Kitchen Pianos and How to Degaje


(edit: I forgot to post the picture! Here it is!)

When I was a kid growing up in Haiti, there was a word that I heard a lot. Degaje. Which means, essentially, make do with what you have. If you have ever repaired anything with duct tape, then you are Degaje-ing. My dad had Degaje down to a science. “Well, the car broke down, and I couldn’t find a part for it, so I took this scrap metal I had and welded my own part..” or “You need bookshelves? Ok, here’s a big stack of milk crates, have fun…” or maybe, my mom, “I made bacon for breakfast…ok, it’s not really bacon, it’s fried spam, but it’s close!” You get the idea.

I have carried the spirit of Degaje into my marriage and family life. It sometimes gets on my husband’s nerves. His motto being, “If you’re going to do a job, do it right”. My motto goes more like, “Do whatever you can with whatever you have and as long as it works, everything is fine.” I will tell my kids that we are going to Degaje and they look at me blankly. What? Speak English mom. I still haven’t got it into their vocabulary.

That brings us to my kitchen piano. My husband knows how to tune and repair pianos. Shhh. It’s a secret. He’s not out for hire. He doesn’t mind keeping our family pianos going, but it’s not his favorite work. No, he really doesn’t want to come tune your piano for you. So, years ago he brought home an old broken down piano. I think someone was giving it away and it was either he take it or it was going to the dump. He took it. I think the idea was that he would fix it up and let it be a piano for the kids. Shortly after that though, he bought me a nice upright piano and of course the kids wanted to play my nice piano instead of the old beat up one that hadn’t been tuned yet. The old piano got relegated to our back room.

The back room is an addition on the back of our house that is very pleasant, full of windows. It has been a multi-functional room since we moved in 12 years ago. It has been a children’s bedroom, a sickroom, a family room, a junk room, a school room, a guest room, and finally it became the parental bedroom. Throughout all these transitions, the piano has remained. When it became my bedroom we used the piano as a kind of bookshelf and shoe rack. It looked ok, but it took up a lot of room. Then, for my 40th birthday, my husband remodeled our bedroom. We got carpet on the floor, fresh peachy paint on the walls, new curtains, new closet system. It’s beautiful, I love it.

When Andy started the bedroom remodel, he moved everything out of the room so he could lay the carpet. I suggested this would be a wonderful time to haul the piano away since we had no use for it. He seemed to agree with me and I was excited. Hurray, the unused, old, forgotten piano will finally go away! He rolled the piano out of our room, down a short hall and into the kitchen. He was focused on our bedroom and he said he would take care of the piano a bit later. The piano was in the middle of my kitchen and getting in the way, so we pushed it against the wall where there was plenty of room.

Now, I have to explain a bit more about our house and kitchen, because I’m sure you’re wondering why my kitchen had plenty of room for a piano…Our house was built in 1909. It is a “project” house. We are in the middle of remodeling it. We’ve been in the middle of remodeling it for 12 years. We have done all the major work like replacing plumbing and wiring and drywall, new bathrooms, new roof, that kind of stuff, but we’ve never quite got to finishing all the trim and painting and maybe fixing the floors…or finishing the kitchen.

My kitchen right now has very little counter space. A round table in the middle of the room, a countertop that holds all the cereal/fruit/bread/vegetables, and a little bit of counter on either side of the sink. That’s it. So, suddenly, I had a piano in my kitchen. I started setting things down on it while I was cooking. Other people started setting things down on it. Slowly the piano began to disappear under a pile of spices, and cooking supplies, and tea pots, and cast iron skillets. My husband raised an eyebrow when he saw the accumulation. “How am I going to get rid of the piano with all this stuff on it?” I assured him that as soon as he was ready to move the piano, I would move the stuff out of the way. Then logic kicked in. Why move the piano when it makes such a great counter space? Degaje at it’s best. And that, my friends, is why I have a piano in my kitchen. In case you were wondering.

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