“Second-Hand Piano,” Ensign, Jan. 1975, 56
The front doorbell rang just as supper was over at the mission home on the outskirts of Brussels. An elder swung open one of the big double doors, and there on the steps was little Sister Parys, asking in great excitement for “les soeurs missionnaires” (the sister missionaries). Obviously very pleased about something, she wanted my companion and me to come with her for the short walk to her home.
So we went, that early July evening, down the cobblestone street to the end of the block, then turned right on Rue Van Bortonne to Sister Parys’ narrow brick row house. “Wait until you see what I bought!” she kept exclaiming. “I went to an auction today, and you must see what I bought.”
She unlocked the front door and led us down the hall, past the old cabinet bulging with sheets of music and into the plain living room. “There,” she pointed triumphantly to her prize—“Le voila!” (“There it is!”)
I don’t remember when I first met Jeanne Parys. When I was first assigned to Brussels, she had been a member of the Church for about two years. She was a short, graying woman, and so quiet that she had a hard time making a place for herself among the members. Consequently, the fellowshiping of Sister Parys had become the responsibility of the two sister missionaries assigned to the mission home, and we visited her frequently and encouraged her to attend Church meetings.
Sister Parys had few joys. The prime of her life had been marred by the sorrow of a broken marriage, leaving her unhappy and bewildered. The gospel had brought some light into her bleak world, and some relief from loneliness through the friendship of the missionaries, whom she adored. But she was not the outgoing type, and beyond continuing the friendship, we did not anticipate accomplishing much with our visits.
Then one day, as we chatted over chocolate and croissants, Sister Parys mentioned that in earlier years she had played the piano—and had played rather well. Surprised, my companion and I glanced at each other. Had we understood her correctly? Was our little sister so talented? Ability at the piano was rare in the Brussels Branch, much in demand, and mostly supplied by the missionaries. “Ah, yes,” she replied to our questioning, “I studied at the conservatory when I was young. I loved most to play the classics. Come, look at my music.”
She led us into the hall to a big old cabinet. It was full of music—stacks of sheet music, volume after dusty volume. Pulling out some of her favorites, she savored the titles, turning the pages with love. “But I have not played for years, you know,” she said with a fatalistic shrug. “My hands have forgotten all they knew.”
We followed her back to the living room and we asked, “Why did you stop playing?” As she glanced around the sparsely furnished room, we realized the answer. Sister Parys had had no piano. She explained that her husband, who had deserted her many years ago, had sold her piano. So for years her talent lay dormant, and her music collected dust in the big hall cabinet.
A few days later we went to see her again. “There is no one to play the piano for the children in Junior Sunday School,” we told her. “We know you are out of practice, but could you help us?” She hesitated. “Soeur, we need you,” we told her.
“Play—for the children?” she asked. The reluctance in her eyes softened. “Well, all right, I’ll try.” And so the Junior Sunday School acquired a pianist.
Sister Parys’ playing was, indeed, rusty. The Latter-day Saint children’s hymns were all new to her. But when hand and eye were not quick enough to follow the book, she simply chorded in her own variations. And no one minded. Sister Parys had at last found her place in the branch—a happy one with the children and her piano.
And on that July evening when she summoned us in such excitement, it was a piano we found in Sister Parys’ living room. “I went to an auction today and bought it,” she announced triumphantly. We could hardly imagine our quiet little sister being bold enough to do such a thing, but there it was. She touched the instrument lovingly, admitted that it had a few scratches and was out of tune, but it was, nevertheless, ”un bon petit piano” (“a good little piano”).
Then followed a happy evening while Sister Parys took out piece after piece of her treasured music, playing a few measures here, a page or two there. The music filled her bare home with loveliness and kindled a joyful light in her eyes. Since then, whenever I hear figurative reference to the sweet music of the gospel, I remember when I heard it played on a secondhand piano in a row house in Belgium.