except baby TM, who looked on from his infant seat, as yet without yearning. Feeling badly for poor Mother Piano, Weez offered a piece from her coveted pack. Cady took it, declaring she would try harder for next week’s prize: Hostess Twinkies.
…..She took on four extra children temporarily, to earn money for another trip to Paris, even while realizing that “Paris is merely stop gap.” More than time off, she needed “a talent, an identity, something I do well.” 

Andrew and daughter Anne0001Weez would not suffer teasing. But Father Piano was addicted to the half-pint jolt of fury his rhymes set off. “Please, Weez,” he began in a slow drawl, “don’t squeeze the peaz with your kneez. Don’t sneez on the cheez.” And on. But no one weeziled Weez with impunity. His rhymes came to an abrupt stop when she flew in wrath at the first Piano to laugh, attacking with no regard for discrepancy in size. She fiercely insisted on justice for wrongs.
…..When Weez was two and the Pianos suppered out at Eat’n Park, an elderly woman at the next table dropped her sweater without noticing. Quick as a sparrow’s hop, Weez slipped down off her chair and ran to pick it off the floor. “Here you go, Gramma,” she chirped, handing it up. The lady’s entire table laughed merrily, which Weez nonchalantly ignored, climbing back on her chair at the Piano table.
…..A year later, she was less gracious when trash spilled across the kitchen floor as she played. When Mother Piano wouldn’t let her walk away, but insisted she clean up the mess, Weez grimly complied, compelled but unconverted. Jamming cans, cartons and paper back into the trash, she paused to sternly threaten, “when you grow up to be a kid, I’m not going to fix your dinners.” Later, Weez overheard Mother retelling the incident to Father Piano and darkly insisted: “Well, I’m not, Mom.”
…..But piques passed, and she was ever ready to love her Mother Piano. When Cady arrived home after a facial and haircut in a new dress, Weez took one glance and cried: “Mom, you’re gorgeous.” Put in the bath each night, she began her storytelling and chattered on long after Mother had stepped from the room. Her night-time kisses were small wet berries, freely bestowed, her tight hugs warm as bedtimeRed Door stories.
…..Cady reported to Wand that Weez had gotten to be something of “a juice freak,” each morning nipping at her for service until she held the wake-up glass in hand. “It’s like that morning cup of coffee you had to have,” Cady noted to Wand, adding: “a cute thing she is.”

only a few bugs

Utah 1982 croppedOne night Cady dreamed that Pen’s aging grandpa began to falter as he spoke from the tabernacle podium during general conference, until a woman was called up from the congregation to lay on hands and bless him, after which he was able to finish his address. Afterward, when Cady congratulated him on the sermon, he remarked with a smile and twinkle of eye, “You didn’t think I would pass on before I gave all I knew about women?”
…..A few weeks later, the eight Pianos packed into the green station wagon and headed for Utah. Passing through Nauvoo, once a busy Mormon city of promise before its sacking by mobs, they toured reconstructed period homes, which impressed Cady with their dignified stillness, just the creaking of floor boards. “Time seemed to be longer for them,” she thought of the one-time inhabitants, “& I was envious.” She visited the garden of statues dedicated to the faithful women driven from these homes. Cady mailed her mother a postcard from a motel just across the Mississippi in Keokuk, Iowa: “We’ve made it this far!” The kids spent all day in the pool while Pen slept; at nightfall they packed and drove until breakfast while the children slumbered. At some point they noticed TM’s stroller was no longer tied to the car roof with the other luggage but must have gone bouncing down some highway in the Midwest and into a corn field.
…..In Salt Lake City, they visited Pen’s grandparents, Spencer and Camilla, in their quarters at the Hotel Utah. Camilla was waiting for them outside, seated on a white handkerchief spread over a low cement wall on Temple Square, appearing to Cady like an angel in her tight blue summer dress and white hair shining in Sunday morning sunlight. In the Hotel, they found Grandpa feebler and thinner. His home Ward sent down two boys to bless and administer the sacrament to them, passing the tray first to the President of the Church, then to family, nurses and security guards. The Pianos got a snapshot taken.
…..They drove home, three long nights. With them was their own Camilla, the four-year-old one with red hair, namesake of her white-haired great-grandmother.
…..“Poor Cam,“ wrote Wand of this earnest little girl after some new mishap, possibly involving arms flailing like a windmill. She wanted to be a ballerina. Indeed, thought Pen supportively, some days she was battered with intensity like a dancer’s taped toes. She entered rooms with an unerring radar for the one fragile object, occasioning its inevitable demise faster than anyone could move to prevent it. She swept into a kitchen hugely, once stumbling over the high-chair in which a friend’s baby contentedly ate lunch, collapsing the contraption, baby and all. At dinner, she stretched her arms emphatically, knocking the bulletin board from the wall or poking someone’s eye. She kissed, hugged, screamed and fought like a small disturbance of nature.
…..Cam seemed sometimes to exist apart from the visible household, on some more ideal plane, in which her body moved with utmost grace, and where the world was held in such heightened compassion as only a bodhisattva ever sees.
…..For family home evening, Pen lit a blaze in the fireplace of their rainbow wallpaper room, but thick smoke quickly billowed into the space, engulfing them all in stinging darkness, so it seemed the house was burning down. There was a brief panic. Cam gulped a lungful and began a crazed screaming in the face of imminent death. Pen unstopped the flue and convinced everyone to settle down. Ignoring the smell of wood smoke in the curtains and hair, he gave a lesson about resurrection. At the end, he informed them that since Karen Carpenter had just died, they should listen to her music to end the evening. “Why did she die?” asked someone. She couldn’t eat anymore, he answered. “Why, Daddy? why couldn’t she just eat something?” They each pondered that in sad wonder, finally dozing off on blankets spread in front of the fire, as the magically warm songs played around them.
…..Wand visited the family, leaving behind clothes for the kids, food items bought on sale, and advice. Cady wrote her that she had shopped “with coupons clipped from the newspapers you brought,” cleaned her glass with half-price Windex, used another macaroni ‘n cheese from the boxes Wand had packed to Pittsburgh in her suitcase, and kept the light fixture down to “only a few bugs” now instead of the many, a few of many improvements Wand had urged. And Cam, added Cady, was remembering not to sit on the table.

1982-Fall Camilla - croppedPen and Cam shared a birthday. Mother baked two cakes. For Cam, she organized a party. For Pen she went to lunch downtown, affording him the delicious novelty of crossing the banking floor at work holding her hand. That night, Cam in her new birthday nightgown and red hair looked like a splash of painting by Monet.
…..Pen too got clothes. “He has to buy a suit with his birthday money,” Cady reported to Pen’s parents, “which is nearly killing him,” but he had finally been made embarrassed by what he called “my lousy wardrobe of decaying and itchy suits.” Pulling on his trousers one morning by bathroom light, he was startled to find the crotch so threadbare his fingers could wriggle between the threads. He ripped off the pants in dismay, stuffing them into the kitchen garbage, and rummaged his closet for the old gray suit, with its misshapen jacket, grease-spotted trousers, and filthy hems. “I hate spending money for clothes,” he griped to his parents. Cady added that “the time spent on such matters is excruciating for him to bear,” and the process “difficult for a man who sees intrinsically as does Pen.”
…..For one who saw intrinsically as Cam, there were other difficulties. One Sunday, she rode her trike across Shelley’s lawn until the older girl noticed and shouted to get off her grass. Glaring downward stubbornly, brow furrowed, Cam pedaled slowly off the lawn, then truculently threw her apple core onto the driveway. Freckled Shelley charged at Cam, yanking away the trike and declaring she would keep it as long as the apple core sat on her driveway. Cam just stared at her, then turned and walked home, face frozen in defiance. But once inside their garage, she broke down, sobbing tragically to Father Piano that Shelley would keep her trike forever, even if the apple core washed away in the rains. Father Piano quietly dispatched FoxRed Door across the street with his stick and instructions to bat the apple core into the street and retrieve the trike.
…..For each of her daily victories and setbacks, Cam felt great searing emotion. She was a fierce consumer of fear and hope. Pen felt forever joined to this birthday partner, the two of them points on one quavering star.

habit of thumb

N.E. Bush and grandchildren, 1982 captionedPen brought a postcard home for Cam in reward for two nights dry in a row, which stirred squawks from the others about fairness. If bad habits led to rewards, argued Apple, he had one too: he bit his fingernails. Not to be outdone but apparently unable to point to a fault, Fox simply pledged not to bite his nails either. Cat kept silent, holding her own weakness close to her guilty heart. She was sustaining a double life, still sucking her thumb at home, but hiding the shame at school and with friends. Once a boy playing at their house caught her with thumb in mouth and teased until she burst into tears and raced to hide in her bedroom.
…..She was a quiet contributor at school, did well at her lessons, had her circle of friends, and felt only disdain for the misbehaving boys clowning in class. Evenings, she carefully rinsed the dishes, while her brothers cleared the supper table and counters and loaded the washer; she stood on a stool and stretched to reach the faucet, occasionally wetting her blouse with dishwater, to her great consternation. Sundays for church she wore a fluffy blue dress with ruffles and black patent leather shoes, her hair curled and shaped. When one severe haircut clipped too short the long hair that her younger sisters always envied her, she wept in a frenzy, feeling shorn of prettiness, until Father came home with a package of colored barrettes and hair bands, and she happily adapted to the new style.
…..Everyone in the household was earnestly doing many things at once and trying to grow up. Pen struggled to learn T accounts at the bank. He made mistakes managing trainees who knew more finance than he did and imagined that they mocked when he turned his back. During the daily bus commute now, he read commercial bank files instead of literature, trying to get ahead, a secularization of free time he had once vowed never to permit.
…..He wished he could open a little umbrella over Cat’s head and stop the rain. He took to silently pointing when he caught her with thumb in mouth or he gave a little whistle of capture, which made her start like a fox at the sudden baying of hounds, until she came to hate the sound. “But Daddy,” she would protest, her face puckering in frustration, “it’s so hard.” He offered her a big sundae at Sweet William if she went five days thumb free. She tried, but kept forgetting. After he thought she had given up, she announced one evening as he walked through the door that she had gone all day so far. “If I stop sucking my thumb,” she declared, “I will feel so proud of myself.”
…..He brought home a little bottle of Stop-Zit. Thrilled with the novelty, Cat let him paint it on her thumb like nail polish. But after forgetting at dinner, she had to gargle away the bad taste in a glass of milk. Turning on Father accusingly, she complained bitterly that it tasted terrible. Feeling only tender, he reluctantly reminded her it was supposed to. For the next few days, the foul taste seeped onto Cat’s food and battered her senses directly when she absent-mindedly stuck thumb to mouth. But in the end she completed her five days and celebrated over sundaes with Father Piano for conquering a habit.
…..N.E. visited for a week from Alabama. As Cady ran about doing chores, he was quietly helpful around the house. For Pen, he had advice about caring for the difficult roses. After returning home, N.E. mailed a thank-you note, with hugs for all the children. “I miss T.M.’s smile the most of all,” he conceded, singling “the sweet little fellow out.” But they are all “the most wonderful-est,” and any one of them “can smile when they want to be as cute as T.M.” To his daughter Cady, he observed: “I like the line you wrote, I quote: History is made every day around here, HA.”

1982-Fall croppedWand was lonely and asked for someone to visit. So Cat got a solo trip to Alabama for her seventh birthday.
…..“I’m going on a airplain,” she wrote to her other grandparents in Connecticut, “Love, Cat.”
…..While Cat pranced about the house a mile high, everyone else was crabby for a day, murmuring about fairness, though finally Apple made her a fun-book for the plane ride.
…..For Mother Piano, there was still a party with little guests to organize, a birthday cake to bake, and all the usual running about, so that she completely forgot the dinner she had promised a family with a new baby. “I was a little upset with the Spirit of Reminding,” she noted of her usually dependable memory. She rose the next day early, bought the makings for a festive lunch, delivered it to the forgotten family, and felt better.
…..After a day spent organizing Cat for her trip, Mother Piano drove her to the airport, feeling strangely anxious suddenly to let this daughter go, though she herself had departed so often for Paris trailing dreams of freedom. Settling Cat on the plane, Mother crumpled an empty-looking plastic cup of orange juice a stewardess had given Cam to sip, splashing the startled business man in the next seat. She and Cam quickly disembarked, watched the gate close, and saw the airplane taxi out of sight.
…..Cat’s visit was a success – two days in Goodwater, two weeks in Montgomery. “She was a good visitor and she minds well,” N.E. wrote afterward. “She gave us a thrill with eachRed Door smile, as we could remember losing our front teeth. Ha. She really is a sweet granddaughter.” On a gloomier note, his wife added: “she should have been allowed to stay with us a week.” She too had found Cat “a nice sweet girl, very smart & loving.” When they bought her a dress, the one she picked was “too short but she wanted it & I got it for her.” Thinking back to his recent stay in Pittsburgh, N.E. added: “wish I could see T.M.’s smile again!”

pyramid of the quotidian

Janet and Kathryn, 1982 cropped & captionedCrocuses sprang up in their slanty backyard in March. Cady bought shoes and a dress and began jumping on a friend’s mini-trampoline because it felt time “to be glamorous once again.” She wrote to her mother: “I’m doing great. Exercising and s-l-o-w-l-y losing pounds.” She read Winter’s Tale with her Shakespeare circle and Moliere with her French club. Baby TM was smiling now at ANY thing “& truly returning love to us.”
…..Cady’s hectic Church service continued. Sister R came by to ask if her struggling marriage was worth saving. Sister C and her children stayed overnight after her husband of five months wanted her out of his house. He granted her no rights, begrudged every grocery dollar spent on her children, and argued with her, sometimes violently. Cady saw nothing to be done and thought divorce the best option, but the frightened woman seemed desperate for the security of marriage, even a bad one. In the afternoon, Cady still had visiting teaching to do and in the evening a Church social. “Rushed frantically all day!!”
…..Personally discouraged by the marital discord in the Ward, the Bishop asked Cady for the woman’s perspective. She eagerly advised him in writing that women should be free of arbitrary dominion in their homes and accorded respect for their spiritual intimations and for gifts beyond housekeeping. Although the Bishop appreciated her thoughts, he worried about misinterpretation, warning her such words were not for all ears. When Cady spoke in Sacrament Meeting on the needs of women, she took many compliments, but few of them from men.
…..Although sometimes fatigued with the repetitive arguments around women’s issues, Cady was willing to brainstorm ideas with her friend L, to whom it was all new. Although her husband bitterly insisted all feminism was from Satan, L excitedly told Cady that “it’s dawn for me, and more light keeps coming.” Cady wrote of her friend: “she’s a dear.” Together they outlined the idea for a book about women’s needs: I. Quest for Power, II. Quest for Balance, III. Quest for Self Esteem, IV. Quest for Romance. They wondered when the time would come for new directions in the Church and “the restoration of all things.”
…..The blank pages in Cady’s diary bore silent witness to her lack of time for reflection. “I have not exercised discipline in keeping the lovely life I so believe in,” she concluded. “Why am I always rushing & if not rushing, feeling guilty that I’m not rushing.” On the worst days, there was “no order and,” she fretted, “no prospect of order. I can not work in bits & pieces, fits & starts.” She felt ground down by the merciless demands of the institutions she served. “I want to live simply,” she insisted, “but I feel I am supporting a huge complex structure of Church responsibility & family responsibility.”
…..She took a short visit to Boston and New York with baby TM and friend Nettie, re-committing herself to a vision of life as it could be. “I asked myself to imagine a day that I would be excited to get out of bed for,” and resolved to “TAKE CHARGE OF MY LIFE.” They spent one afternoon in Manhattan with Deb, bought almond croissants and talked of women’s matters and their own lives. Manhattan seemed glamorous to Cady and far from Pittsburgh, but Deb said she had been walking its streets to exhaustion with her colicky baby as it cried to sleep, adding with usual grit that she wanted not pity, just understanding.
…..During their years in Pittsburgh, Cady occasionally considered resigning her stressful position leading the Ward Relief Society, out of fairness to herself and to her large family. One night she dreamed she was enchained among numberless slaves in ancient Egypt collectively hauling mammoth stone blocks along rollers greased with the blood and gristle of those who weakened and fell. Jolting awake in bed, she again reflected that no institution was justified in building pyramids to itself on the backs and bones of its people. What she did for Church and family must come from her heart. In the freedom of knowing that choice was hers, she assured the Bishop that she would continue to serve.

Pittsburgh 1981-82 croppedApple was a noun. He was every other part of speech too, modifying the hue and grain of family life and adding to its constant tumble of verb. But it was as noun that he best helped the developing family articulate itself, as a dependable substantive amidst the wash and flow of daily chatter. He was the one who helped Mother set table or pick up house when events turned unbearably hectic. When Fox wanted to be a pumpkin for Halloween and spent $1.75 of his own money on fabric, it was Apple who stitched it into a costume using Mother’s sewing machine and helped stuff it in shape with newspaper. When the parents left him in charge one evening and then phoned home, Cam picked up and reported excitedly that Apple was letting them play King and Queen, and she and Weez got to be servants. In a letter to his grandma, Apple mentioned; “I taught Cam how to write her name,” adding, by way of introduction, “I am nine years old, and in 4th grade.”
…..Apple has all my best traits, Father Piano would say, and none of my worst.
…..He asked Apple why he enjoyed scouts.
…..“I want to be an eagle.”
…..“Like me?” asked Father hopefully.
…..That warmed Father Piano’s needy heart.
…..He bought Apple a digital watch downtown, smugly brushing aside a salesman’s warning of functions too complicated for a child. Mother Piano played scrabble with him after school. He read all the Encyclopedia Brown, Great Brain and Choose Your Own Adventure books, slouched in an easy chair or draped along the living room sofa, hair rumpled, oblivious to friends shouting at play outside or calls to dinner.
…..He received his scientist badge after demonstrating at cub pack meeting how ice over a jar of water produces a mist, speaking in such shy mumbles that no one understood. But the Piano parents had no doubts about this son, who was building an interior life of his own, increasingly moved by his own agendas. One Sunday morning, when Father Piano burst intoRed Door his bedroom in his usual pre-Church commotion to hustle everyone into the car and found him on the bed stitching a hole in his Sunday pants with a miniature sewing kit brought back from a business trip, he backed out abashed to await completion of this little task of independence. Growing up seemed natural to this oldest child. The institutions of adulthood, sometimes a prison house to the father, were rather steps in a progression to the son.

north hills wind

Marge Darian to Kathryn, 19810001Pen was the Bishop’s executive secretary and spent Sundays juggling a web of interviews, appointments, and messages in the hectic church corridors, where faces, handshakes, babies crying, greetings, snippets of business all rushed together in stunning confusion, like a pig’s forehead slammed by the slaughter-house mallet. He took a call one evening from an irate Ward officer who excoriated him for forgetting to schedule the Church farm harvest, asking how it felt being responsible for ruin of the welfare crop. Pen hung up, stood over the phone and began to weep, shamed by his failure, while Cady tried to console him, but he lacked any trick of self-approbation and struggled always to feel worthy. Next day, he called in to work, pled emergency, and made the two-hour drive to the farm, determined to effect a rescue. The crop was fine.
…..Just two months after their move in, Cady was called as Relief Society president. “I was stunned,” she wrote her mother of the extra responsibility, but her vision of ministry was strong, and, despite a frantic life, she resolved to do her best. She held a luncheon for single women in the Ward, rising one Saturday at 6:15 a.m. to start the crepes, a soupe du jour, French bread, and jello cheesecake. Her guests arrived at noon, including an elderly lady on dialysis, her skin drained of color, another taking radiation treatments, and one severely ill with lupus. There was a younger sister who had confided to Cady awkward details of her psychotherapy. Several of the women were pitifully poor. One was an alcoholic living in filth. There they all sat. Cady and her counselor labored to make conversation until the room slowly warmed with sisterly feeling, and lonely women lingered on for hours.
…..Cady drove with baby TM all over the North Hills, visiting sisters in need. She shopped for and delivered Church welfare groceries once a week to the B’s. She delivered a meal to Sister L, who had broken her back. Sister Bo. had cardiac problems. She drove Sister Sh to a welfare interview, agreeing to coach her in “eliminating self-defeating behavior.” Sister D who had never learned to drive needed rides to the hospital with her hyperactive son. A woman brought before a Church court asked Cady to attend for support. Sister S, the prior Relief Society President, was sorely depressed and asked Cady to come over and pray with her.
…..“If my own personal life were not healthy,” Cady observed, “I would be depressed.” When she invited a new friend in the Ward to an exercise class at the Spa, the young woman declined, explaining that her husband did not allow her out alone evenings. “I could not BEAR a husband like that,” noted Cady, and reflected that “I am as free as a woman with 6 kids can possibly be.” But she seldom felt she was moving ahead in her life, with “so many peoples’ needs to be met.”
…..She was seized by restlessness and the idea of home both. She often felt “the awful pain of undone duties.” Even with her wallet bare, she insisted one night on dinner out at Pizza Hut, so tired she felt, with “pas de courage de tout.” “Extravagant,” she conceded, “and I think often of how else that $18 could be spent,” but the house was out of order and so filled with noise that the children had to repeat themselves before she heard. Lost in chaos she might be, but “I am enjoying TM so splendidly,” she wrote her mother, and she sometimes even dreamed improbably of more babies. “Complex life I lead.”
…..Pen did his literary reading now on the bus in and out of the city. Initially, he tried carpooling but that soured when his companion blared radio rock, boasted about his job, and led Pen in intense long-stride gallops from the parking lot across the river to the Bank. “Can you imagine Pen’s long legs hurried?” Cady wondered to her mother, blaming the other man for always “staying two steps ahead – competition, huh?”
…..She began to feel their stay in this city was temporary — at least, “I hope so!” she wrote her mother. “At first I wanted this to be home forever, but now I’m feeling strangled by the atmosphere,” adding with chagrin: “of all places – Pittsburgh.”

Spencer draws himself doing flip, Nov 1981  b…..A North Hills wind occasionally rattled Fox. One evening, Father Piano found an envelope on the bed with a note: “Dear Dad,” he read, “I have a problem. I do not have any frends to play with after school and I do not like my toys. What do you think I should do. Write back. Love Fox.”
…..The Piano parents thought Mrs. Jewart’s gym would help, and Fox was soon writing his grandparents: “I traned to do a flip in the air on the Bar.” His slim body and flop of red hair seemed to levitate above the equipment. He chalked his hands at the gym and, at home, walked bare-handed back and forth on Shelley’s yard across the street and did handless flips on grass, tile, and sidewalk. All his antics were gold medals to his parents.
…..In the Piano family, Fox was always hero and minor celebrity, a backyard inventor, explorer, and believer. He was rock collector, then ninja, then red Indian hacking sticks from Father Piano’s row of backyard bushes for a teepee and bow and arrows. When Fox had a birthday sleepover, Father Piano warily monitored as junior celebrants cavorted past midnight and “acted like little wierdos,” but Weez just stood hero-struck on the sidelines, mesmerized by the magical pull of her older brother.
…..His quick heart beat to extremes. When Piano parents announced an ice cream outing, Fox performed hand springs across the kitchen linoleum. On a duller day, punished for some infraction, he gloomily declared that he hated himself and wanted to die, to Father Piano’s consternation. He faced down peers disrupting Father Piano’s junior Sunday school lesson, unhesitatingly loyal to his parent. When he needed money, he tied a loosened tooth to the bathroom door, as his sisters shuddered, and generated the $1 payoff with one bold slam.
…..A year later, he was prematurely advanced to Class 3Red Door competition by his gymnastics coach and, despite Father Piano’s cautions going into the regional meet, confidently awaited the usual recognition as results were announced. But when the ribbons went to older boys in event after event, Fox’s head gradually bowed, desolation over-spread his pale face, and then the tears fell like descent of night. It would prove his last meet, another Pittsburgh casualty.

we are eight

Thatcher, 1981-12-260001 bCady lay dressed all night in her bed, dozing between contractions, with a digital clock on the pillow and her hospital bag packed ready for the rushed drive downtown, but finally with depressed spirits rose to a blank morning with no baby. She saw off disappointed Christmas visitors who had hoped to be present for the advent, then dropped back into bed, this time dreaming restlessly of fantastical dances and acrobatics, while in bed her real body lay motionless, gathering force and intention to separate from its nine-month companion.
…..She woke mid-morning to the household hum of kids with day-old Christmas toys and Pen playing a new game on the computer. She made phone calls, handing off carpool and Relief Society responsibilities, and then, as contractions continued and her obstetrician failed to return calls, just left a message she was headed for the hospital.
…..As soon as Pen checked her in, the contractions stopped. The doctor arrived, measured her at two centimeters, same as at his office the week before, waited a while longer for a contraction and when it finally came pronounced with disapproval: “that’s nothing.” Taking his leave, he suggested she try walking, so Pen escorted her up and down the hospital corridors until finally the contractions re-started.
…..Like a talk show host with an eye on late night ratings, Pen juggled to divert her, employing chat, newspaper snippets, and a smatter of witticisms, as contractions interrupted like commercial breaks. “Pen was a dear,” recalled Cady, who asked him for a blessing. Hoping it would help, Pen laid his hands on her head and, premised on their faith, blessed her with strength and that all would be well. She felt comforted.
…..At 3 centimeters the doctor broke her water, after which each hard contraction seemed to add another centimeter. At six centimeters, he instructed Pen to don hospital scrubs. At seven, he had Cady wheeled into the delivery room, where her legs shook uncontrollably, as each contraction stretched to two minutes and her moans turned guttural. She felt the baby squeeze down the birth canal and began pushing until it seemed her insides would expel from her body. A tip of the baby’s scalp showed. Turning her head to one side and squinching her eyes shut with final effort, she felt at last a “blessed relief” as “the rest of the body slipped out of the canal.” There was an infant cry. “What is it?” she asked. “A boy,” said the doctor, “a perfect boy,” and held up a blue baby. Reading Cady’s anxious face, a nurse quickly added: “he’ll turn pink, give him time.” Then the doctor delivered the placenta and stitched up the tears.
…..TM was born at 8:42 p.m. on the day after Christmas. Cady felt peaceful, blessed, and “rich, very rich.”
…..In the recovery room, a nurse brought a nine-pound bundle with plump cheeks and a knit cap covering reddish fuzz. Cady gazed at him chew his fingers or hold agape his mouth in search of something. “Lucky baby,” thought Cady, with “two parents and many brothers and sisters” to love him. Pen expansively predicted he “will grow to be a noble man”; a few weeks later, holding him before the Church, he would bless the infant that nothing would have power to block God’s purposes for him in this life.
…..They mailed out a birth announcement starting: “We are eight. . . .” At last now, the family was complete. Each of them had become part of its common destiny. Though they would soon be divided by distance and absence, the daily rush of events, and newer ties, yet they would remain united by shared origins and affirming intimacies experienced from earliest memory. Each of them individually would feel the isolating flash of desire and ambition, the stirrings of knowledge, the individual euphorias; each would also suffer the bruise of misfortune, the eclipse of hope, and even in rare circumstance bear witness to the sometimes murderous voices of the world or stand helpless before the harsh rebuke of powers that break asunder will and intent. Yet in the end almost without awareness each would remain linked to the others in comforting embrace.

Family Drawing0001Everyone wanted something at Christmas. Father Piano wanted to be at the center of family ruckus, the xmas bough with loudest ornaments. Mornings he charged from bedroom to bedroom, awaking kids with little trumpet sounds of reveille that drove everyone mad and totally awake. He tried dominating table talk to capture the air waves, like noise-cancelling headphones neutralizing the whine and blare of family. Taking Cat with him to home teach some Church families, he asked her complacently as they drove, did she like her Dad? “Oh, all right,” replied Cat on the front seat beside him, unplugging her sucked thumb with a moist plop, “but when Mom is home she reads us stories. When you come home, you just get a treat and eat it right in front of us.” Startled, Father Piano tried to remember doing that.
…..The things the Piano kids knew they wanted could be put on a Christmas list. For Apple, it was cooking gear, because “Dad, Fox, and me might go on a camping trip in the summer, and we (the whole family) might go to Salt Lake City to visit grandpa Spencer Kimball.” For Fox, it was a sleeping bag, also meant for Father Piano’s camping trip. Cat wanted “a doll for Christmas, one that cries.” Cam and Weez wanted pretend refrigerators and pretend groceries.
…..Other things they wanted were on no list and harder to place under a Christmas tree. For the boys, it was achievement and mastery. “Since you asked,” wrote Apple to the grandparents, “I’m doing pretty good at school. . . . I gotRed Door the most ‘A’s’ on my report card in the class.” Fox wrote them: “I can do the split all the way down. I can do a cartwheel perfect.“
…..What the little girls needed was further below the surface still, but no different: affirmations of a central place in the world for their desires.
…..Mother Piano experienced her dearest wish in a delivery room the day after Christmas.