After my first piano lesson was over, I walked to Dad's office. It seems as if it happened yesterday. But I was a five-year-old kid then. Now, I'm bigger, taller, and eleven.
Also, there've been a lot of changes. One thing that hasn't changed is my piano teacher: It's still Mrs. Majewski. And she's one of the nicest persons in this whole, wide world.
Instead of walking, I ride my Schwinn across the city's new bridge that crosses the stinky Wisconsin River, filled with carp and mud puppies. The piano book I now have is John Thompson's Intermediate.
Also, Mrs. Majewski and her husband moved into a much larger house next door. It used to belong to her mother. She died.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. I left that fellow with a patch over his eye and other workers who were removing old road bricks from Grand Avenue. "Their primary tools are strong backs and muscle mass," said Dad.
"Muscles have mass? I thought Catholics only have mass.”
"That's not the mass I talking about. They have to work their muscles all day long with those heavy, steel pry bars and shovels in order to break those old bricks loose from the original roadbed."
"Bed? A road can't go to sleep, can it?"
Dad just laughed.
The quiet lady librarian at the public library told me those bricks have been there for over fifty years. Which means they were made into a road before 1900 in the horse and buggy days.
As I passed by a couple more taverns on my right, I saw something across the avenue that made me stop. Laughing old men, all holding brown bottles of beer, were watching something in front of the Brown Derby tavern. No doubt about it, those old guys were enjoying themselves.
Three of them sat on wood folding chairs they must've set up on the sidewalk. Two of their friends sat close by on stairs that led to second story apartments where retired railroad bachelors live. At least, that's what Mother told me.
A few of the men were bald and the others had gray or white hair. And because there were no ladies sitting with them, I figured Mother was right: They were bachelors.
And what were they watching? The same thing that caught my eyes: A white with gray spots, low-to-the-ground, kind of ugly, English bulldog. The reason I say it was kind of ugly is due to its big head, short legs, squished in nose, and bottom teeth sticking out above its lower lip.
He picked up from the sidewalk what I thought was a steel bar. He did so with the aid of those bottom teeth. Now, with its head up, the bar was in its mouth between both jaws. A moment later, it jerked its head straight up and at the very same time, backed away.
The bar fell to the sidewalk. "Brrrrrrrrrrriiiiiinnnnnng," it sang out
That's when those men laughed long and hard. Then, they quieted down and took another swig of beer. Next, they stared at that darned dog and waited. Finally, once again, that dog picked up the steel bar, jerked it into his mouth, flipped its head, backed off, and let that darned thing drop. "Brrrrrrrrrriiiiiinnnnng."
The men laughed and laughed. Even I started to laugh.
That dog and those men kept it up for a long, long time. I so wanted to cross the street to get closer to them. But there were too many cars on the road. Besides, the corner was a long way off. I was taught to only cross streets at the corner of a city block.
So, I continued on my way. The next tavern on my right was owned by Johnny Nelson's uncle. His hair was also auburn. And he was a nice man. He was standing in front of the tavern's front door. "You're Gordy, Johnny's friend, aren't you?"
"I thought I recognized you. What you doing on this side of the river?"
I lifted my John Thompson piano book.
"When did you start playing the piano?"
"Today. I can find Middle C." I opened to page four and showed him the picture of the keys. "See, that's Middle C."
"Well, that's something. Johnny's sister, Judy, takes piano lessons, too."
"Yeah, I know that."
"Where you heading?"
"Dad's office. He's going to give me a ride home. "
A man from inside the tavern popped his head out the door. "Hey, how about a beer? We're getting thirsty in here.".
Johnny's uncle smiled. "Gotta go. Guess I got some thirsty customers inside. Have a good day, Gordy."
Next up were some more railroad tracks. Our town has plenty. Once I crossed them, I knew what the next big building on my right was: City Hall. It's across from the Gas Company. That's where the mayor's office is. And also the police Chief's.
Chief Rudolph "Rudy" Exner is our chief. A lot of kids make fun of him, Louie Abler, especially. "He's so dumb," says Louie. "If his cops find a body in the river, chains wrapped around it, along with heavy anchors, the Daily Tribune will have a front page story that states, "Man's body found in river, chained, weighted down with heavy anchors. Chief Exner suspects foul play." Louie spends the next minute and a half laughing. "Suspects. Rudy's so dumb."
I laugh along with Louie.
Anyway, I walked by City Hall and soon saw the A&P on my right in the middle of the block. I was getting close to Dad's office. I crossed the street at the corner. Only one more block to go. And guess what? Mister Daly, the man who owns Daly Music Store, was standing in front of his store.
"Well, if it isn't young Mister Hoffman—and you're carrying a piano book. Were you at Mrs. Majewski's?"
"Yes. How'd you know?"
"She's the only teacher who lives down that way." He pointed the direction. "Besides, she has the good sense to use John Thompson. How are you and your Wurlitzer spinet getting along?"
"Good. I know where Middle C is. And it's followed by D, E, F, and G." I lifted my right hand and hit the make believe keys with my thumb and four fingers.
"Good for you. When can I attend your first recital?
I shrugged. I didn't know what a recital was.
"Well, if you keep on practicing, I'm sure you'll someday be in a recital or on WFHR radio on Saturday mornings."
"I have to go," I said. I still didn't understand what he was talking about.
Just beyond Daly's is the First National Bank. It's on a corner. That's where we bank. And across the street is Church's drugstore. Above Church's is Dr. Spaeth's office. He's a dentist and a good friend of Dad's. Down the hall from Dr. Spaeth is Dad's office. So, I was almost there.
I know it's the National Bank because it has the large outside clock on the corner. Our other bank, the Wood County Bank, doesn't have a clock on its corner. Anyway, we don't bank there.
The First National's clock is really loud when it goes "Bong" at the top of every hour. And guess what? It bonged three times, which meant it was three O'Clock.
So, I wasn't late. I waited for the "Walk" sign to light up. Next up: Dad's office. I'll write about that tomorrow, not now. I'm tired.