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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Life on the Mississippi chapter 11

Playing the Piano

As a young child, Lee had learned to play the piano while he was growing up at the Club Louise.

The musician who entertained there on the boat taught him to read music and to also play by ear.

There was a small band who entertained on board of the ferry and after his last trip to the Club Louise, Lee thought he would like to take up the piano again in his spare time.

The man who played in the ferry's band knew all the latest tunes as well as the old favorites, and taught Lee how to play them.  He had lived in St. Louis and New Orleans where much of the best music was born.  

It took Lee some time to master the keyboard again. His hands were bigger than when he played as a boy at the Club Louise for then his fingers were small and wouldn't go where he wanted them to.  He was quickly maturing and things were different now.

He could still read the music, but needed a lot of practice to get the rhythms back.  
After a few weeks it started to come back to him, and when the band would take a break he would fill in for them.

Captain Jack was surprised at how well Lee could play, but as he thought back he remembered he had heard him play during the morning hours at Louise's place before the girls started to work.

While Lee spent most of his time on the pilot's deck playing was a good diversion and kept boredom from setting in.

He developed a new interest and that was just how the engines worked and propelled the ferry. He spent a lot of time in the engine room and worked on the engines when in port. The engineer told him all engines worked pretty much the same it was just the application of their power that was different.

The firemen were key to an uninterrupted trip. They not only had to keep the steam up but had the see to it that they had plenty of wood on board.

Paddy, the bar keep still made sure Lee exercised and practiced what he had taught him about defending himself. He always reminded Lee that you never know when you might need them skills.

Due to a full cabin passenger load, Captain Jack hired an extra cabin boy and chamber maid to make sure the passengers were well cared for.

Captain Jack's boat,"The Mississippi Lady" wasn't the newest boat on the river and the competition for upper class passengers was lively, so he wanted to make sure the passengers had little to complain about.

The new cabin boy was from St. Louis where Lee was partly raised.  

One day when he and Lee were sitting with the crew the cabin boy said, "I hear you were raised by whores and your mother was a whore."

This embarrassed Lee greatly for the crew was now staring blankly at him.

Lee just quietly answered, "My mother was not a whore," and walked away.

The crew expected more from Lee and were surprised that he let it go.  The cabin boy was having fun, and kept ranting about it but the crew also just walked away and didn't speak to him.

The next morning Captain Jack came down to the crew's quarters and asked if anyone had seen the new cabin boy, for he didn't show up for duty. They all looked questionly at each other, and finally said they hadn't see him after bedtime.

Later one of the crew said, "I went up on deck for some air around four o'clock because it was hot in the crew's quarters, and I thought I heard a yell, and then a splash but when I looked I didn't see any thing, and besides the engines were loudly firing up and making a lot of noise."

The crew looked at each other, and then at Lee who walked over to the piano, and started to play a sad song.

No one ever mentioned the event again, not even among themselves.

To be Continued


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