Writer, author, memoir teacher. I write about the connections we find by giving each other the time and space to be heard.

The Hartwick College Piano Man

A long time ago, in a land far away, an eight-year-old girl who was me stood alone in the Hartwick College parking lot. She was stiff, and scared and not sure what to do. My little family of four had just driven over an hour – a big trip in those days – to Oneonta, New York. It was my first piano competition, and all of us were anxious. My parents, because of their tough childhoods in the Depression, believed in being tough and not showing fear. My sister and I tried, but we weren’t very good at it.

Mrs. Winslow, my piano teacher, thought I was good enough for this competition and I did like to play, even composing my own little melodies. But this was more serious. Who would I be up against? Would strangers – everyone was a stranger here – be cold to me? Would I embarrass myself and my family?

A man in a tan windbreaker walked across the lot and greeted my parents. Then he put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye.

“You go in there, Linda, and knock ‘em dead!”

And just like that, I knew it could happen. My parents were not the kind to praise or comfort their kids. It was not how they were raised. They had problems of their own and didn’t have much emotional energy for me or my sister.

But this: having someone in my corner, cheering me on! It was so unusual I believed him.

Inside the building, I sat down at the piano, arranged my little fingers above the keys, and played a classical piece I’ve long forgotten. I won a blue ribbon.

The man’s name is lost to me now. I call him the Hartwick College Piano Man. With one short sentence, he showed an eight-year-old girl her power.

What about you? Has anyone encouraged or comforted you when you were afraid? Tell us in the comments!

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