Longview Memoirs: Martha Brewster, Part II

The works of the Longview Memoirs were authored by residents of Longview, a senior living community with close ties to Ithaca College. Run by Ithaca College professor Marella Feltrin-Morris, the workshop occurs every spring.

Design by Jared Dobro

My Mother… Your Voice

by Martha Brewster

You are sitting at the parlor piano, the old latticed front piano. You are twelve years old. You are trying to play the piano, practice your lesson. I know you hate to practice. You told me so. You were never good at it, could not carry a tune. Your sister came along and mastered the repertoire beautifully— Czerny, Bach, Mozart, all the greats. She was a whiz at the piano, at most everything else she tackled. Mastery. Then you married a jazz musician. He played by ear of course, a soft mellow piano. All would gather around him. He never had to speak, only play. The heart of the party. And you? You talked with everyone. Mastery? It was people whom you touched, and when you died you should have seen the letters from your friends, and read them. Who were you, really, really? Tell me now. I have long outlived you, a strange thing for a daughter to do. You left me, yes, I said left me when I was barely in my early twenties and your other children were in their teens. I want to know who you were, and are, what bubbled and perked behind your snappy dancing deep brown eyes, what went through your head under those auburn curls.

I have caught you for a moment on that piano bench, not to waste an agonizing scale from you with plenty of mistakes, but to hear the song inside you, uninterrupted, uncensored, free and open to the world.

We have so many years to catch up on, and we will. We have hours and hours now, to put the laborious piano exercises aside, to sit and have tea. We can put the piano exercises aside. (Your Mother will not come to the door and say, “Anna, I don’t hear you playing. One half hour more that will be.”)

You and I have time. All the time in the world. Ma, I have been given a challenge all my own to try to do. It is an age-old exercise like the Czerny scales, perhaps, hopefully, more creative and liberating. It is simply for me to tell you who I am and for you to tell me who you are. How do we do that? How do we even begin? And why do we do this? Because I have been told it is a beginning…. A beginning of what? How to set a pathway, a direction for a life to be lived. I cannot say it right. You know what I mean, like setting a goal so that when you complete it, the exercise, the goal, just like your practice of the scales, you can paste a gold star into your practice book and say, “There, that’s done!”

No, Ma. It’s more than an exercise. I want to know who you are and who I am.

I am back to how do we do that. Play the game, “I am” with me, until we run out of road. You start first. Your Mother will not be back for a while to check on you to see if you have finished those first three scales.

Ready. Get set. Go. You are first.

I am a child hating to play the piano.

I am unable to carry a tune.

I am one who does love music.

I am young and dying of breast cancer.

I am married to a jazz musician.

I am the mother of three children.

I am a good friend.

I cannot do this, my dear, it is too structured, stiff, compartmentalizing.

Go on, Mother, give it a try.

I am kind. I am generous. I am loving. I am funny. I am feisty. I am a great conversationalist. That means I am a good listener also. I am a very hard worker. I am faithful. I am kind, I am loving. I am going round and round, my dear.

Let’s stop playing this scale.

Mother, let me tell you who you are to me.

You are the earth, made of earth.

You are the sky made of stars.

You are a warm embrace around me, wrapping my skirt all torn, which you made for me.

You are a funny joke

A wry smile

A depressed slump in a chair

A night cap in your hand, spectacles on your nose, newspaper on the floor, your auburn hair thinned, and turned to gray

A scar on your left chest where your breast used to be

A letter in the mail to me, multiplied by a thousand or more which you faithfully wrote to me when we were apart

A brilliant mathematician

Cloistered in a log cabin

A friend to many

Later to die in a big city hospital on the day our president Kennedy was inaugurated.

Where can I find you now? You have left the practicing room. You are no longer there. No tedious scales for you anymore.

Where can I find you now?

On a little slip of paper, your voice, deep and rich and sweet chocolate brown, telling me that you live on and that I must write your story.

My story, too. We will get to that later.

Right now, the piano bench is empty. You have left the room. I am looking for you. Play the game of Who am I? with me, won’t you, please?

I am listening.

Far off, in the next room, I can hear you singing.

A deep rich dark bittersweet chocolate voice.

You can carry a tune, after all.

Martha K. Brewster

West Virginian-born Mountain Mama to four children and seven grandchildren. Until the end of World War II, Martha’s childhood was spent in the Panama jungle with her parents and in the country of Costa Rica with its volcanoes. Tango dancing marriage partner with husband priest for 56 years and now lonely widow for three years, and an aging old boarding school resident at Longview in Ithaca since 2018.

A teacher in many different schools and family and marriage counselor for 25 years, a Hospicare volunteer for 16 years, a conservationist of land at Green Pastures Farm for 30 years, and celebrating 83 years on this planet, still planting flowers, conserving the earth, delighting in bird song, treasuring family and friendships, watching clouds, listening to leaves falling, looking for the peace bird and someday nesting near her beloved at Greensprings by the giant oak tree reaching for the stars.

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