Amazing grace: 'Hot' piano once lost, now found
By DONNA THORNTON
Mar. 11, 2018
GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Travis Cox got a call last week from the music director at Morton's Chapel Church, where he and his wife are part of a small congregation.
"He said, 'I think we might have a hot piano in our church," Cox recalled. The music director read news stories to him of how Margaret Webster consigned her piano for sale to Oden Music in Gadsden, and had not been able to get the piano back or any money from it.
Gadsden Police have received several unrelated reports of theft and fraud from people who said they entrusted pianos to Oden Music for repairs that were never done or that the money from items consigned to be sold was nowhere to be found, among other claims.
Webster was resigned to the loss of the any money from it, but she was sad at the loss of the piano — used by her mother, the late Peggy Crabtree, to teach piano lessons, after Crabtree inherited it from her mother.
While the claims of stolen property and fraud at Oden Music continue to surface and the ensuing investigation is verse after verse accusing people of doing wrong, Cox and the members of Morton's Chapel did what's right.
Cox called Det. Rick Jones at the Gadsden Police Department and told him he believed the piano the church bought about a year ago was the one Webster described. Jones confirmed the serial number; Webster's piano was found.
"I thought by his actions, something was different," Cox said. He expected the detective to make arrangements to come get the piano. "But he said he'd talked to Ms. Webster. He said, 'She's going to give you the piano.'"
Cox was astounded. Sunday morning, he relayed the entire saga to the church members — to a small church family that had shelled out $10,000 for a piano they now expected to lose.
And he told them Webster wanted them to keep the piano.
"The tears were flowing," Cox said, and people were amazed at her generosity.
For Webster, it was the only thing to do. "They bought the piano in good faith," she said. "They were taken advantage of."
Webster wanted only to come see her grandmother's piano one more time, and for the church to help police in their investigation.
That glad reunion day came on Feb. 28 as Webster made her way from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and her daughter Kaley came from Georgia, to visit Morton's Chapel on U.S. Highway 278 in west Etowah County.
It was an emotional time for her, as she walked into the church and made her way behind the altar to where the baby grand sat. It was even moreso when she saw a pair of reading glasses sitting beside the keys, waiting to be worn.
"Just like my mother's," Webster said.
Cox told her he'd only found one small flaw in the piano — a scuff mark on its top.
"We know what that's from," Webster said to her daughter. Her mother always kept an angel statue on the piano, and its base left its mark.
"It's obviously where it's meant to be," she said of the piano.
Webster said her mother was active in the First Methodist Church in Gadsden, and her grandmother sang in the Episcopal church.
"It's right for their piano to be in a church," she said.
Webster suggested there might have been some intervention from above that led the piano to this place, and led her to find it.
"I've chased this piano for two years," she said. "I lost sleep, I wondered how to accept that I'd never find it.
"If these weren't good, strong, Christian people, they wouldn't have called the detective," Webster said. She said she hopes their example will inspire other people to step up when they see injustice.
Webster stepped up in another way: She hired Jason Vise of Huntsville to come tune the piano for the church.
Cox protested, telling her they could pay to have that done, but Webster said she wanted to do it.
"I wanted it to be right for them," she said.
Cox said the church went to Oden Music because they believed it to be a reputable company. He said he grew up in Gadsden and the business then had an "impeccable reputation." He said his wife sat at the church from midday till dark the day the piano was to be delivered, and was told repeatedly there had been an emergency, that it would get there soon. "I came to sit with her when it got dark," he said, but eventually they gave up. "We left a note on the door to call us if he showed up."
They got a call about 2:30 a.m., he said, and came to open the church door.
Cox said when the church bought the piano that it also bought an $800 adjustable piano bench — something they've yet to see. They wanted to trade in the church's old piano to go toward the purchase; it was taken to Oden Music, he said, and they got a call telling them "it wasn't worth anything." They never got it back.
When he believed they'd lose the piano they bought, the congregation was looking at some a cappella services.
The whole experience "jerked us into reality," Cox said.
"It's just been blessing after blessing for us," he said, because of Webster's kindness.
Cox said he told Webster they would try to get the money back, and if they did it would be hers. He said she didn't seem to want that either.
"It was just another blessing," Cox said.