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The Cooksey Family Piano!

The Cooksey Family Piano!

I am a busy mom of five and a military spouse who spent nine months last year solo parenting while my husband was away with the Air Force. I am currently in graduate school after dropping out fifteen years ago so between five kids and paying for school, money is definitely tight. We have wanted to restore our family heirloom player piano and have not been able to afford. My 12-year-old son is quickly becoming a talented pianist and is the sixth generation of our family to play on our piano. He has a chronic genetic blood condition called Hyper IgM Syndrome and has to get weekly infusions and endure lots of blood draws. Music has been so therapeutic for him and a really wonderful thing for our family. We are so grateful to have my great-great grandfather's piano (along with over fifty of the original player rolls and original bench!) and really hope to be able to restore it someday to its full glory!
Grandfather’s Piano By Karina Cooksey Some of my earliest and most poignant memories are of spending Christmas Eve at my Grandparents home. My Grandmother worked hard to keep important traditions and at Christmas, she made sure everything was perfect. It was all quite a spectacle with decorations, the smell of prime rib, the hum of cousins chatting, and the clanking of dishes. While all of our traditions surrounding Christmas were important, the most significant of all was the talent show. From long before my earliest memory, the family Christmas Eve talent show was the most important event of the year. No one was marked safe from participation, not even my great-grandparents who were well into their nineties. Family members always performed a wide variety of talents, but the centerpiece of every Christmas Eve talent show was the beautiful, antique, player piano. The majority of family talents were performed on that piano. From chopsticks to Clair de Lune, the sound would fill my grandparent’s family room, causing the knick knacks on the bookshelf to vibrate as fingers moved along the ivory keys. While the Christmas Eve talent show is an important part of the history of our piano, it’s not where the story begins. William Ingraham, my great-great-grandfather (affectionately known as “Grandfather”), was born in Pamo Valley, California in 1873. He belonged to the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians. He was a rancher and a beekeeper who carried mail on a star route, often known as some of the most remote and dangerous mail routes, and drove a six-mule team. His first wife was a woman who was orphaned as a girl during a wagon journey west and was adopted by a family in North Dakota. After she passed away, William married her adoptive sister, my great-great-grandmother. They lived together on William’s ranch in Mesa Grande, California. In the early 1900’s, the special ordered an Autopiano from New York City. It was taken by ship from New York City and traveled around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of Chile, before landing in California. From there, it was loaded onto a buckboard wagon pulled by mules to Williams ranch. The piano lived at my great-great grandfather’s ranch for several decades until it was passed down to their daughter Verna, my great-grandmother. There it stayed for a few decades, becoming a centerpiece of my grandmother’s childhood. When my grandmother, Virginia, was grown and married, the piano was passed down to her. This is where my fond memories of our piano grew. My grandmother continued to live in California and the piano survived two California’s largest modern earthquakes. The first was a magnitude 6 in 1971. The piano was said to have “walked” across the room during the quake but did not sustain any damage. The second was the devastating magnitude 6.7 Northridge quake of 1995. Again, it miraculously did not sustain any damage. Shortly after the Northridge quake, my grandparents and the miracle piano moved to Bountiful, Utah. I grew up playing the piano in my home on an affordable but adequate piano my parents had sacrificed to buy so my sister and I could play. Every time I was with my grandparents, I would play the old autopiano. I was always amazed that the keys were real ivory. As children, we’d pull the large player pedals out and marvel at what seemed like a maze of levers and pulls. When I got married, my grandmother gave me the piano as a wedding gift. I couldn’t believe her generosity. I got married in January 2008 and after our honeymoon, my new husband and I loaded all of my belongings, including the priceless piano, into a small Uhaul trailer to move across the country from Utah to Florida where my husband was stationed with the Air Force. We were worried about roads being bad driving through Wyoming in winter, so we decided to head south on a “safer” route. We left my parents home in Kaysville, Utah early in the morning on a cold, cloudless, January day. I was driving as we were approaching Monticiello, Utah on a small, two-lane highway. I noticed wind whipping across the road up ahead creating what appeared to be a small snow drift across the highway. I started to slow down and before I knew what was happening the car was sliding into the wrong lane. I tried to keep calm as I corrected the steering wheel, but the car continued to spin. Suddenly, we had spun 360 degrees, and rolled the car on its side into an embankment. As I hung, suspended by my seatbelt I quickly looked at my husband as we exchanged relief that we were both okay. After I realized neither of us were injured, my first thought was “The Piano!”. I was sick thinking about it being crushed in the trailer. We couldn’t open the door of the car due to the wind and ended up climbing through the sunroof. To my amazement, The trailer had stayed upright due to the extreme weight of the piano. The heavy metal tongue of the trailer was completely twisted but every single belonging in the trailer was completely unscathed. Within two days, we were back on the road to our new home in Florida. The piano has endured two more moves with us, one from Florida to Logan, Utah, and another from Logan to our current home in Plain City, Utah. A few years ago, my son started to play the piano and has been studying with an amazing teacher that is helping foster his natural talent and love for music. He plays the piano every single day and I love to remind him that the piano belonged to his great-great-great grandfather and traveled by boat around South America and by wagon to his ranch. We still have a large box of over fifty of the original player rolls from William Ingraham waiting until the piano can be properly restored. The more I think about our piano’s long history before me, the more I hope it has a long history after me. While this piano has been a big part of my life, I’m just a short season in its life. It has now connected six generations through its music. Six generations that have sat on that exact bench and moved their fingers along the keys, enjoying its ability to bring family together through music.

  • YEAR 1910-1920
  • MAKE Autopiano
  • FINISH Mahogany
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