Visit with a Beloved Ho-Ho-Kus Piano Teacher

Miss T, a wonderful teacher to hundreds of piano students

Once in a while, an unexpected opportunity arises and we do something we wouldn’t normally do. Such an occasion happened for me today.

Without calling or writing ahead of time, I rang the doorbell at the Ho-Ho-Kus home of my former piano teacher, Miss Takayama, or Miss T, as I’ll call her (though she later married and became Mrs I and is now widowed). The petite but très formidable Japanese woman pictured above opened the door and greeted me with her beautiful smile.

I’m not sure Miss T remembered exactly who I was, but she welcomed me warmly and invited me in; I told her Clive was waiting so we stepped back outside and the three of us talked there.

Miss T told us she taught piano for 72 – seventy-two!! – years. She said, beaming, ‘I’ll be 99 next month!’ – that she was born in 1918 and her birthday is June 4. She lives on her own in the same house in which she taught hundreds of children to play the piano.

I was fortunate to be Miss T’s student from kindergarten through eighth grade (then took up cello, to join the high school orchestra — sadly, Miss T only taught piano). Every Wednesday I trudged up the hill, walked down her driveway, through her garage and into her basement studio. She reminisced about this today, saying because her mother, then her husband, lived upstairs she never felt it would be right to have her teaching studio in their family space.

I must offer huge thanks to this blog’s readers Sue and Candice G for their recent comments about Miss T, especially Sue who wrote that Miss T still lived at her Ho-Ho-Kus home. These comments appeared this week on one of my most frequently-read posts, Downtown Ho-Ho-Kus: 1960s and Today. Originally published in 2009, the post continues to receive regular comments from former residents. A number of us, when sharing special Ho-Ho-Kus memories, include piano lessons with Miss T.

When I read Sue’s comment, I knew I only had a day or two to react, if I wanted to try to see Miss T on this trip. This morning, I bought a birthday card. Though I normally consider it rude to ring someone’s bell without calling first, we leave tomorrow so I decided this afternoon, after spending time with my mother, I’d take a chance.

For any of Miss T’s former students who may be reading this, she is as bright and vibrant as ever and I’m in awe of her strength and determination to remain in her own home. ‘All my memories are here,’ she told us today.

After chatting for a short while and not wanting to overstay our welcome, I asked Miss T if we could take a few photos. She kindly agreed to stand beside her front door plaque, which reads, in addition to her name, ‘PEACE to all who enter; GRACE to all who depart.’

I found this very moving as it truly captures the spirit of this wonderful woman. She was a part of my life, week after week, for nine years, not only at each Wednesday lesson but also on the days in between, knowing she expected me to practice and I’d better do so! Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, Miss T was a steady, demanding (in a good way) and reliable figure throughout my childhood and early adolescence.

Thank you, Miss T, for your expert instruction, your encouragement and enthusiasm for my playing and for giving me the gift that whenever I was joyful or grieving or just needed to vent my emotions, I could turn to the piano and find comfort.

Clive took this final photo, which he promptly labelled ‘the long and short of it’. I couldn’t be happier Miss T opened her door to me today.

Thrilled to see this petite but très formidable teacher again

Heartfelt thanks from me and all your grateful students, Miss T. Wishing you the most joyful of birthdays as you approach your 99th year.

Thoughts on Air Travel — Wearying but Worth It


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Heathrow airport yesterday, London

The UK is home for me and Clive, for reasons of choice, necessity and compromise.

Family is also important to us, which means – as regular readers of this blog are aware – air travel is an unavoidable part of our life.

More and more, we’re finding air travel to be an endurance test. This is no doubt due in part to having made three long-haul trips in the past three months, in part to age and in part to airports’ and airlines’ ever-lengthening procedures for screening and security.

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There is much we can do to make air travel as painless as possible, which I’ve shared in my Passion for Travel  series, especially packing as light as we can, following our pre and post-trip checklists and managing jet lag.

There is also much about air travel we cannot control — delays (like the time it took us 42 hours from Sydney to Paris – via Beijing – but that’s another story), the weather, seasonal crowds and the behaviour of other travellers.

The reward, of course, comes at journey’s end. We give thanks for safe arrival and joyfully reunite with loved ones.

Yesterday we deplaned in the US, savoured our first evening and this morning with my son and belle-fille (a beautiful French term and my beautiful daughter-in-law) and then drove north to be with my mother. This week we’ll spend time together and help celebrate her 93rd birthday.

We try to keep calm and carry on. Our motto remains, ‘Travel while we can.’

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Thankful to have this time with my mom

Cheers, thanks for reading and happy travels.

If your trip involves air travel, you have our great empathy and best wishes for a start-to-finish smooth journey.

Nine Goals for May

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Part of the plan: Paris is always a good idea

  1. Spend time with my son and belle-fille in New Jersey.
  2. Spend time with my mom in NJ and help her celebrate her 92nd birthday.
  3. Find time to connect with friends in the U.S., if not on our short visit in May, then on our next trip in July.
  4. Resume work on my Paris memoir. Try to complete the next chapter but don’t overly stress as long as good progress is made. Write in Paris before going to New Jersey.
  5. Enjoy being out and about in Paris when we return there from New Jersey.
  6. Keep up with friends, activities and appointments in Felixstowe before we depart.
  7. Remind myself we knew the first 6-7 months of this year would involve a great deal of travel, mostly to see family. Try to be mindful of the need to pace ourselves along the way.
  8. Get over lingering jet lag and weariness I’m still feeling from a month Down Under.
  9. Be grateful we’re able to, as per our motto, ‘Travel while we can.’
Clive calls it our travel roundabout

Clive calls it our travel roundabout

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Why I’ve Run out of Energy: 15 Reasons

Five year-old at top of climbing wall

Five year-old at top of climbing wall

  1. Watching Clive’s grandchildren at the amazing climbing centre, including miss no-fear five year-old reaching the top of high walls over and over again.
  2. Watching Clive in his jet simulator session, a birthday gift from his daughter and son.
Clive at the controls

Clive at the controls

  1. Cheering the NSW Central Coast Mariners soccer team in their final game of the season.
  2. Going to church in the morning and bushwalking in Rumbalara Reserve in the afternoon, with views over Brisbane Water.
View from an Aussie bushwalk

View from an Aussie bushwalk

  1. Going to the library, where each child selects 10 books. At home, clever mum gives each one a separate shelf for his or her stash.
  2. Walking through the Japanese Garden and art centre.
  3. Going ten-pin bowling (to be exact, watching Clive and his grandchildren ten-pin bowling).
  4. Watching the boys swim in our hotel pool.
  5. Watching ‘Inside Out’ on DVD and ‘Zootopia’ at the theatre.
  6. Watching swimming lessons.
  7. Walking (adults) and scootering (kids) on the Gosford-to-Woy Woy pathway.
Scooting around

Scooting around

  1. Dinners with the family, including snags and chicken on the barbie, meat pies and home-made nachos.
  2. Dinner at the Star Buffet at Central Coast Leagues Club. So many choices, especially Asian treats, and all so good.
  3. Playing jewellery shop, colouring-in and having my hair twisted and ornamented by little hands.

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  1. Hanging out with three blessedly happy and healthy bundles of energy and their hard-working parents, for all of whom we are very thankful.
Clive & grandchildren at Japanese Garden

Clive & grandchildren at Japanese Garden

We still have four days to go before we head to Sydney airport. Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

My Sydney

Manly Beach and Shelly Beach, Sydney

Manly Beach and Shelly Beach, Sydney

Sydney, like all great cities, offers something different for everyone and infinite experiences and sensations to those who live or visit here.

Clive and I have spent the past few days in and around our former home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. This is where we both lived for many years before meeting each other. Our first date was for coffee at Manly Beach. We left the oceanfront café and walked to Shelly Beach, one of my late husband Gary’s favourite places in the world.

This week we’ve been fortunate to take ferries past the Opera House, catch up over a long Harbourside lunch at Watson’s Bay with our wonderful next-door neighbours and walk around Georges Heights near my first Aussie home at Balmoral Beach. How priceless are friends with whom you can pick up right where you left off, no matter the time or distance since you last saw each other in person. Thanks Lesley and Ian, Julie and Phil.

with my friend Julie at Georges Heights, Mosman

with my friend Julie at Georges Heights, Mosman

So many people have told us they’d love to visit Australia. I wish I could wave a magic wand and instantly transport everyone here. The country’s natural and man-made beauty never fails to move me, nor do the friendliness of its people and the fair-mindedness of its culture.

If you’ve always wanted to visit the Lucky Country, it’s worth going the distance to experience this fascinating, peaceful and welcoming place. Sydney the Outback, the Great Barrier Reef … no worries, mate, the list is endless and you will find your own magic Down Under.

Sydney Harbour and Opera House

Sydney Harbour and Opera House

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from the NSW Central Coast.

Five Great Things about Australia Beaches

Cronulla Beach, south of Sydney

Cronulla Beach, south of Sydney

  1. Aussie beaches are beautiful.
Clive on pathway to Cronulla Beach Esplanade

Clive on pathway to Cronulla Beach Esplanade

White sand, green headlands, the water and the bush and that endless Aussie blue sky.

  1. They’re everywhere.
Lighthouse at Norah Head, New South Wales Central Coast

Lighthouse at Norah Head, New South Wales Central Coast

The vast majority of Australia’s population lives near the coast, so most people have access and experience of countless beaches during their lifetime. The city of Sydney alone has numerous Harbour and ocean beaches.

  1. They’re part of city (and non-city) life.
Older grandson (wearing his US Pentagon cap) on the beach

Older grandson (wearing his US Pentagon cap) on the beach

It took me a long time to adjust to living in Sydney, where for the first time for our family, instead of going on vacation to the beach, the beaches are a regular part of life.

  1. Kids grow up with love and respect for the ocean
Rock pools at Norah Head, NSW Central Coast

Rock pools at Norah Head, NSW Central Coast

Learning to swim at an early age, a warm climate and a culture that celebrates the experience of being near and in the water.

  1. The beaches are free and open to all.
Ocean pool at Cronulla Beach, Sydney

Ocean pool at Cronulla Beach, Sydney

No matter what town, what state or what time of year; no matter where you live are where you come from: there’s no resident permit required, no gatehouse barring entry except to an exclusive few and no expensive summer badges necessary. This was another big change from my U.S. experience.

Aussie (and UK) beaches are just free and open to all, throughout the year. So if you’re thinking of visiting Australia, make sure to plan lots of time to relax and explore the country’s magnificent beaches.

Thanks, Australia.

Thursday afternoon at North Cronulla Beach, Sydney

Thursday afternoon at North Cronulla Beach, Sydney

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Sydney.

Family Time Down Under

G’day, Sydney. It’s nice to see you again.

G’day, Sydney. It’s nice to see you again.


G’day from the New South Wales central coast, where we arrived in time to celebrate Clive’s son’s birthday.

Clive with his son and his family

Clive with his son and his family

In between fighting off bouts of jet lag and catching up with the middle generation, we’ve been fortunate to watch various grandchildren activities: swimming, euphonium-playing, tennis, a few school runs and various projects at home.

Swimming

Swimming

Playing the euphonium

Playing the euphonium

Tennis

Tennis

This being Australia, we’re surrounded by various creatures as well as natural beauty. A lizard I thought was creepy but Clive says is friendly hung around our hotel parking lot for a day or so (or probably lives here).

Creepy/friendly lizard camouflaging himself in the grass

Creepy/friendly lizard camouflaging himself in the grass

Sydney autumn dazzles with a purple flowering tree called Tibouchina. Its blossoms are a much deeper violet than my beloved lavender jacarandas which bloom in spring but I love them nearly as much. These trees adorn many properties and streets of New South Wales during the Aussie autumn.

Tibouchina trees by our hotel

Tibouchina trees by our hotel

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Sydney’s southern coast.