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Darrell Huckaby - Play me a song, she's the Piano Girl

When I was in the eighth grade at Porterdale School our principal, Mr. L.C. Gordon, summoned me from math class one day to inform me that my father had been involved in an automobile accident on his way home from work. (We called them "car wrecks" back in those days.) Mr. Gordon was going to drive me to Covington to the hospital to see him, so I would be assured that he was OK.

I don't think school principals do that sort of thing anymore. See how much progress society has made!

Mr. Gordon smoked cigars - and he smoked them down to the nub. When we walked into Daddy's room I knew he was fine when he took one look at Mr. Gordon and said, "Flash, I believe your chewing tobacco's on fire."

I guess I come by my sense of humor honestly.

We stayed in the room until the doctor made his rounds - and I know for a fact that school principals don't do that anymore - and when he did, the doctor told us that my father would be fine except for some ligament damage to his index finger which could be repaired with surgery.

Daddy immediately wanted to know if he would be able to play the piano once he recovered. The doctor assured him that he would and my pop responded, "That's great! I've never been able to play the piano before."

Like I said, I come by my sense of humor honestly, for better or worse.

Well, I've never been able to play the piano, either, and I have always wanted to.

We didn't have a piano when I was growing up, of course. The house I was raised in was barely as big as a piano. But my Aunt Snow had one, and when I went to stay with her, I would sit and bang on the keys for hours, counting off the notes and trying my best to pick out melodies from a beginner's song book my cousin Carolyn had.

I got pretty good at "Camptown Races" and "Jesus Loves Me," but that was about the extent of my expertise.

I never ceased to be impressed by those who could actually sit down at the keyboard and play, however.

When I was in high school I had two close friends who played really well. One was Mack McKibben. Mack and I were on the high school baseball team together. He could play the piano a lot better than he could play left field. I could play neither.

Mack still makes a living playing and selling pianos. Back in the day, however, there was a restaurant in the Newton Plaza shopping center called Gigi's. They had great spaghetti and even better pizza. They also had a piano and Mack used to play there on weekends.

He knew that my favorite song in the whole world was "Dixie." This just happened to be about the time that the tune was becoming politically incorrect, but I still liked it, and whenever I walked into Gigi's, Mack would stop whatever he was doing and strike up a few notes.

I will never forget the night he went into a rather spirited rendition of the song that lasted 10 or 12 minutes and incorporated elements of ragtime, swing and jazz and a few genres that are yet to be identified. He had the whole house on its collective feet, clapping and stomping and swaying to the music.

After he finished, he grabbed the microphone and announced, "There won't be anymore pizza served tonight. The cooks all quit."

I think he was joking.

Becky Hutchins was another close friend who was a wonderfully talented pianist - talented enough to become the official pianist for state functions, in fact. I heard Becky play in a lot of public settings as well and she also indulged my obsession with "Dixie" whenever possible. I used to visit Becky at her home and listen to her practice and many times I thought how wonderful it must have been for her family to be able to hear her play at random times, sometimes for hours on end.

Well, I told you all of that to tell you this.

I never learned to play the piano, but I now have a daughter, Jenna, who does. She's not Becky - or Mack - but she is really, really good. She plays in the school's jazz band and at church every Sunday and almost every evening I have the pleasure of sitting in my recliner, when she doesn't even know I am around, and listening to her play. It's just as wonderful as I imagined it would be.

She specializes in hymns and praise songs, but I am gradually succeeding in getting her to broaden her repertoire. In fact, if I could just find the sheet music to "Dixie" things would be just about dead-solid perfect.

I don't think I have ever told her how much I appreciate her talent, but she usually reads this column, so maybe I have now.