Piano Exploits 3 "The Coffin"

The Coffin

Suffolk is full of some wonderful houses and often the finest dwelling in a village belonged to the vicar.  Most were built in Victorian times and allowed for the fact that most clergy came from rich families.  The eldest son inherited the estate whilst the second son often became a village parson or perhaps joined the army or navy.  Houses had to have room for domestic staff as well as the parson’s family, and so were big, rambling places.


Sadly, modern economics have dictated that most of these houses are too big and so have been replaced by the modern vicarage with easy to heat rooms and a place for meetings and somewhere for the vicar to prepare his or her weekly sermon.


A few of the old  vicarages have however survived by being sold to the general public. Most are private houses, some have become offices or old people's homes and have been altered beyond recognition, Some are totally unchanged.  It was to one of the latter houses that I was called to tune. I had been there a number of times before.


The booking was made about a month in advance.  The people were always extremely welcoming and I enjoyed my visits. We would often discuss anything from world affairs to how the family was getting on.


The village was a long way out and was the only house I tuned for in the village then, although I had cared for more pianos in other houses before the respective players had left for university or moved on.   I didn’t mind going however and always charged them a normal fee rather than add on anything extra for mileage.  They had stayed loyal and I appreciated that loyalty.


My visit was planned for early evening after spending all day teaching.  I was able to get away at a reasonable time despite a meeting which turned out to be mercifully short.  It was a grey day I remember and the clouds threatened rain.  It was getting dark when I drove down the rather overgrown driveway to the front door.


As usual I was met by a menagerie of cats that would congregate at the front door and try and get in the house. 


The lady of the house met me and looked more serious than her normal jolly self.


“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I had entirely forgotten you were coming. This is terribly awkward.  Mother’s in the front room.”


It was an odd conversation.  The piano was in the front room, so why was this difficult? Perhaps they were having tea.


“I’m not making myself clear am I?” she stuttered, moving from one foot to the other.


“Look, I don’t mind if you don’t!”


She led me in through the hall into the front room. 


Yes, mother was in there alright.  She was lying in a coffin with a candle burning at one end and a cross on the table.  The lid had been removed and was propped up against one of the walls.  The piano was alongside.  Anyone playing the piano would have their back directly touching the casket.


“The funeral’s tomorrow morning and we thought it would be nice if she spent the night here.  The undertaker brought her about half an hour ago,” the lady continued in whispering tones.


I was somewhat taken aback.  She explained that the rest of the family would be coming round later that evening to pay their final respects.


“You can stay to tune if you like. Mother loved music and wouldn’t mind I’m sure,” she uttered.


Mother wouldn’t have a say either way I thought!  Now, what would you, the reader, do?

At this point I had a vision of tuning the piano and a bony finger nudging me from behind to say that such and such note wasn't quite right!


I declined. I really couldn’t intrude on the family’s grief and I offered my condolences.


“Let me pay you for your visit,” she offered.


I said no as the last thing you think about at a time like this is having your piano tuned and you could understand her predicament.   Events had made her forget normal day-to-day matters.


I went back a few weeks later and the people were as hospitable as ever.  The piano tuning was successful and we were even able to laugh about the ridiculousness of the former situation.


There were, however, in the room,  two headstones!


“The mason brought them over last week and we’re seeing which one we like.  What do you think?” she asked. Do you prefer the grey or the black?


“They’re both very nice,” I whispered. At a loss to know what to say.

“Mother always did like the piano,” said the lady as she waved me goodbye with her usual broad smile.

Copyright - Peter Tryon 1st March, 2010       Coming next - "You are blind aren't you"?