University of Texas, Frances Kay Harris (the Kay was her maiden name) was trying
her hand as a Broadway theater actress when she met Lew, who was in New York making
his way as a composer of musical comedy.
Within what seemed to both of
them like moments, they married.
was the war years, and things were tight, especially for a couple who had two
children, aspiring to make their way in the entertainment business.
1947, with the almost constant encouragement from Frances’ dad, they gave up Broadway
and moved to Galveston.
Lew joined his father-in-law in the general insurance business; Frances took up
daily broadcasting the women’s news. Tracy and Johnny enrolled in public schools.
dream was to own a Baldwin grand piano. He had no trouble picturing it in their
Harve Lafitte home’s living room. But, after all, he once confided in me, a grand
piano is a rather selfish thing to buy when you’re the only one in the family
who is serious about his music.
Nevertheless, for a number of years he
saved a few bucks at a time until he had $10,000 in his “piano fund.” He called
Joe Ginsberg at Ginsberg’s Music Center, and had him order the exact Baldwin model
grand he had always wanted.
When Joe called him to let him know the instrument
was in and ready to be delivered, Lew withdrew from his Moody National Bank special
account, $10,000 in one hundred dollar bills. And he took them to Joe as a way
of adding an emphasis to the accomplishment.
When it was delivered, Lew’s
decorating eye was confirmed. It did look great in the living room, and the sound
and tone displayed themselves magnificently as they bounced against the big floor
to ceiling windows that overlooked their backyard pool.
years after Lew had died, Frances called me. “Bill, it’s Franny Kay.” I had always
jokingly called her Franny Kay, and she had always made out like what she had
heard me say was “Frances Kay.”
This was the first time she had ever referred
to herself to me as Franny Kay; a milestone since at least 35 years had passed
since I had first decided I’d call her that. It had always been our subtle joke.
“Tracy is coming home for the holidays, and she may want to play Lew’s piano.
When can you come tune it?”
The day I arrived for the appointment, Franny
Kay had her little manicure table-for-two set up next to the big windows that
overlooked the pool. Her manicurist was on the way to attend to her nails and
afternoon, Franny Kay’s lifelong friend, Ruth Kempner, would stop by for their
almost daily game of for-blood Scrabble.
Her maid, who had been with her
for decades, had a small TV set sitting in front of herself at the breakfast table.
The maid’s head was on the table in her arms; she was asleep. The TV chattered
on and on as if she weren’t.
I sat down at Lew’s piano to began to play.
Nothing came out. The keys couldn’t be depressed. What in the world is wrong,
I opened the lid of Lew’s $10,000 magnificent Baldwin grand piano, the strings
were fully covered by at least an inch of cat hair!
“Franny Kay, what
in the world? How do I tune a piano that doesn’t play? Why has the cat been sleeping
inside of Lew’s piano?”
“Bill, you’ve got to learn to love animals more. Since Lew died, no one has been
here to play or enjoy his piano but my cat. It brings her great pleasure. But
I guess she’ll have to find another place to sleep. Can you fix it?”
can’t, but I use a piano restoration company that will be able to. I’ll pull out
the action and take it there and get an estimate for you,” I promised. “But there’s
no way Tracy will be able to play Lew’s piano this holiday season.”
Kay? It’s Bill Cherry. The restoration company said it will cost just shy of $5,000
to bring Lew’s piano back up to snuff.”
I brought the action back, put it in place, then tuned Lew’s Baldwin grand, the
first tune I played for Franny Kay was Lew’s song, “These Are the Things I Love.”
She smiled throughout it all.
I thought of the friendship I had enjoyed
with the remarkable Franny Kay and Lew Harris since I had been a child.
be darned if the manicurist didn’t ring the doorbell and break my spell. Franny
Kay went to greet her, and I packed my tools and left.
two years later, the phone rang. “Bill, it’s Frances. My computer is upstairs,
and I think it’s time to move it downstairs. The only place I can think of where
it will fit is where Lew’s piano is. What should we do with Lew’s piano?’
“That’s easy. Lew was rabid about raising money for the Moody House Retirement
Home. What about putting it on permanent loan there?”
And that’s what
Frances Kay Harris left us on January 22, 2012. She was 94.
19 , 2012 column
Copyright William S. Cherry. All rights reserved
Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories
| Texas Music | Columns