Thursday, July 22, 2010

Missing Mrs. Gibson

When I was a five year old with red ponytails, I took the first of many treks up the hill to Cal State Long Beach. I was excited to take my very first piano lesson with Leaine Gibson. Lessons were very exciting. Not only did I get to walk past rehearsal rooms filled with music-making, I got to play in a room with music staff chalkboards. And of course, there was the piano. I don't remember not playing the piano, and I can't remember how I felt about the first time I played. I just know that I quickly learned to love the piano and to love Mrs. Gibson.

I loved lessons at CSULB and I loved lessons at her house in Long Beach. I loved her vast collections of miniatures and books. I loved her cats. I loved talking to her about everything and anything going on in my life. I loved thinking I convinced her that I'd worked really hard on a piece I was sightreading until she said, "That was nice sightreading. How would that have sounded if you'd practiced it?" I didn't love that if I forgot my music (on purpose) she'd have a copy so I'd have to play anyway. I loved our recitals. I loved the receptions in her backyard after our recitals. And I loved knowing that she cared about me even more than she cared about my playing.

She had her quirks. One October day when I was in high school, I drove to Fullerton College to meet her for a lesson. We met in the parking lot and because it was close to Halloween, she handed me a feathered mask. She put on her own, and we walked to the music building wearing our masks. My 17 year old self was mortified. College boys might see me. But she wasn't about to let me get away with holding it. I was going to wear the darned thing.

She influenced my political choices. She influenced my reading. She influenced my love of specific composers. (I didn't, however, remain in love with miniatures. Or cats.)

Even after I graduated from high school, I would take lessons from her during the summer. Even after I married David, I would take lessons from her when we'd visit. And even after Josh was born, she helped fulfill one of my life-long dreams when she recommended me to be soloist for a concert with the Fullerton Symphony Orchestra.

I honestly don't know who I'd be without my years and years of time with this dear woman.

A few days before Brent died, a friend of hers called to let me know that Leaine had had a stroke and was on hospice care. She had moved to Washington to be with her daughter, so I knew that saying goodbye wasn't an option. I was devastated and so regretful. Our letters had never stopped going back and forth, but their frequency had lessened over the years. The idea that she wouldn't be available to me as a mentor or friend hadn't really crossed my mind. I just assumed she'd be there, always ready to send me a piece she'd fallen in love with, some quotes about music or animals, or a picture of Katherine Hepburn (she always said I looked like her.)

And then, while still in California after the funeral, I got the news that Mrs. Gibson had died one week after Brent, and that her memorial service would be held on July 24, back in California at the church where I had won my first competition, the church where I had listened to her play so many recitals. I was so sad not to be able to be there.

And then her family asked me to play. And I couldn't not be there. So tomorrow I fly to California to remember Mrs. Gibson, to play her one last piece. I am honored to be included.

I will play her some Mompou. We both loved Mompou. She liked to try to trick me with composers and introduce me to new ones whenever possible. One visit, she asked me to guess the composer as she played a piece. I think she was both disappointed AND thrilled when I knew it was Mompou.

These last few weeks have been full of heartache and love and gratitude. Loss seems to be around every corner. But I am so very very grateful for the time I've had with these dear ones I've lost.

Leaine's friend Pat read me this Edna St. Vincent Millay poem over the phone as we talked about how much we miss Leaine. I'm afraid that I wept and wept as she read, and that even now, writing it out, I wept again. I guess I've learned (and it is a much harder lesson than any of my piano lessons ever were. Even the ones I didn't practice for.) that although the reality of eternal life and eventual reunion is deep in my heart, the initial stages of grief for me block out that reality for a time. For now, I feel mostly the loss. The hope for our eventual reunion is there, but it is muted. I believe that with time, this will be reversed, but for now, I'm accepting the daily grief and waiting for the relief.

I am not resigned to the loss of my dear Mrs. Gibson, or my dear Brent. But I am grateful for the beauty of the hours I spent loving them. I am grateful for how my life was gently shaped because of knowing them.

Dirge without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,--but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, --
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the blossoms in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave,
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.


Chris W. said...

A wonderful and moving tribute, Kerri. I'm so glad you had such an extraordinary mentor, and I'm so sorry for your loss.

Gaylene said...

I love the mask story--I think had that been me, I would have been just as mortified. Please one day sit and write a book, your stories and memories are wonderful. I would even buy a copy!

Malisa said...

Lovely. She sounds like she was quite the teacher.

tonandboys said...

This is just absolutely beautiful! To touch the lives of others in such a profound way...what could ever be so meaningful in life.