There has been a life-changing event in my life. It occurred since my last column appeared in the Morning News, and it breaks my heart to tell you what’s happened.
On June 22, my mother went to heaven. She was a Christian, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, and a piano player. Not just a piano player; a great piano player.
She never ran her fingers across the ivory keys to play for kings or presidents. She never sought fame or fortune with her God-given talent. But she played in hundreds of churches across the Carolinas.
She played at weddings and funerals, and sometimes she would sit down on a piano bench in front of a piano that just happened to be there. It didn’t matter if the piano was in another person’s home, in the lobby of a hospital or in a park. She didn’t care where it was. She just wanted to play it.
Most of the time she just wanted to play because she liked to play. One thing was for certain: When she played, people within hearing distance would migrate to her. I saw her impromptu piano playing draw a crowd more than once.
My mother fell in love with the piano as a little girl. After only a year of piano and music lessons, she grew frustrated with a piano teacher who wanted her to learn by the book.
As she was learning to play, she added a couple of extra notes here and there to sweeten the sound. Her music teacher didn’t care for that. It was just a little tinkle of the keys here and there, and she might draw out a chorus with a few extra notes just for effect.
It was those added few notes and tinkling of the keys that became her musical style and her signature. People loved it. So much so that the attendance of a country church might swell a bit on a Sunday morning when they heard that Dot Atkinson would be playing.
My mother and father met at church. We used to tease my father, telling him that he fell in love with my mother’s piano skills first, which led to him falling in love with her. That probably was not far from the truth.
My parents both loved church, and gospel music. Growing up, my parents and some church friends formed a band called the Atkinsons and Yarboroughs, of which I was a member. We traveled practically every week to churches, camp meetings and revivals, spreading the gospel through music. Her piano talents and our voice harmony blended wonderfully, and people filled the aisles to hear us.
The Atkinsons and Yarboroughs recorded a couple of albums, and later, after my father had gone to heaven, my mother recorded her own. It was an instrumental album of hymns and gospel music that was played on several radio stations. The Citizens Bank drive-thru window in Turbeville, near where my mom lived, had copies of her album on display for a while, and they would gladly sell you a copy if you inquired. The bank employees there had heard her play and were happy to share what they knew was a good thing.
For the past year or so, Wednesday was my mom’s day to visit with me. My sister would bring her to my home in Florence, and on the trip here they would put one of the recorded albums in the CD player and turn the volume up as they drove along. Hearing her family singing and hearing herself on the piano was comforting to her, and it became a part of their trip when they visited Dar-Dar, as she had begun calling me lately.
I lost my mom and it hurts so badly. I am grieving over the loss of my mother, but heaven is rejoicing with their gain. Heaven gained a new piano player.
If there are any Angels up there in heaven reading the Morning News, spread the word to all of the piano players who have passed through the pearly gates previously that Dot Atkinson is walking the streets of gold. Tell them they better brush up on their skills and get on top of their game. There is a new piano player in town.