Debussy’s “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” pealed throughout the small house on Woodland Avenue as Anna’s hands flew over the keyboard. The happiness in Anna’s music sprang from the lightness of her soul. The reason for her joy, newborn Isabelle, lay curled up not far from the piano.
Isabelle was a miracle baby, the one doctors said would never arrive. And yet, she was here. Anna was completely besotted with her tiny daughter and couldn’t wait to introduce her to her other love -- her music.
Anna was something of a child prodigy. Early on, she showed a keen ear for music and was picking out tunes on her family’s piano by the time she was a toddler. Recognizing her unusual talent, Anna’s parents quickly arranged for her to start piano lessons. By the time Anna was seven, she had surpassed her teacher’s ability to instruct her, and at age eleven she even earned an appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Anna was touring the country at fourteen and by her nineteenth birthday she had played concerts in forty three different countries.
But Anna’s touring came to an abrupt end when she was twenty-five. A quiet professor named Jeff swept her off her feet. For the first time in her life, Anna dated and felt like a “normal” person. Within months she and Jeff were married. Anna quit touring, took up residence on Woodland Avenue, and taught music at Jeff‘s college. Life was perfect! Anna and Jeff soon desired to make three out of their love, but that was not to be for a very long time. But finally, Isabelle had arrived and Anna’s world was complete. While Anna had no desire for Isabelle to have an unusual childhood like she, herself, had had, neither could she wait for the day that she could introduce the piano to the little girl.
By the time Isabelle was a year old, Anna regularly settled her onto her lap as she played the piano. Isabelle would look at the keyboard and sometimes tentatively touched a key or two, but she usually quickly squirmed to be let down. Anna assumed that her baby was just too young yet to have a musical appreciation. By the time Isabelle was two, niggling concerns began to enter Anna’s mind. Isabelle did not speak, which seemed unusual. But Anna reasoned that all children develop at different ages and Isabelle would speak when ready. However, the day came when Isabelle didn’t even flinch as a fire engine raced down their street, sirens blaring. Anna knew something was seriously wrong. It didn’t take long for the audiologist to confirm Anna’s worst fears. Little Isabelle was completely and profoundly deaf.
Anna and Jeff dutifully learned sign language and were able to easily communicate with Isabelle as she grew. The family led quite a normal life, in fact. Isabelle was able to attend the famed American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, blossoming as she grew into adulthood.
But there were many nights that the keys on Anna’s piano became slippery from her tears. What kind of irony was it that she, who loved music so much and desired to share that love with her only child, was given a daughter who could not hear? Long into the night she would play, seeking solace from the one thing that had never let her down.
“All set, Mamma?” Isabelle’s hands signed to her mother as she helped her to a chair. Anna nodded wearily . It had been a long day as Isabelle and her strapping sons had moved Anna into the assisted living center. Anna’s once beautiful hands now lay frail in her lap, her purple veins prominent. “I should go and let you rest,” Isabelle’s hands signed. Suddenly, Anna lifted her frail hands and signed, “I just wish--”
“Wish what, Mama?”
“I just wish - - I wish you could have heard the music.” Anna dropped her hands. It was a thought she had never expressed to Isabelle before and why she said it now, she honestly did not know.
“Oh, Mama” Isabelle quickly signed, “I did hear!” Anna looked at her daughter quizzically. Isabelle was still just as deaf as she had been the day she was diagnosed!
Isabelle smiled at her mother. She touched her chest and signed, “Mama, I heard the music here. All those nights you played, I heard every note here in my heart.” She paused and added, “Your love let me hear.”
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