I remember often going over to visit at Toots' home with my grandma. Sometimes I'd come on up our road to visit Grandma and if she wasn't home, I'd run across the alley, across the Ryan lawn, and up Toots' high, large steps. Their house was on a very high foundation, probably made that way to avoid flood waters. Their steps did not match what that foundation needed, and despite the high steps, the last one into the house was a doozy in itself, especially for a little girl.
The door into the next room was on the far right (east) of the north wall. That led into a parlor where there was a big chair in the northeast corner, that sat on a large, old, threadbare oriental rug. When Toots wasn't in the kitchen, she would hold court in the living room, sitting in the chair, while Grandma would sit in a rocker nearby. Her feet sometimes didn't reach the floor, because she was a small woman. I remember her as seeming as round as she was tall, and having white hair. She called me "PK", because my first and middle names' initials (Patricia Kaye) reminded her of PK Gum.
The room went silent, and for a moment or two, you could hear a pin drop. Then Toots began laughing, and said, "PK, so I am!" I had no sense of it being wrong, but my Mom soon told me different. I apologized, but Toots and Grandma both continued to find much amusement out of the situation.
The piano was a dark walnut, and some of the keys were missing. But of the many keys that were still covered, they were covered with real ivory, and were so beautiful compared to the keys of modern pianos. The seat was worn very smooth, evidence of many people who had sat upon the stool over the years. One can imagine the many songs that were played, maybe even sung to, at that piano. Evenings where the piano brought music and joy into the Ryan home. Now, however, despite its beauty and history, it was a shadow of its former self, including the tuning. It sounded like a piano in an old western saloon, so out of tune, it had a sort of tune all its own. As a little girl, the sound delighted me, and I loved playing little ditties I knew by heart.
|My nickname's inspiration|
There came a time, after my Grandma got more ill from her diabetes, that her friendship with Toots waned and we saw her less. She was friends with the Friebohle family, through St. Anne's, who took her under their wing and helped her out to get to the store, or to the doctor. I'm not sure what happened to Toots, except that she outlived her brother Andy, who has forever lived in my memory as a stout man in striped overalls and a trainman's hat, as he appeared every so often upon return home once upon a time.