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Years later, a prayer of thanks


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 2000

Music is important in my life, even though it was forced on me as a child.

I wanted to be a dancer, and after much pleading, I persuaded my mother to sign me up for dancing lessons at our local opera house.

Delighted, I accompanied Mother to buy my toe shoes. My best friend and I were scheduled to begin our dancing lessons the next Saturday.

In spite of all the preparations, my father was furious.

"No daughter of mine is going to dance on the stage and cheapen herself," he fumed. He chided my mother for encouraging me.

"I can't see any harm in taking lessons," she retorted. "After all, she is only 10 years old, and it will be good exercise for her."

In spite of her pleading and my tears, my stern, Victorian father would not hear of it.

I was sick at heart, and a bad cold kept me in bed the rest of the week.

The morning I was to have begun my dancing lessons, a piano was delivered to our house.

I sat on the stairway in my nightgown, looking through the railings, as the instrument was carried through our front door and deposited in our sun parlor.

Crestfallen, I realized that it was for me. My brother already was taking violin lessons.

That was my introduction to the piano. The lessons that followed were a substitute for the coveted dancing.

It was practicing that I disliked. I missed going out playing with my friends because I had to practice.

My father was adamant. "Some day, you will thank me for this," he said.

My girlfriend took the dancing lessons, and she showed me the steps she had learned. For some time, every week, I pirouetted happily around her bedroom. It was fun, and we loved the secrecy.

Reluctantly, I continued to practice my piano, and somehow I lived through the ordeal. I liked my teacher, Miss Leenheart, who was patient and understanding.

In the meantime, my parents took us to all the concerts that came our way. We had season tickets for everything musical in our town, as well as in the neighboring town 12 miles north of us. My most enjoyable trip was when my mother took me to Chicago on the train to see the operas.

As a result of all this exposure, music became an integral part of our lives. I came to love it, and it became as much a part of me as the air I breathe.

Today, music is the last thing I hear before I go to sleep and the first thing I hear when I awaken. It soothes me when I am tired and stressed. It lifts me further when I am buoyant and happy. Music keeps my memories alive and reminds me of good times, especially occasions that were dear to me and my husband.

I am blessed with a daughter who has the voice of an angel. Music is her life's work.

My father never knew his musical granddaughter. I have often whispered to him in prayer, "You were right, Dad, and I thank you for the gift of music."

- LaVerne Hammond, who divides her time between Wisconsin and Florida, is an octogenarian at work on her memoirs. Write her in care of the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg FL 33731.

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