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Anne Meux, her pianos, and my visit, by Shirley Kirsten



The Meux Home was not where I met Anne Meux. She was a celebrated woman well before I had relocated from New York City to Fresno, and by some quirk of fate, she became my next door neighbor in the Northwest suburbs upon my arrival here in the Central Valley.

I didn't realize Anne was cut of aristocratic cloth in the 15 or so years we cohabited as house by house residents, because the very rare times she greeted me, I never once heard her refer to the distinguished downtown home that had been designated a landmark. In fact, the date of her death is inaccurate as stated on the Meux Home website. (unless the Anne Meux I knew was named after a close relative) I had learned from historic accounts published in the Fresno Bee, that my neighbor, "Anne" was one of the grandchildren that often visited and stayed at the Meux Home.

 As I recall, my neighbor to the right, "Anne," passed away, almost unnoticed many years after 1970. A friend of mine who lived across the street had informed me that Anne's husband was perplexed that his wife had taken a long nap and never awoke. He had tried unsuccessfully to shake her out of her sleep.

I had a blurred memory about what followed in the sequence of events, because Anne, her husband, and their family members were very secretive as well as unassuming. Rarely was Anne up and about on her property, except for her stand-in, a big, barking dog named "Pluto" who pranced about freely and often found himself on our front lawn to do his business. The one and only run in I had with Anne was about this impropriety because I had been worried that my toddlers who crawled across the grass occasionally, might inadvertently explore what should have been out of their bounds. Anne was insistent that Pluto would never do such a nasty thing on my premises, despite the photographic evidence I possessed to the contrary and she felt humiliated when she came over to scoop up the mess.

One day, years after Anne and I came to verbal blows over Pluto, I mustered the courage to knock on her door one afternoon to thank her for having surreptitiously dropped a basket of trick or treat Halloween candy on our doorstep and I just happened to bring along a program announcing my upcoming concert to benefit Valley Public Radio. It was well known that the Meux family was a big supporter of the arts based on publicity about its endowments to the Fresno Art Museum and Philharmonic. These gifts to Fresno's cultural institutions made me feel that deep down, Anne and I had a lot in common.

The day I summoned up the nerve to knock on her door, I feared that she might instantly shun me because of our past, angry encounter over Pluto. By that time, the dog was so old he could barely make it to our property for any reason at all.
  
After tapping lightly on her front door, she half opened it and registered a demeanor of discomfort. At that moment I didn't think I was going to get anywhere near her living space that beckoned with what appeared to be the silhouetted shadow of a grand piano. I barely squeezed through the door half way to afford myself a better birds-eye view of what looked like a magnificent Steinway with scrolled legs in the far reaches of a large living room. A connoisseur of fine keyboard instruments, I simply had to satisfy my growing curiosity about what could have been a priceless treasure.

“Do you have a Steinway?” I asked Anne, meekly. "Yes," she replied, rather politely.  “And when did you acquire it?” I said. “Well, no one’s played it in years, so I can hardly say much about it.”

At this point in our conversation, I gracefully slithered through the door and made my way to the piano bench. Mrs. Meux’s countenance had softened by this time, and she seemed to be more receptive to me.

“I really would love to try out your piano,” I said. The Steinway’s lid was closed and the top surface was crowded with an assortment of nick knacks.  The main room, dark and sparsely furnished was funereal, but ignoring a pervasive sadness that permeated the place, I managed to pull out the piano bench as a prelude to playing. Mrs. Meux passively watched me.

On closer inspection, I beheld an aristocratic looking, antique style grand piano with an alligator finish, but I couldn't determine its true age without raising the lid to check for a serial number. Mrs. Meux insisted that the instrument dated back to the 1920’s during Steinway’s Golden Era of piano building which satisfied me for the moment.
    
In no time she had found a snug place for herself beside the grand, reclining on a soft, plush easy chair while I prepared for a heavenly musical encounter that would draw the two of us closer together. As I sank my fingers into the ivory keys, I was engulfed with tonal resonance that kept me playing for hours until sunset.
 
If this musical treasure had not provided enough pleasure in the time I had with it, I eyed still another tantalizing piano in the parlor area, right by a small kitchen. It was an upright in maple finish that had a gorgeous exterior with a filigreed rack, a full sheen, and the distinguished name "Weber" on its fall board.
 
The ivory keys were immaculately preserved and the sound emanating from this vertical piano was nothing short of magnificent. This tall upright played like a grand with exquisite tone, touch, and external beauty that would forever haunt me.

My memory of this rare encounter with Mrs. Meux and her collection of two awe-inspiring pianos, had remained with me to this day.
 
About five years after I had sampled Anne's musical treasures, a moving van pulled up to the curb of 1145 W. San Ramon where she had lived and I remember that I had raced over to the house to speak with relatives who were picking through furniture and other items in the home. They had informed me that the pianos would soon be moved out. I knew in my heart that I must play the Steinway and Weber pianos one more time before they were taken away.

I had my final wish. There was a buzz around me as I poured my soul into every last note before two men entered the living room, dropped some dollies on the rug, and proceeded to haul the pianos out of the home.

I choked up a bit as the grand and upright disappeared into the truck. I had no idea where the pianos were going, but I had hoped that they would find a good home among musical owners who would cherish them and breathe life into these instruments in their playing. It was time for them to sing and come out of hiding.
                                                        ***

For more information about the historic Meux home:
http://www.meux.mus.ca.us/index.html;

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Comment by Shirley Kirsten on February 18, 2011 at 4:05pm
Rosemary, I appreciated your comment. Shirley Kirsten
Comment by Rosemary Lakovich on February 11, 2011 at 5:44pm

Thank you for sharing your memories Shirley, Your reflections painted a wonderous moment, for both you and your neighbor.

ps. I play piano also.

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