Saving His Music: A Story of Memory and Meaning

When a pianist’s memory began to fade, it would take another musician to bring his songs to life again.

Steve Goodwin
Photo: Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian

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Steve Goodwin
Photo: Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian


All his life, Steve Goodwin had been a private man. No matter the circumstances, he’d say he was doing just fine. But as he sat in his Wilsonville home that Monday morning, he wasn’t fine.

Over the weekend, he’d argued with his youngest daughter, Melissa. The blow-up ended when his daughter, her voice shaking and tears in her eyes, opened the front door to her home and told him to leave.

As is the case in all families, they’d had minor disagreements before. But Saturday’s battle had been raw. Steve knew he needed to set things straight. It was time to reveal his secret.

With paper and pen, he retreated to a quiet place in his home. He struggled to find the right words, to explain why he’d been so different these past months. When finished, he told his wife, Joni, he was ready.

She called Melissa, who lived three blocks away. After she arrived, they gathered in the living room and made small talk. Then, from a shirt pocket, Steve pulled out his handwritten notes.

Mom and I saw a neurologist. I have a spot in my brain. I am being honest. If this progresses into Alzheimer’s, I know what it is like. I saw my mom. I experienced the pain of her personality changing, her being unkind to me and saying hurtful things.

If I ever do or say anything hurtful, I want you to know that I am sorry.

No matter what I do and say, you are my little girl and I love you.


Giant Steps: Steve and Joni Goodwin splash in the rain near their Wilsonville home. Several of Steve Goodwin’s songs were written especially for his wife.
Photo: Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian


Tears and hugs. Questions with no answers. Fear and doubt bubbling below the surface as each grappled with dark thoughts, knowing the family would be forever changed.

For Melissa, the bitter news explained so much.

The argument, so out of character for her father, started after her parents came over to help take down her Christmas tree because Melissa’s husband wasn’t home.

While Melissa removed ornaments and lights, her parents kept an eye on the boys, 2 and 4, who ran through the house, loud and wound up.

Melissa noticed her father, always so easygoing, was clearly irritated with the boys. She figured he hadn’t yet had his morning coffee. She climbed off the ladder and made him a cup. It didn’t help. Within the confines of the living room, the tension built.

And then he snapped at the boys.

Melissa, feeling protective, confronted her father. She didn’t know what was wrong with him. She yelled, then cried and said it was time for her parents to leave.

What was happening with dad?

Now she knew.

But the real change, she realized, began the previous summer. She’d been at her parents’ house, and she’d asked her father to play his piano, something he’d done all her life. Steve was a software engineer by profession, but music was his true passion. Growing up, Melissa and her sister fell asleep each night to his music. Decades later, the music allowed Melissa, now in her late 30s, to forever be the little girl who so loved her father.

“My father expressed himself through his music,” Melissa said. “That’s how I knew what was in his heart.”

On that summer day, she watched in confusion as her father, always so smooth and proficient, fumbled and stopped. He said he hadn’t been practicing. Now she knew the truth.

Now, they were on a race to save the music. Read the rest of the story and hear Steve Goodwin’s music.


Tom Hallman Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist at The Oregonian and author of several books. His work has appeared in Esquire, Men’s Health, Reader’s Digest, and other magazines.

This is an excerpt of the article featured in the November/December 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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