By: Christina J. Johns

"And a one, and a two, and a three, and a four...and a one, and a two, and a three, and a four...Tony, Tonyeeeeeeee. Stop that barking this instant. You know you know very well you can't come out of that kitchen until the little gurls are gone....and a three and a four."

During the 150 years I took piano lessons as a child from Miss Mary Francis Lanier, I must have heard that refrain a thousand times.

I don't suppose Miss Mary Francis was much more than forty when we were suffering through Tiny Toe Dancer, Waltz of the Gypsies and Hoe Cake Shuffle, but she already had the whitest of hair, and we thought of her as being very old indeed.

Besides, it was a time when people still whispered the exceptionally cruel phrase "old maid."

But, as far as I was concerned, if Miss Mary Francis was an old maid, it couldn't be that bad a thing to be. She had inherited all her Daddy's money and a beautiful white colonial mansion with columns.

She was tall and thin and elegant, with skin like alabaster and patrician pale blue eyes. And, she carried herself like a queen, pacing and counting time, up and down that enormous piano room of hers complete with two gleaming black baby grands and furnished in beige and white lace.

Most of the time, she wore pencil straight skirts, round-collared white linen blouses, and one simple strand of pearls. She wore no make up, and I am sure would have considered doing so whorish, although she would have never allowed such a word to cross her lips. Instead, she would have probably said: "Make up is for show-girls".

Hundreds of little boys and girls must have sat in that piano room over the years mutilating Miss Mary Francis's most cherished pieces of music. Although how anyone could appreciate, or even sit through the Brownie's Carnival is beyond me. Was beyond me at the time. I even had a hard time sitting through it.

But, Miss Mary Francis was determined that even pieces like Elves in the Moonlight were practiced to perfection. From time to time she would scare the living hell out of you by walking suddenly up behind you and forcing an errant finger onto the right key rather more violently than necessary.

But, nothing, nothing could strike horror in our hearts like hearing Miss Mary Francis's lilting voice calling out from the kitchen: "Now Tony, you come back hear...."

Like lightening, we would snatch our hands off the piano keyboard, fold our little legs underneath us and scramble to stand up on the piano benches - even though we were strictly forbidden from doing so. With practice, this could be accomplished just in time to keep the horrid tan miniature Chihuahua with his razor sharp gnashing little teeth from tearing your ankles apart.

But, even after years of canine terrorism, Miss Mary Francis never, ever yelled at Tony, or even scolded him. She would instead stand in the doorway, her hands on her hips, and look at us all as if she were deeply disappointed. "Now, Tony, don't you snap at those little gurls. They think you're gonna bite 'em."

THINK? We knew he was going to bite us if he got half a chance. Then she would turn her narrowed eyes on us. "Little ladies do not stand on piano benches." .

We would slowly climb down and Tony would trot off behind Miss Mary Francis toward the kitchen, giving us a spiteful backward glance for which we would wait so we could stick out our tongues.

Only a mother could have loved this psychotic creature. But love him, she did. The most extraordinary thing of all was seeing Miss Mary Francis Lanier, linen and pearls, the soul of propriety, CHEWING UP chocolate and spitting it out in her hand for Tony to eat. There is no accounting for taste - in animals, music, people, or anything else..

Radio Stories Christina Johns Home Page