I was young when this happened. Thanks to my dad for supplying the details of Martin.

When I was little I went to church every Sunday; I didn't know there were alternatives. We got there early so I could sit up front because Dad knew how much I loved Anna Duncan, who played the organ up near the choir.

A big soft lady, always in purple, always laughing. Outside church she was my babysitter, the only one I ever adored. We would sit in her backyard and look at the big goldfish in her little pond. Leaning on her, snuggling into her warmth. She was so comfortable. She was from New Orleans. She was a wonderful walking stereotype, and knew it. She liked to invite people over and feed them cornbread and greens. She would sometimes offer hog jowl just to see our frightened caucasian expressions, then she'd laugh and laugh.   Naw, baby, mammy don't go that far.

Anna was loud, all shouts and singing, but not in the church, when all her loudness and concentration went into her hands. There was not even any whispering to her during the service; she was at work. She banged out very loose versions of whatever the choir was singing. Her hands were sloppy and hit more keys than they were supposed to. At the end of a song she would throw her head back and drop her hands   (long purple nails. about a dozen rings on each hand. they were heavy hands.)   - onto the keyboard, so the song would end -   pause -   whaaaooong   one last groan wheezed from Anna's organ, burped out into a silent church. We'd quit laughing long ago, but we knew it was funny. She wasn't very good and we loved it.

When Anna knew she was going to die, she took my dad out for Chinese food. He knew why. She had no kids or husband, no family we'd ever seen. Over greasy rice they discussed plots, ceremonies, cremation. My dad took notes on a napkin, one he saved.

Anna went, and we did as she asked. I was young enough that no one expected me to go to the funeral. But old enough to be sick over it, bad dreams for a while. A sore spot in my throat for Anna.

It faded. We didn't get over it but it grew more acceptable to not see her pounding away up front. In her absence, the choir seemed so meek, they had no wall of wavery groaning music to rail against, their voices fell slack. Every hymn was wishywashy and depressing and we needed another organist but how do you advertise for that position without offending everyone who still missed her, which was all of us.

We were fortunate. We got a volunteer. A guy nobody knew; he lived one town over and was rarely seen in our parish. Handsome, thin, excellent posture, a slight brown beard. Martin was seen to smile but he was not what you would call a smiler.

He said he was classically trained in piano and that was enough. The priest gave him the job without testing him out - he couldn't have been worse than Anna. We welcomed him as best we could. A congregation in a morale crisis is a shaky thing and nobody was in the mood to invite him over for dinner so I am afraid we were not very friendly.

The first Sunday, we were all watching him, we were all sharp. Ready to criticize. He played well. It was an easy mistake to make. There was nothing to dislike except that he was not Anna. His hands and his music were clear and precise and we hated it of course we hated it.

To our credit, there were those who complimented him after the service. Good job nice work well done. We were trying, but not very hard. He had put so much rigid energy into it and we could not even meet his eyes.

Martin was more perceptive than we thought. It took him exactly one mass to figure it out.

Next Sunday. Still wearing a tie, still crisply ironed shirt and trimmed beard, still white erudite, but a different concentration to him. He was figuring something out. He had to learn how to let his hands relax, to allow a little sloppiness. Extra errant notes here and there, a few, then more. Probably most of us just thought he was tired, off his game, maybe he'd cut a finger and it was throwing off his rhythm.

The hymn ended. The choir gave up and sat down. Pause.   whooouuurm.   His elegant bare hands came down to rest and brought one last inelegant sigh from the organ. He caught us, we did not breathe.

Maybe somebody started crying quietly. Maybe nobody did. I do know that we could smile at him and give him our grateful (wet) eyes when we told him, after mass, that day and every week afterwards, Good job, Martin. That was so nicely done. Thank you.

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