Dear Memaw: A Letter I Wish My Great-Grandmother Could Read

Dear Memaw,

I wish you were here right now, sitting across from me. I wish I could have known your laughter and smile or your humor that I’ve heard so much about. I wish I could’ve seen you in person, with your short stature and realize that my 5’3″ body is a little picture of who you were. Everyone says I look like you. I wish I could’ve told you all about the books I read, my friends, or my dreams.

But I can’t do those things, not yet. One day I will though, one day when I reach Immanuel’s land, I’m going to tell you all about it. But of all the things I wish I could tell you right now, there is one in particular that drove me to write this letter.

I wish I could tell you about your piano.

You see, when I was a little girl, I remember going to Mimi’s house and sitting on the bench with Auntie Em and pretending to play. I remember thinking the chips on the ivory keys were somehow symbols differentiating notes. (I later learned they were merely the result of Daddy racing his matchbox cars down them when he was a little boy.) I used to dream about what it would be like to sit down and just let my fingers dance across the keys filling the room with melodies.

That piano got moved to our house one day. None of us knew how to play it, but I knew that one day, I’d learn. My brother and I would mess around on it, pretending we knew what we were doing, and Momma would patiently let the obnoxious noise ripple throughout our southern home. Then one day, our church pianist was over. She was a quiet European woman with beautiful red hair, I remember it well. I was upstairs playing with a friend and I heard the opening notes to “It Is Well” echo through the house. I ran downstairs, leaving the doll tea party and my friend sitting bewildered in my room. Downstairs, at the piano, that red headed pianist was playing your piano and I felt deep down inside a longing that I knew had to be filled. I wanted to play that song. I wanted to play hymns on that piano.

A year later, I had my first piano lesson. My teacher asked me what I wanted to play, and I told her very directly that I just wanted to know how to play some hymns. I thought she might be able to teach me that in just one afternoon. I was wrong however, and realized it would be a little while before those beautiful hymns would come from my own fingers. I took lessons for ten years. I had four teachers. I learned a lot of scales and cried over a few pieces of Beethoven. I still hate classical music. All I ever wanted was to play those hymns.

I can now. Almost every day, I sit at your piano with the chipped ivory keys, I play those hymns, and I think of you.

Mimi told me that your husband gave you that piano one day, and though you never learned how to play by reading music, you could play by ear. Sometimes I like to imagine you sitting there playing music, maybe even hymns, and thinking about heaven like I do.

You see, your piano is more than a musical instrument I learned to play. Your piano was and is a weapon in my ongoing battle with anxiety and fear. When I can’t sleep, I take my hymnal, sit there and play those sweet songs of Christ until my heart stops racing and my mind calms down. When I’m overcome with sorrow, it’s to your piano and those old hymns that my hands return. Just a few chords, some ancient truths about God, and your piano, Memaw, that’s how I handle the fear and nightmares that sometimes feels like they’ll swallow me whole.

I know you don’t know me yet, but you will one day. I know you had no idea how much your great-granddaughter would love your piano, but you will one day. I know that the writers of those hymns I love so dearly didn’t know how much I’d cling to them, but they will one day. I know right now sorrow and fears and separation still bombard those of us here on earth, but they won’t one day. You already reached that blessed Home, and I’m on my way. One day soon, we’ll sing together. Maybe a little off key since you didn’t have music lessons and I can only play basic chords, but I think that it’ll be breathtakingly beautiful to Jesus nonetheless.

I guess I’m writing this letter more for me than for you. I guess I’m writing it because I needed to be reminded that God orchestrates even the tiniest details, like your old piano, to accomplish His perfect plan. Maybe that’s what comforts me the most when I sit on that creaky bench each day. That He even considered how a piano that belonged to a woman who couldn’t read music would help a little girl who loved hymns fight nightmares and panic attacks decades later. Perhaps I should trust Him with all the things that don’t make sense right now when I look back and see how all the things that didn’t make sense then, are perfectly understandable now.

I wish I could tell you about your piano, Memaw. It is quite the story. But since I can’t tell you, I tell Him, each day, and thank Him for it. And now I’m letting the rest of the world hear it too. Maybe they’ll find comfort like I do, and rest knowing that the smallest things, the ones we might never consider significant, the ones that don’t seem to make any sense, are indeed used by Him as He weaves these short lives of ours into a tapestry of His redeeming grace.

Thank you for that piano. Until heaven,

Your great-granddaughter.

14 thoughts on “Dear Memaw: A Letter I Wish My Great-Grandmother Could Read

  1. Dear Madelyn,

    You are such a beautiful and gracious writer! Your memaw would be over the moon in love with you and your sweet spirit and so very proud.

    Love to you,
    Aunt Janny

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dearest M, Oh my how the tears are flowing!! I was trying to reread your beautiful letter to Janet, but it took awhile before my tears stopped! I only had a few yrs around her but what a precious lady. I loved reading the piano details but I also treasure your words of encouragement concerning our daily walk. Thank you for sharing your heart — I needed those words this morning.
    Enjoy your treasured piano 🥰🎶. As you fill your home with Glorious Hymns.
    Lovingly, Susan

    Liked by 1 person

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