by Kirby Congdon……..
We had a splendid upright piano at home. In the Great Depression I got my first lessons for free by taking a trip with my older sister on the trolley out of town to a teacher working under the Works Progress Administration in West Chester, Pennsylvania. When we moved to Old Mystic, Connecticut, my teacher, Miss DeeWilliams, came to the house every Saturday and gave me lessons for fifty cents. Mr. Cady tuned the piano for twenty dollars. He pointed out to me that Chopin also used an Erard upright. It had real ivory and ebony for the keyboard. One day Mr. Cady arrived at the front door and announced to my mother that it was time for Kirby to have his piano tuned. Twenty dollars for groceries was all the money she had but she gave it to him.
Years later when my mother was talking with Mrs. Cady about the Depression years Mrs. Cady thanked my mother for providing food for her family because if it hadn’t been for my mother asking to have the piano tuned, the Cady family had nothng to eat. Later my mother told me, “You know, I never asked to have the piano tuned! That twenty dollars was for our own family to eat on!”
When I got out of the Army I had my own story to tell in response to my mother’s remark about how everyone had sacrificed here and there for the war effort. She had gone without butter and my father had been careful about buying gas for the car. Both of them winced when I informed them that when the troop ship brought us back to New York the mess hall on the ship had to make room for new supplies coming on board. To do this whole cases full of packages of butter were thrown overboard in the New York harbor. My mother could only gasp. And my father had nothing to say when I added that the mileage for an M5-sized tank had to allow for a consumption of thirty gallons of gas to travel one mile. As for the piano I wrote my mother with glee that during the occupation prisoners of war were used to move a piano to a private studio provided for me through the United Services Organization so that I could have something to play on while we were all waiting to be shipped back home. And I didn’t have to pay anyone $20.00 to get it done either!