Wednesday, February 2, 2011

BEAULAH GALT'S PIANO

© Kathy Duncan, 2011

I first set eyes on Little Grandma’s piano in the spring of 1972 when I was fourteen years old. Little Grandma was my husband’s grandmother, Beulah (Galt) Graham Kinsey…

…Even as a fourteen year old teenager, I loved magazines. Fortunately, so did my mother and her mother, Bertha Chapman. I could always count on finding a stack of magazines at my grandmother’s house in East Texas, and since she subscribed to different magazines than my mother, there would be plenty of reading material in the event that I underestimated how many novels I needed to bring along. Sometimes there was not time to pack a book for our trips there.

In April of 1972, my grandmother Chapman was dying of breast cancer. My mother, brother, and I were traveling from Brownwood, TX to Avery, TX almost every weekend to be with her. Often my mother picked us up at school on Friday, and we headed straight to East Texas. On one trip that April mother had a fresh stack of magazines on the front seat of the car. I skimmed through them quickly.

“Any thing interesting?” my mother asked.

“Only this Maytag ad. There’s an antique organ in it, but people are in front of it, and you can’t see it. From what I can see it must be really neat. I wish I could see it.” I tossed the magazine down and went on to something else.

Truth be told, I loved the Maytag advertisements of the 70s. Women wrote letters to Maytag, detailing the exploits of their ancient Maytag washers. Their letters were little short stories about children, husbands, diapers and dirt. Wholesome American tales. Nowadays advertisers subscribe to the belief that if a girl can be hooked on a brand name by the age of 17, she will use that product for life. Probably. By the age of fourteen, I knew I was going to own a Maytag Washer…

…When I married my husband, I was already on my second Maytag washer. The first was a mistake. I bought it used, and it did not last long. The second one had been brand new out of the box. When we moved from Las Cruces, NM into a second floor apartment in the Dallas area, my husband and his nephew lost their hold on my Maytag while they were taking it up the stairs. It slid on its belly all the way to the bottom and was left with a long scar down the front to show for it. It took a licking but kept on ticking (whatever happened to Timex?). That washer was 18 years old when it finally conked out. It washed my son’s diapers for six months (before I gave up and bought disposables) and baby clothes, and six and half years later it washed my daughter’s baby clothes while also washing my husband’s restaurant linens, and it kept on running for several more years after that…

My husband and I had probably been married for at least 15 years when I learned the story of Little Grandma’s piano. I was visiting my mother-in-law in Albuquerque when she announced that she wanted to take me over to her brother “Chick’s” house because she wanted me to see her mother’s old piano. Thomas R. Galt had given the piano to his daughter, Beulah Galt for her 16th birthday. It had fallen into disrepair over the years, and “Chick” and his wife Jean Graham had restored it.

There was nothing to prepare me for how beautiful the old upright piano is. The wood literally glowed. It was the fanciest upright I’d ever seen. It looked like an organ, but was in fact a piano. As we sat at Chick and Jean’s admiring it, my mother-in-law and Jean started laughing about a letter Jean had written to Maytag about her old Maytag washing machine. The letter had been published in a Maytag ad. When the Maytag people came to the house, they insisted on taking the family’s picture with the old piano and not the old Maytag Washer.

I was dumbstruck. I had seen that old Maytag ad! It was a piano! Not an organ…

…The piano would have been given to Beulah after her parent’s house burned. When their house burned, there was so much confusion and pandemonium that the whole family ran out of the house and left the baby behind in its crib. A neighbor came in the back the door of the house to warn the family that the house was on fire, scooped the baby out of its bed, and emerged with it outside at about the same time that the family realized that no one had thought to grab the baby. Most of the Galt family heirlooms were lost in the fire.

When Thomas R. Galt gave the piano to Beulah in 1907, he was a poor man who moved his family once a year in search of work and of better land to farm. Given the piano’s size, it was not the most practical gift. It speaks, though, of a poor man’s dream to settle down, to plant roots, to gather his family around in harmony, to own something beautiful. When the Galts moved from Wichita Falls to Floydada, TX in 1910, the piano would have been roped inside one of the two wagons that moved the family. Its young mistress drove one wagon. The chickens swung in crates under the wagons while the cow walked along beside. Three years later the Galts picked up and moved from Floydada to Hale Center, TX, where they finally settled down. Their journey had originated in Farmingdale, IL where Beulah had been born, through Nebraska and Missouri into Texas. They were living the American dream, moving ever westward in search of a better life that was always just over the next hill. Hale Center, Texas was just over the last hill…

…Neither my mother-in-law nor her sister-in-law Jean remembered the year the Maytag ad appeared. I spent many years hunting it, and eventually found one for sale on the internet.

Jean Graham’s letter to Maytag in 1972 was another Wholesome American tale of family and endurance:

“Now going on 13, that washer still faithfully turns out 10 or 12 loads a week.

For almost thirteen years now, her Maytag Washer has performed above and beyond the call of duty, reports Mrs. Jean Graham, Whittier, California.

'She has raised three boys with all their dirt and grime, and one husband with all his grease and oil,' says Mrs. Graham. 'Still, on Monday morning, she is ready to make my sheets and pillowcases put the neighbors’ to shame.'

According to Mrs. Graham, her Maytag has done it with few complaints. Just 3 repairs in all these years, and her hsuband made them himself.

'For this I have moved her across the country with me, talked to her about her troubles, burped her through her cycles, and treated her like the lady she is. After all, don’t we all grow old? I just hope I do as well as my Maytag,' concludes Mrs. Graham.

Of course, today you can get New Generation Maytags with all the latest features. A washer with a giant capacity tub. A Maytag Halo-of-Heat Dryer with Electric Control. Both have Maytag’s special Permanent-Press Cycle.

We don’t say all Maytags will equal the record Mrs. Graham’s had. But dependability is what we try to build into every Maytag Washer and Dryer."

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