The man’s steps slowed, and he hesitated at the unknown road leading off to the right.
Silver-haired and of normal build, he wore casual, comfortable, neutral-colored clothes, for he usually walked as weather and schedule permitted. He stood for a moment, eyeing the safe, regular, normal route leading straight ahead.
That was his usual route.
Musing, he sipped steaming coffee from the travel mug he always filled before leaving his house. Thoughtfully interested in this lane he’d never before noticed, he chose adventure and discovery over normalcy.
Wonder where this goes? I never noti–I mean, how many times have I walked this road? Might as well check it out. Might be interesting.
Unbidden and subvocally the whisper of Grace said deep within him, “You have no idea . . .” He heard nothing. His subconscious did. His eyebrows briefly met as he hesitated just for a few seconds, slanting his eyes leftward at the road he regularly walked. Shrugging off the strange feeling that washed over him, his left hand lightly brushed the Benchmade folding knife he never went anywhere without as he turned to his right and started along the unknown road.
On the breeze, he thought he heard, faintly, ‘Blessed Assurance’ being played on a piano. Shrugging, he stepped off to the right.
As he walked, jumbled thought-fragments and memory-Post-Its piled haphazardly in Granger’s mind like a miscellaneous load of laundry waiting to come out of the dryer.
The whisking of weeds and the occasional small tree branch against his faded, broken-in cargo pants reminded him of boyhood explorations.
His muscles tensed as a wheat-colored grasshopper approximately big enough for a collar broke cover from the grass and weeds growing between the twin dirt tracks. The bright yellow of its wings reminded him of the big, black, red-winged ones he remembered from childhood – the ones that sounded too much like an irate rattlesnake for comfort.
As he strolled along the dusty road, his mind paralleled its gentle winding contours. His thoughts alternately ambled and gamboled like a curious pup, some–There’s that piano music again . . . “Lookin’ for fun, and feelin’ groo-vy”– specifically pointed and others softly shaded, just as the budding trees dappled his form with sunlight and shadows while he casually watched and walked.
The sight of a half-fallen, rusted barbed-wire fence reminded him of the weathered, broken sections of fence he and his father had taken down, saving the staples in an old Folgers coffee can, and cutting up the greyed, splintered posts for firewood . . . “When It’s Springtime In The Rockies”
He glimpsed the remnants of an old railroad track, weed-overgrown and rust-dulled, which brought memories of the girl for whom he’d registered his heart in Heaven as they one day walked together along the tracks on the way to school . . . “You ask me if there’ll come a time I won’t require you–“
An ancient, cracked bit of pavement staggered off to a diagonal left, generating fond memories of him and his boyhood pals riding their bikes to new adventures wherever unexplored roads led them . . .
The William Tell Overture? Someone is playing a piano out here somewhere. Shaking his head, he walked on.
A huge old weeping willow tree caused a wide grin of recollection as he remembered him and his chums playing for hours in just such a tree (or B-17 bomber or USS Nautilus or Fort Apache or–) in one of their yards . . . There it is again. Seriously? The theme from “12-O’Clock High”?
He saw off in the distance through the trees what looked to be a rambling old barn, weathered and warped, board-bare and leaning to the left. A long-seeing stare settled in his face as he recalled the equally-weathered, massive old wooden church camp tabernacle where he’d driven down some spiritual surveyor’s stakes as he and God came to terms – and where he’d met his lifelong companion.
Speaking of campmeeting, there’s that piano again. That’s–that’s “TOTAL PRAISE!” I’m sure I heard it, but there’s nothing, no one out here. Granger remembered as a teenager, sitting and plunking on that old, rough upright grand piano that seemed to have grown into the wooden platform . . .
He was so pleasantly rapt in the richness, the reliving color and vibrancy of his memories that he didn’t at first notice the dual symmetry and wide opening of the overgrown gate. Giving his head a quick shake, he stood for a minute, looking at the brickwork. Someone who was very good at it laid these bricks.
“They sure did.” It took a split second for him to realize he’d spoken out loud, which made him chuff softly through his nose. Those who spend long hours in solitude often find themselves speaking inner thoughts aloud. He grinned at the idea of him vocally agreeing with his usual quiet self.
His eyes swept the inlaid metal embellishments, hinges, and imposing gates, equally overgrown with weeds and vines, yawning open. Their weathered gray-green patina and vacant openness was an eloquent shrug. “Come in if you wish.”
He grinned again at his immediate response when he looked up beyond the gate and saw the old house. “Oh, I wish!” —And a little clearer now, he heard “Come On In, There’s Still Room In The Family” by Gold City. He thought again, Okay, somebody can really play the piano! Where in the world there’d be one out here, though . . .
He walked slowly along a winding lane. His steps automatically faltered as he took in what was once a lovely two-storied home with an imposing tower on its right side, emerging from the shrubs and decorative trees that had shielded it from view.
Granger’s imagination began to unconsciously list scenarios, poignant vignettes of who once lived there, what they were like, what they did. In his high school days, he’d taken architectural drafting, so he admired the lines, the enriching detail that spoke of a loving, exacting hand.
The colors of sidings, shingles, and beautifully-mitered and trimmed window frames had faded across time into a gentle soft-edged camouflage that shifted as he walked closer. This was one gorgeous house in its day. Once again, the subvocal words of Grace quietly purred: “I was more than a beautiful house; I was home to some truly amazing people.”
Granger stood still, listening with spirit ears. There were no further words, no sound at all — except for what sounded like a little child playing Chopsticks on a piano. Yet how can that be? Then there was nothing more, yet the silence was comfortable, companionable – as if the stillness was a lovingly-woven welcome mat.
Stepping carefully up the four risers to an expansive veranda, he probed cautiously for loose or rotten boards, dodging around a hole and ducking the magnificent web of a beautifully-made-up garden spider. Admiring her, he said, “Enjoy your breakfast, old girl. You’ve worked hard and earned the meal.”
Granger stood at the threshold, looking through the door into the dust-carpeted entryway. Other than the slender legs of a broken chair over in a corner, and wind-swept leaves and assorted plant life, the rooms he could see from the doorway were bare. Glancing to his left, he admired the beautifully-faceted glass panes of the sagging door. He stepped inside, once again sensing a thrill, an unsettled yet warm feeling. Old buildings have stories . . .
Standing quietly just inside the wide, carved front door, Granger let his mind and spirit do a scan, sweeping slowly through what was once such a lovely home. By habit, he silently thought, “Lord, what joys and laughter lived here? What enriching relationships happened in these rooms? Who were the amazing men and women who made this stunning building their home?”
Curious, he walked quietly on into what must have been a welcoming room, for an even larger room opened off to the left, beneath one side of a sweeping staircase. To the right, a doorway led to what must have been for it’s day a gourmet kitchen. He started to step inside when he heard Claire de Lune being softly played on a piano.
I knew I heard a piano! But how— Where? I’ve never seen this place before, never knew it existed, and it’s obvious nobody’s lived here for—well, ever.
Backing out of the kitchen, he stepped across into what he figured was once the formal living room. His eyes swept the room, seeing large multi-paned casement windows, mostly unbroken, that flooded the huge room with light. Again, Granger mused at the social events that once made this place ring with laughter and excited talk and—
There it was. Toward the back of the immense room, standing alone, was a exquisitely carved old grand piano. It was hard to tell what its original color was under all the accumulated dust and debris, but it seemed to have been a rich chocolate color. Dust, dirt, and assorted wind-borne stuff covered the keys. There was no bench.
Granger stood reverently. He remembered every time in his life when God seamlessly wove Time and Timelessness into an unforgettable encounter, either by himself, or through him to someone else. Every time one of those strange melds happened, he felt his faith surge. He felt his will to live on as God’s man more empowered.
There hasn’t been any water or electricity to this place for at least, I don’t know, forty years? Fifty? A hundred? And there’s nothing else out here that could explain the piano music I heard on my way here. As unlikely – okay, impossible – as it seems, the music I heard, both sacred and secular, came from . . .
Granger looked around to his left, refocusing his eyes on the dirty, scuffed, dinged old piano.
. . . That.
Turning to check the rest of the old house, he glanced at his watch. He’d spent almost four hours immersing himself in what he was sure was a piece of history; it was past time for him to be getting back to his office.
Outside again, he turned once he was out in the lane far enough, took his phone out, and got a couple of pictures of the house. He figured he could get pics of the interior – and especially the piano – when he came back. And, oh yes, he was definitely coming back.
Once seated in his chair, Granger decided to ask Sparks, his cop friend, about the property where the old house stood. Firing up his laptop, he pulled up his phone’s picture gallery to transfer the two pictures of the house onto his compu—
Okay, that’s odd. Where are those two pictures? Weird.
He called Sparks and asked him about the property. The deputy was silent for a few seconds, then asked, “Property? That’s county land as far as I know. And I’ve never heard of the road you’re talking about. Tell ya what, I’m just getting off shift, so why don’t I swing by and pick you up, and you can show me where you were.”
Sparks drove them out to where Granger usually walked, and they stopped and got out. Granger said, “See, right over there is that road I—” Baffled, he cast his eyes all around, seeing nothing but weeds and rotten fenceposts.
Sparks stood watching. He’d been with Granger a time or two when things nobody could rationally explain had happened; he knew better than to rib his older friend. The deputy understood: Granger had some very close, unusual ties with God – and when things like this happened, there was always a reason, even when the explanation was delayed.
On the way back to Granger’s office, Sparks respected his mentor’s silence as he processed the day’s events. Pulling his patrol Charger up in front of Granger’s building, he sat and waited. Granger soon looked up.
“People of every era believe theirs to be both the best and worst. In both ways, they’re right. What distinguishes them during their own lifetimes is which outlook occupies most of their thoughts. Those who see nothing but life’s worst only build temporary things, hold temporary jobs, leave nothing of value in their wake, and generally die unhappy.”
He waited to see if Sparks was following, then continued.
“It’s the others who build houses like the one I saw, who live and love and laugh in those amazing rooms I was admiring – and who make majestic instruments like that stunning grand piano. They always leave things that outlive them, and their lives while here are full of music, of creativity, and packed with blessings – because they choose to look for those values.”
Sparks sat there, absorbing Granger’s analysis. “Okay. That’s some heavy stuff, there, pardner. But how do you explain all the piano music you heard?”
Granger looked into his friend’s eyes, then his expanded into Middle Space as he half smiled and answered,” I haven’t a clue. Some things God holds close to His chest.”
Long after Granger went inside and closed the door, the young deputy sheriff sat there thinking. After ten minutes had passed, he was no closer to figuring it out than before. Still quiet, he shifted his ride into “D” and headed into what was turning out to be one of the most lovely sunsets he’d ever noticed.
© D. Dean Boone, April 2020