My maternal Grandmother, Winona McLatchey, was a Kansas farm girl and the center for the 1906 Topeka High School girl's basketball team. She is the third young lady from the left.
There is a similar family photograph of my mother-in-law, Shirley Martin, who played on her Iowa girl's basketball team. Girl's basketball is part of the American legacy of the liberating women from medeavil servitude.
I was only ten when my Grandmother died. She was 36 when she married and 62 when I was born. My only recollection of Winona was after she succumbed to dementia. I recall her watching me suspiciously as I played with a pile of pennies at her home. My grandmother tattled to my mother about the "little boy" who was playing with the coins that didn't belong to him. I also recall my mother crying as she told me how helpless she felt at her mother's anguish as the disease took hold.
Winona McLatchey was an independent woman. She worked in an Insurance agency and lived on her own before marrying. She had purchased a used piano in 1918. When Winona married my grandfather she expected it to become part of the household. I grew up with her grand piano in my home.
My Grandfather moved from Salina, Kansas to Topeka early in the Depression to take on his new duties as State Auditor. The piano moved with the family. It was the first of seven moves in as many years. My Grandfather was chagrinned at having to haul the monstrous piano with him to each new house.
Winona was a classically trained pianist and wanted her daughters to follow her example. My mother's older sister, Mary Jane, had the chutzpa to refuse taking lessons early on but my mousier Mom couldn't bring herself to disappoint her mother.
Mom's piano teacher was the tutor for all the children of Topeka's upper crust, including Governor Landon's daughter, Nancy, who would later become a US Senator for Kansas. This meant that Mom had to suffer through very public piano recitals on a regular basis.
While I was growing up Mom confined her piano playing to popular tunes rather than her mother's Chopin and Mozart. Mom would also play religious songs for her father who otherwise had little use for organized religion.
As soon as Thanksgiving was behind us each year Mom got out her Christmas songbook and practiced carols over and over. I have especially fond memories of my father and me belting out "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen." My sister was always happy to join us and even my tone deaf brother would join in. It was an early lesson in the value of quantity over quality.
After my father's death my mother made plans to move to the Twin Cities and she offered me the piano. She didn't much want to haul it around. Like father like daughter. I shrugged off the offer and didn't tell my wife about it until a week or so afterwards. Claudia was appalled. Even though we had purchased a spinet she thought the grand was great. By the time I called my Mom back to tell her about our change of heart she had already offered it to my brother and his wife. Somehow my brother was contacted to see how badly he wanted the piano and the offer got switched back to us.
Each Thanksgiving Claudia takes out my mother's old Christmas song book and plays carols while I sing along. Our daughter sometimes joins us. Our son makes himself scarce. Whether family sing-a-longs continue into the fourth generation remains to be seen.
My daughter Keely abandoned piano lessons after a few years. We didn't have the heart to force her to follow in her grandmother's footsteps. Right now, however, she's being pressured to get a music degree by her voice teacher. She might have to learn to play the piano after all. If she does it will assure that the piano will continue getting lugged around to new houses for yet another generation.