Shortly after we moved to Washington from Tennessee, we inherited my grandparents' piano. Its move from my cousin's house in Oregon to ours in Washington was not its first, nor its last.
When we moved from our rental two years ago, we just couldn't figure out how to make it fit in our log house, so we tried to give it away to any family member willing to pick it up.
Heavy, old, well-loved...no one wanted it.
So it moved with us to the log house, and went straight into the garage.
It was slightly out of tune, but not too bad, so when the girls started piano lessons last fall they went out to the garage to practice. They practiced all winter out there, too, in coats, hats, and fingerless gloves...brrr.
Now that it's actually being played again, we made a space for it inside so the kids' fingers won't turn purple when they practice this winter, and we enlisted four strong young men to help move it in.
And then I made an appointment for a piano tuner to come out.
He wanted to know about its history, so I told him how my great-great-uncle (an organist who believed in quality instruments) picked it out for my grandparents when they wanted to buy a piano for my aunt to use. It has a mid-1960s date written inside the lid next to the store's stamp, so I wondered aloud if that's how old it is, or if maybe it had some work done on it then.
He looked around a little and decided that some of the pins had been replaced sometime after World War II, so he guessed the date was written in at that point.
I asked him how he knew the pins had been replaced after World War II. He admitted that he was just guessing, since they looked so much newer than everything else, but he was pretty sure that the piano itself was made post-World War I.
Of course I had to ask how he knew that!
Before World War I the coils and strings for the lower registers were made out of copper, but as part of the war effort, piano manufacturers switched to steel. Mine were steel...
...wait a minute...
He took a tool out of his bag and scratched a spot on one of the strings. Nope, they were copper!
So we decided that beyond a doubt, my piano was made before World War I, and we joked that it couldn't be older than 1895 because that was the most recent patent date stamped inside the piano.
And then, just as he was finishing the fine tuning, he found it. Tucked away in a little corner, like an artist would sign a painting, he found a barely legible name and date. The last name matched a signature that is scrawled elsewhere inside the piano, (along with a P.O. Box address in Chicago) and the only part of the date that we could read with any certainty was 1903.
It's still heavy, it's still well-loved and missing most of the ivories, and it's still old.
But it's really, really old.
And the offer to give it away to any relative who would come pick it up...
...is most definitely expired.