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I'd gladly play that 1 song again for Mama
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I’m not sure how we acquired our first piano; it just showed up one day. My mother had visions of me being an accomplished pianist. That just didn’t happen.

I think in all of my piano studies, I never got far beyond the beginner book. But Mama thought it was beautiful.

Turns out, I was destined to play by ear.

The first song I learned by ear was a ragtime tune called “Down at Papa Joes.” A neighbor taught it to me.

I didn’t know the name of it until recently. It’s a song about a place in New Orleans that serves fried chicken with turnip greens and has a piano player named Papa Joe.

For a long time, it was my one song piano repertoire.

One day, we were at the home of a classmate, a girl. Mama suggested I go over and play my one-song concert. At first I resisted, but finally gave in.

It is one of the moments I would like to erase from the story of my life.

When I finished, the girl went over and played the piano. She played beautifully and gracefully and, with every note, I sunk lower in the sofa cushion.

Mama had a knack for creating embarrassing moments, like mispronouncing the names of pop music figures in front of your friends. But when she set her mind to something, you had best get out of her way.

When I was 3, a doctor said that I urgently needed my tonsils removed. Somehow, I was not given a full dose of anesthesia, and flinched when the surgical implement was in my mouth. My palate was damaged and the doctor said I would be left with a speech impediment.

“It may be difficult to understand him,” one doctor said.

Mama was going to have none of that.

She took me to the Atlanta Speech School, where I began working with a therapist. When I reached school age, I had a weekly visit with a school system speech pathologist.

If they thought I needed to say words with a certain consonant sound, we did it for hours. Something worked.

This is the 16th Mother’s Day that I have been without her. Somehow, her determination gave out when it came to a battle with cancer.

She saw her boy, who doctors said would have problem speaking, grow up and make a living on television and radio. Oh, how I wish she could see what I’m up to now.

Both of my folks are gone and it makes me madder than heck when I hear people gripe about going to see their parents. They won’t be here forever and it sure is tough when they’re gone.

I can close my eyes and think of the way her hands looked or the wrinkles that rolled upward when she smiled. I occasionally reach for the phone when bad weather is heading toward her former home. I still remember her phone number like it was yesterday.

I might not have cared for those command piano performances, but I’d play “Down at Papa Joes” all day, if I had the chance.

I hope you see your mama today. I’ll see mine in my dreams.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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