Bluffton Packet

How a whiff of air freshener revived the memories of a struggling Lowcountry church pianist

Jean Tanner’s upright piano.
Jean Tanner’s upright piano. Special to The Bluffton Packet

It’s strange how a small incident can trigger the memory of a happening 50 years ago and then escalate like ascending a staircase to touch on other memories.

This happened recently when using a can of air freshener in the bathroom, unknowingly having it aimed at the mirror so when the spray button was pressed it bathed the mirror in a fine mist. Grabbing a paper towel and starting to wipe off my mistake I realized the air freshener was doing a pretty good cleaning job on the mirror.

“Wow”, I thought, “This is as good as the time I caught an old school mate Virginia Pinckney Dean cleaning her windows with crushed newspaper and vinegar.”

To explain this occasion digs up another memory as to how that day transpired.

When first married, husband Harry said he’d rather I didn’t work, but instead be a stay-at-home wife and mother. That’s what I did until the desire for a piano — which in those lean years of married life was considered a luxury item rather than a necessity — became too strong. So, after getting Harry off to work and the boys off to school on the school bus, I started a short stint of being an Avon representative, earning a percentage of total sales brought in and stashing it aside in a jar labeled “PIANO”.

Within less than a year, I had enough cash in my jar to buy a nice upright piano.

It was near the end of my Avon job, while delivering Virginia Dean’s order in a drizzling rain, that I spotted her on a ladder outside her house cleaning her jalousie windows with newspaper and vinegar.

“Virginia, why are you cleaning your windows now? You do know it’s raining don’t you?” I asked.

Her quick response was, “Honey child this is the best time to clean windows. You don’t leave any streaks.”

Since I had my piano money saved up, I started scanning the for-sale column in the classified section of the newspaper and found just what I was looking for at the right price.

At that time, my family was attending a Foursquare Gospel church, a denomination founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, a woman ahead of her time. By not living the usual expected lifestyle of a woman — to marry, have children and leave religion pursuits to men — she realized God had a plan for her life that did not take into account human ways of doing things.

She opened the doors of Angelus Temple in Los Angeles in 1923 and, as an evangelist, preached the gospel summarizing her message into four major points which she called ‘The Foursquare Gospel’:

Jesus is the Savior

Jesus is the healer

Jesus is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit

Jesus is the soon-coming King.

The pastor of the church we attended, being musically inclined, played guitar, piano and accordion, but desiring to have guitar and piano music for the congregational hymns during the service, he needed a piano player.

I boldly offered up my services knowing full well I was not an accomplished musician and that my piano playing was limited. I say limited because I had only taken lessons for six months when I was twelve years old and could only read the treble notes on sheet music. The bass notes below middle “C” were Greek to me.

Struggling with my desire to play in church, I had a heart-to-heart discussion with God about my situation.

Sitting on my piano bench practicing a hymn I remembered the chorus I sang as a child:

“Seek and you shall find.”

Bowing my head in the quietness of my home I prayed to God, telling Him of my dilemma by quoting Matthew 7:7:

”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

My answer came, not by getting knocked off the bench or being told by God in an audible voice, but by the rush of peace that came over me.

The scripture of Mark 11:24 spoke to my heart:

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Then I placed the fingers of my left hand on the bass piano keys and played the chords of C, G and F setting them to rhythm while striking the treble notes of the song with my right hand.

Lo and behold I suddenly realized this simple accomplishment was what I needed to be able to play hymns in church.

I stopped, bowed my head and said, “Thank you Jesus for answering my prayer and I will use this gift given to me in your ministry.”

Now, I have a clean mirror and a joyful heart filled with music.