Ginormous Blessings Come in Wee Little Boxes

A re-post… In honor of my sweet momma. Happy Departure Day ~ I miss you with all my heart.

We sat in the front row. The musicians were so close we could hear their breath punctuating each masterful bow stroke and see the rosin fly from the horsehair in wispy puffs as the friction coerced the notes from the strings. The music was sublime and it connected us—my mom and me—for that hour and a half, in a way that I could not have imagined in that moment.

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Table-With-A-View

Our favorite spot on the Trinity River. Can you guess why?

As much as Mike and I love music, you wouldn’t think we would be such infrequent concertgoers. It was by happenstance that we wandered into a Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival concert this last July, that was going on at the Strawhouse Café (our favorite coffee spot on the Trinity River). We couldn’t stay, but were very impressed and stoked to find out that the festival was ongoing for several weeks during the summer, and that there was another concert scheduled the following weekend.

“My mom would love this!” I said to Mike.

“You should call her and invite her to come down and go,” he confirmed.

My mom who turned eighty-one this year, and still fairly spry, remained mostly a home body, so I was surprised that she accepted my invitation to come down from her little house in Trinity Center and have a girl’s night out with me.

As was typical for her, when Friday came, she called and said that she wasn’t sure she wanted to come—long drive, didn’t want to impose by staying over, blah, blah, blah.

“Mom, just pack up your bag and come on down. We are expecting you and I will be disappointed if you stand me up.”

“Oh, Kathy. You are so one way.” She ribbed me. “Okay, I’ll come.”

Even after dinner her curl-up-on-the-couch instincts kicked in.

“Are you sure you don’t want to just stay here and watch a movie together?” (she meant snooze)

I knew that given the choice, she would always prefer to just hang with her kids and chat without any outside interference. But somehow I knew that we just had to make it to this concert. I knew that we would be sorry if we missed it.

“Mom, we are going to this concert.” I’m a real bossy-pants with my mom sometimes.

“You can be so obstreperous, Kathy.” She loved her fifty-cent words (Merriam Webster’s, not the rapper’s).

I could tell she was a little nervous as we made the long trek to the front of the auditorium. It was a long way back to the ladies’ room. We settled in our seats, and she reached over and held my hand.

“I’m glad we came.” She confessed.

When the music began, Borodin: String Quartet No. 2, I could feel her grip on my hand tighten. I looked over at her, her face beaming, her eyes sparkling. I was glad we came too. I squeezed back three times, I-love-you, it meant—our little signal from as far back as I can remember.

As the final note of the first number faded into silence, the room was hushed and reverent for a beat before we took a collective breath.

“Sweet.” My mom said aloud to the musicians, as if they and she were the only ones in the room. The audience burst into an agreeing tumult of applause.

And on it went. Each number more intoxicating than the last, and I could feel my mom’s pleasure next to me.

You see, my mom’s love for music (and in turn, mine) runs deep. Her mother was a piano teacher who saw to it that both her daughters received formal training.

Laura-Anne Liechti 1943

Mom – 1945

My mom, who bristled at the discipline required, was endowed with an extraordinary gift and until marrying age, studied to become a concert pianist under the masterful instruction of Alma Schmidt-Kennedy at her prestigious studio in Berkeley. When faced with the choice between marriage, children and family life, and the rigors of a professional career in music, she opted for the former.

My family, however, reaped the benefits of Mom’s continued passion for her music. Many a night I was serenaded to sleep by her playing—drifting off with melodic strains of Chopin, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff swirling around me. Her playing was magical, not just because she had technical ability, but because it issued forth from her soul with exquisite interpretive voice.

It wasn’t until the last several years that mom’s body started refusing to cooperate when she had the hankering to play. She ruminated often about her regret at having let her gift dwindle from lack of use. She told me that she would sometimes wake herself up in the middle of the night, her fingers tapping on her tummy as she played in her dreams. Sometimes she would just get up and play.

Over the last few years, as I watched her struggle to find the notes, her fingers stiff and back aching, I couldn’t help begging her to play for me anyway—I just couldn’t get enough. She always resisted with great fervency. She couldn’t stand that it was a fight to reach the notes. “Oh, I just can’t play anymore.” Or “I haven’t practiced, it will be awful.” Or “My nails are too long.”

Then she would finally give in and play—tearfully—telling me that the music, as she hears it in her head, is so beautiful that it makes her weep. She had an intimacy with the notes that was rare and astounding. It was hard to see it winding down, but I longed to watch and hear her none-the-less.

***

We sat in the front row holding hands. Connected by the music and our love. I was bossy and she was her usual sweet placating self, and we were both so happy to have come. I could not imagine that two weeks later, she would be gone.

Mom and me Spring 2012

Mom and me, Spring 2012

Now, that night is a precious memory that is my treasure to keep tucked away in my heart. One that Love saw fit to bestow upon me in all graciousness, one that will forever make the listening bittersweet and the color of my life just a little more vibrant.


In memory of my sweet, sweet mom, Laura-Anne Liechti.

March 28, 1931 – August 3, 2012

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