The Red Mahogany Piano by Joe Edwards

Many years ago, a man named Joe Edwards was a young man in his twenties working as a salesman for a St. Louis piano company. They sold pianos all over the state by advertising in small town newspapers and then, when they had received sufficient replies, they would load their little trucks, drive into the area and sell the pianos to those who had replied.

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Every time they would advertise in the cotton country of Southeast Missouri, the company would receive a reply on a postcard which said, in effect, “Please bring me a new piano for my little granddaughter. It must be red mahogany. I can pay $10 a month with my egg money.” The old lady scrawled on and on and on that postcard until she filled it up, then turned it over and even wrote on the front – around and around the edges until there was barely room for the address.

Of course, the company could not sell a new piano for $10 a month. No finance company would carry a contract with payments that small, so they ignored her postcards.

One day, however, Joe Edwards happened to be in that area calling on other replies, and out of curiosity he decided to look the old lady up. He found pretty much what he expected: The old lady lived in a one room sharecroppers cabin in the middle of a cotton field. The cabin had a dirt floor and there were chickens in the house. Obviously, the old lady could not have qualified to purchase anything on credit – no car, no phone, no real job, nothing but a roof over her head and not a very good one at that. Her little granddaughter was about 10, barefoot and wearing a feedsack dress.

Joe explained to the old lady that he could not sell a new piano for $10 a month and that she should stop writing every time she saw the ad. He drove away heartsick, but his advice had no effect – the old lady still sent the same post card every six weeks. Always wanting a new piano, red mahogany, please, and swearing she would never miss a $10 payment. It was sad.

A couple of years later, Joe owned his own piano company, and when he advertised in that area, the postcards started coming to him. For months, he ignored them. But then, one day when Joe was in the area something came over him. He had a red mahogany piano on his little truck. Despite knowing he was about to make a terrible business decision, he delivered the piano to the old lady and told her he would carry the contract himself at $10 a month with no interest, and that would mean 52 payments. He took the new piano in the house and placed it where he thought the roof would be least likely to rain on it. He admonished the old lady and the little girl to try to keep the chickens off of it, and  left, sure he had just thrown away a new piano.

But the payments came in, all 52 of them as agreed – sometimes with coins taped to a 3×5 inch card in the envelope. It was incredible!

Joe put the incident out of his mind for 20 years. Then one day he was in Memphis on other business, and after dinner at the Holiday Inn he went into the lounge. As he was sitting at the bar having an after dinner drink, he heard the most beautiful piano music. He looked around, and there was a lovely young woman playing a very nice grand piano.

Being a pianist of some ability himself, he was stunned by her virtuosity, and moved to a table beside her where he could listen and watch. She smiled at Joe, asked for requests, and when she took a break she sat down at his table.

“Aren’t you the man who sold my grandma a piano a long time ago?”

It didn’t ring a bell, so Joe asked her to explain.

She started to tell him, and suddenly Joe remembered. It was her! It was the little barefoot girl in the feedsack dress!

She told Joe her name was Elise and since her grandmother couldn’t afford to pay for lessons, she had learned to play by listening to the radio. She said she had started to play in church where she and her grandmother had to walk over two miles, and that she had then played in school, had won many awards and and a music scholarship. She had married an attorney in Memphis and he had bought her that beautiful grand piano she was playing.

Something else entered Joe’s mind. “Elise,” I asked, “It’s a little dark in here. What colour is that piano?”

“It’s red mahogany,” she said, “Why?”

Source: reported by Joe Edwards.

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