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Pine Nuts: Thank You Mrs. McQuitty

McAvoy Layne

I’ll never forget the day Mrs. McQuitty appeared in our driveway. She climbed out of an old white Ford, and I’ve never liked Fords since. It was a Monday, and I’ve never liked Mondays since. I didn’t want to take piano lessons, but my parents made me. At ten years old, all I wanted to do was to go swimming, and besides, piano lessons were for girls.

I remember how she looked me over, like an entomologist examining a bug, and I realized my life, as I knew it, was over.

Sure enough, in our first lesson, Mrs. McQuitty tried to get me to memorize some scales. This was uphill work for her, as my memory was chock-full of blank cartridges…



“Ummm, Every Good Boy Eats Grass?”

“No, no, McAvoy, let’s begin again, from the top…”



I was a dismal failure, and I’m sure Mrs. McQuitty dreaded Monday afternoons as much as I did, maybe more, that is, until she introduced me to, “Mrs. McQuitty’s Boogie-Woogie.” Suddenly I had a reason to live on Monday afternoon, and even found myself sitting down to the piano to bang out that tune when nobody was around.

Still, I begged my parents to let me quit piano lessons, and probably because I could finally play a tune, they let me quit. I’m confident Mrs. McQuitty put that day on her calendar at home as the one day in the calendar year on which to take a drink.

Over the slow-moving years that followed, I would sometimes sit down to a piano that was looking for some attention, point to the sky, and bang out Mrs. McQuitty’s Boogie-Woogie.

Then, my Mrs. McQuitty moment arrived. I was addressing a packed Nevada Room at the Governor’s Mansion as Mark Twain, when my microphone died, and there happened to be a piano behind me on the stage. While the AV guy ran for a fresh battery I glanced at that piano and a little voice deep down inside me said, “Go ahead, sit down at that piano, and call on Mrs. McQuitty.

So I shouted to the crowd, “I only know one tune on the piano, ‘I had an Old Horse, His Name Was Methusalem’…may I play it for you?”  There followed a resounding round of applause. I sat down on the bench, looked heavenward, and launched into Mrs. McQuitty’s Boogie-Woogie. The place went wild, clapping their hands and stomping their feet to the music.

When I stopped playing, and was assured the microphone was working again, I suggested to the governor that perhaps he should have the piano tuned.

When I arrived at my room that night I lifted a glass, and said out loud, “Thank you, Mrs. McQuitty, for providing me the most comforting round of applause any man in trouble was ever afforded. I love Mondays again, I love Fords again, and I love you, Mrs. McQuitty, wherever you are.”


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