Retired school teacher John Watson plays on a piano donated to him from the First Baptist Church of Mexico. Mitzi Sequoia, who helped make the donation possible through her newspaper column, is shown with Watson. (Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times)
MEXICO — An act of kindness from a church in the form of a donated piano is helping an elderly man find solace.
Retired school teacher John Watson, who turns 85 next month, said the piano is “a godsend.”
“When I get sick of everything,” he said, “I just go in there (his piano room).”
On Aug. 20, 2016, the Brown Street resident lost his son, Dean, his home and belongings in a devastating fire.
More than a year later, he bought a mobile trailer that was placed on the same property, but his lack of mobility and living alone left Watson with too much time to dwell on the tragedy.
Enter Mitzi Sequoia, known as The Basket Lady, who donates baskets with care items to people in the River Valley. Through her weekly column in the Rumford Falls Times, she also promotes acts of kindness, following a mission started by the late Dot Sanchas.
Sequoia learned that Watson, who lost a piano in the fire, had expressed a desire to own another piano. So she wrote about Watson’s wish in her column.
The response was immediate as several people came forward to offer a piano.
Sequoia said, “I love to do things like this.”
She said she’s always looking for causes.
“Don’t have to look far, usually,” she said.
Watson recalled the day Arthur Shaw, a longtime news carrier for Sun Journal, came to his door with the issue of the Times, saying, “You’re all over the paper!”
Shaw, a parishioner of the Mexico First Baptist Church, said to Watson, “There’s one (a piano) right across the street for you.”
Shaw, who left the paper with Watson before departing, said he told his pastor he might have found a home for the piano, asking him to make contact with Watson. The piano was against the wall and no longer being used. It belonged to the late Donald Haines, who was the organist at the church for more than 85 years.
Al’s Delivery Service loaded the piano and moved it into a room of Watson’s trailer.
Watson said: “I’m still getting used to the piano. It’s quite different from my Whittier, especially the base part.”
He admitted that he usually doesn’t read The Basket Lady or always get the Times, because “I don’t get out so much.”
He later told Sequoia: “By gee whiz, I read it (The Basket Lady) now!”
Watson said he enjoys playing music popular from his college days during the 1950s, when he attended the Farmington State Teacher’s College (now the University of Maine at Farmington).
He said, “I did it (played piano) all four years.”
After college, he said he always played piano at home.
“My mother bought a Whittier piano available for $100 from Ferland’s Dairy, where we had milk delivered, back in those days,” he said.
The piano stayed in the family. It went to Portland with his sister and then came back to John. But it was lost in the fire, along with hundreds of sheets of music.
Watson now plays the piano just about every day.
“I get into my moods and even sing along with it,” he said. “Pretend I’m Sinatra.”