The piano

As I walked alone the other day in the neighborhood where we raised our family, a memory of Barry popped into my mind. Two years ago, I would not let myself remember anything. It was just too painful and confusing to remember happy times. But now I like it when memories — good or bad — pop into my mind out of the blue.

As I walked by, I remembered how much fun the kids had in that house at the end of the private drive. Barry and I had fun in the big house, too. Lots of fun! I was thinking about the holidays as I looked down the long driveway to see if the new owners had Christmas lights on the bushes like we always did. I could just make out the bay window we had in the living room. Those windows created an alcove in the living room that Barry decided was a perfect spot for a piano. We both agreed that the kids should take lessons. He had sold his company by then and was just finishing up a year or so of working for the people who now owned it.

Before too long, he was working with me at home full time. He stopped cutting his hair, grew a bread and vowed never to wear a suit again! He bought a cool log desk for his office, wore a ponytail and took over a lot of the kid-raising responsibilities. I have to admit it took me some time to get used to having him around all day. I enjoyed the quiet of the house when everyone was gone. My dog Lily and I had a pretty good time hanging out all day, just the two of us! But soon we got used to Barry being around.

Barry threw himself into the kids’ soccer clubs and eventually became the president their ski team. He was a really busy guy, so busy sometimes that he forgot to work on my business. But I was able to concentrate on my books so I didn’t mind too much.

One evening months after we had bought a beautiful small grand piano, Barry told me he wanted to take piano lessons. He said it had always been his dream to play piano at parties. I remember his excitement as he talked about his dream. He imagined himself sitting down at the piano and playing Beatle songs or a jazz medley! I listened, but felt a little sorry for him. I know too well about piano lessons. My poor mother nearly went crazy trying to find any musical talent in her daughter. Each week, my piano teacher, the poor tortured Mrs. Burtzlaff, trudged up the steps to our house. She would spend an hour trying to get me to hear the correct notes that I was assigned to play. But I would be lost in my own imagination, playing wrong notes over and over again. Mrs. Burtzlaff would sigh as she directed my dirty fingers across the keys week after week. Finally my mother couldn’t take it anymore. She had to admit that I had no musical ability and I got to quit. I can only imagine Mrs. Bertzlaff kicking her heels up in relief as she left our house for the last time.

I knew Barry didn’t have an ear for music. Why? Because I stood next to him in church each week, hearing him trying to sing. We would both laugh when we each sang off key — all the time. This was a few years before the term “bucket list” became popular, but I suppose you could say that becoming an awesome piano player was on Barry’s bucket list. He wanted to be the guy that turns a party into a magical event with his amazing musical virtuosity!
So Barry started going to weekly lessons. I imagine his poor teacher pouring a large glass of scotch for himself after each of Barry’s lessons. Weeks, months and a year went by. Barry practiced as the kids and I stood in the kitchen praying he would finish soon. Personally, I heard no progress until he finally learned one song that we could actually recognize. The song was “Up on the Housetop Ho Ho Ho.” Week after week, he struggled to play it!  We all got really sick of that song.

However, Barry did get his chance to be the party guy at the piano. We had our entire family over for Christmas Day the year he took lessons. After dinner, I gathered everyone into that beautiful spot in the bay window, and Barry played his one song, “Up on the Housetop!” A few of the kids even sang along. We were all thoroughly entertained! He got a round of applause and laughed along with us! Shortly after Christmas, Barry quit piano lesions, and I don’t think I ever heard him play again.

That piano later would become a huge source of stress as Barry lost control of our finances and we tried to sell it. We finally had to sell it back to the music store where we purchased it, taking a huge loss. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) had begun to take over his brain about then and Barry showed no emotion as the truck drove away with the piano. I felt a huge hole in my heart as I looked at the empty spot by the bay window. It was the start of having to sell our things – and really the beginning of it all …

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7 comments on “BARRY’S JOURNEY
  1. It’s hard to remember and write. But it’s so important. Thinking of you often.

    • Renee says:

      Nancy I so enjoy reading your blogs but this one brought also fond memories of me n my sister taking organ lessons from Mrs
      Burtzloff. ironic is that! Think my mom wanted us to play at cool to play the organ!!

  2. Sandra says:

    I just found your blog on one of the Facebook FTD groups. Thank you for sharing your journey. Much of what you wrote resonates with me, as my 50 yr old husband was recently diagnosed. In hindsight, there were signs for the last 5 to 10 yrs. I also spent many yrs being angry, and wondering who this man was I was with now that I didn’t know or like anymore. We are in Michigan, and travel to NorthWestern University in Chicago for treatment. I look forward to reading your blog.

  3. It is good that you can remember….I love music, but for a few years after Paul died I couldn’t listen to music, couldn’t endure hearing it. But it came back all of a sudden one evening. Things will come back.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing, Nancy. We think of you often and send our love.

  5. Mary Sue Boelter Lienke says:

    Memories can be hard, but you have come such a long way Nancy. With struggle and pain comes strength you never thought you had!! And YOU have strength!! You should be so proud of where you are going. I see all you paintings that always show a glimpse of hope and happiness!! All your pictures show a smiling Nancy Carlson!! Keep on keeping on….Mary Sue

  6. Mary Beckman Woodward says:

    So important to write about and you again succeeded in capturing the slow loss of everything which had made our life normal. Mine came rather suddenly. After a year of declining mental health , Harry had the first of many brain severe aneurysms. I sat in one of our living rooms surrounded by years of art , antiques and collectibles from all over the world. We had discovered Harry had depleted all of our savings. What to do? The kids and I sorted the stuff, sold some and got our house ready for vacation rentals. I moved to the walkout. It was like a bad dream – everything in slow motion. I kept what I truly treasured. The rest went. I asked God to send us Good people . And HE has. I have detached myself from the two units upstairs. I visit and HELP WASH THE BEDDING AND occasionally entertain there. But the walkout is my home. I feel happy so much joy takes place in my two units- reunions , weddings, retreats, business meetings . But I’ve been really sick and this large property is hard. But I may not be able to do anything- I need the money to pay his debts and nursing home. The state is getting no more from me. So some days I feel like I’m treading water. I am totally detached from the stuff- it’s from another life. I really can’t afford to be sick. Them I just put one foot in from of the other ( or if my lupus and other autoimmune diseases are bad) I have literally crawled I’m in such pain. But I don’t have the luxury of pampering myself when I’m really ill- Harry’s bills have to be paid . We truly live in a topsey turvey world. On days where I have kidney and lung involvement I get really worried. Harry will probably outlive me. Those days I feel not only sick but thinking all the work I’ve done trying to repair all the damage Harry did when his brain was slowly going/ I’ve managed to
    Repay 200,000 but with failing health where is the other 300,00 going to come from? Funny. How his diseased brain did so much damage in a relatively short period of time. And now as hard as I try it seems like I cannot repay all he did. I’m trying. But it’s hard. Thanks Nancy. Love, Mary

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