27 Sep / The missed pick-up
When I was a child, my parents paid for me to have a piano lesson every week. This wasn’t because of my breathtaking musical ability, or because I foresaw a future in which I’d be using those lessons every day. Much like algebra, as soon as I stopped learning piano I never really used it again.
I paid the piano teacher the grand total of 50c per lesson for four years until she unjustly jacked up the price to $1 per lesson, and I paid that instead. When I say paid, I do actually mean Mum or Dad would give me a 50c piece or a dollar note and I would hand it over at the end of the lesson.
My brain did occasionally wander to thoughts about what would happen if I didn’t hand over the money. After all, what could she do? Take back the lesson? On the other hand, it was nice to have somewhere special to go on Wednesday nights. A feeling that stayed on board long after any genuine interest in playing piano had gone.
At the end of each lesson, having parted with the equivalent of a week’s worth of pocket money, I’d walk out to the front of the house and down to the corner, then wait for Dad to stop by and pick me up on his way home.
Although having a young child waiting alone at night seems strange now, it felt perfectly normal at the time. So what if my lesson ended at 5.30pm and the sun sets in winter at 4.45pm? Waiting alone by the side of a busy street on a dark night never hurt any… oh wait. Never mind.
So this particular night I was waiting there, a bit cold and a bit bored, and I saw Dad’s car driving along the road. I stepped right up to the edge of the street to make it easier for him to see me, and watched him drive straight past.
Now, as an adult I understand that grownups have other things on their minds. Almost constantly on their minds, sometimes even to the exclusion of really good TV.
Back then though, I just made the natural assumption that my family no longer wanted me and I was going to die out on the street in the dark. Maybe, if I was fortunate, my piano teacher would let me into her warm house for another piano lesson, but that was a minimum of a week away.
There was a police station across the road where my introverted self definitely didn’t want to bother anybody, and my house was only a half-hours walk away if I’d known enough about routes and directions to work out where to go. (Warning: I still hold up my hands to work out left from right and still think of this as a giant step forward in my navigation skills)
Of course, it all worked out okay. When my mother called out for me to set the table it soon became apparent I wasn’t there, and a simple chain of logic led my father back into the car to pick me up from outside my piano lesson.
Mum later complained that if SHE’D forgotten to collect me she wouldn’t have heard the end of it, whereas Dad just received a cautious hug when he eventually arrived. What I didn’t say was that I was on my best behavior in case my first instinct was correct and the whole family wanted shot of me (except for table-setting duties, obviously).
My father died on Thursday and I don’t know why, but this memory has been stuck in my brain ever since. I lived in the same house with Dad for twenty-one years, worked beside him day-in and day-out for another twelve, yet the only anecdote I have rattling around in my brain is this one.
Maybe it’s because Dad has once again gone whizzing off into the night and this time I’ll be missing him for a lot longer than the hour it’ll take until tea is served.
Goodbye, Dad. I love you.