Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 11

Jamie loved the changing seasons and was sure he’d hate living where it was summer all year. Along with the seasons, his school playground games changed, especially after the first snow. Fox and Geese was his favorite winter game.

When the temperature began to drop below freezing, the time for a game Homer had made up that he called ‘glass-bustin’ arrived. Overnight, a thin layer of ice froze over puddles so he could lift a circle of ice out in one piece. Then he’d sneak up behind someone and smash the ice on their head, which looked like a pane of glass breaking. Homer did it for the surprise and it didn’t hurt as long as they were wearing a hat. He loved doing it to the first-graders because they didn’t know it was coming and the look on their faces the first time the ice shattered kept Homer giggling the rest of the day.

The first day ice formed on puddles, Homer met Jamie wearing a funny, crooked grin. “I thought of somethin’ on the way to school. Doin’ glass-bustin’ on the first-graders is fun, but there’s somebody better.” His grin got wider. “Sam! Ain’t no one’s done it to him before.”

Jamie slapped his thigh. “You’re right! But the first-graders will know it’s coming after that and it won’t be such a surprise.”

“Yeah, but it’ll be worth it to get Sam with a big one. When he gets here, you stop ’im at the corner of the porch and I’ll come around from behind and let ’im have it.”

Jamie waited on the porch for Sam while Homer got a pane of ice. When he lifted it, Jamie saw it was bigger than the ones he usually used. Then he lifted a pane of ice from another puddle, stacked it on the first one and added a third.

Jamie began to have second thoughts, but before he could say anything to Homer, Sam drove up, got out of the truck and walked to the door while Homer circled the schoolhouse with his ice.

Sam got to the corner of the porch and Jamie said, “Morning, Sam. You finish that essay on the Revolutionary War?”

Sam stopped. “Sure. Isn’t yours done? I thought you were almost finished.”

Before Jamie could reply, second-graders playing tag barged between them knocking Sam’s books out of his hands. When he bent down to pick up his books, Sam’s hat fell off. As he stood, Homer dashed around the corner holding his ice above his head. He hadn’t seen that Sam wasn’t wearing a hat.

“Don’t, Homer!” Jamie yelled as Homer crashed the stack of ice down on Sam’s head.

Sam fell facedown onto the porch and lay motionless. Homer’s mouth dropped open and his eyes got so big Jamie could see white all the way around.

Jamie dropped to one knee and rocked Sam’s shoulder. “Sam? Sam, you all right?”

Sam’s eyes were closed and a trickle of blood ran down his forehead. Jamie looked up and yelled, “Homer, get Miss Kuelmann! Sam’s hurt!”

Homer’s face had turned white and he stood frozen in place, staring down at Sam. Jamie was going to yell for Miss Kuelmann, but she charged out onto the porch followed by all the other kids. She surveyed the scene and took charge.

“Keith, jump on your horse, ride over to George Peat’s farm as fast as you can and have Mrs. Peat call the ambulance from town. Ken, you and Doc take everybody inside and have them sit in their desks. Jamie, get the bandages out of the bottom drawer of my desk. Homer, get blankets from the cloak room so I can cover him up until the ambulance gets here.”

Homer didn’t move. “Homer, get blankets,” she repeated a little louder. When he still didn’t do anything, Miss Kuelmann looked up at his face and said, “Oh, my goodness.”

Jamie ran the bandages out and Miss Kuelmann grabbed them. Pointing at Homer, she said, “Walk him inside and sit him in his desk. Then get me the blankets from the cloakroom. After that, get Homer some water and sit with him until he’s better.”

“Yes’m.” Jamie took Homer by the elbow, but he had to pull a little to get him moving. “C’mon Homer, let’s go inside.”

Homer gave Jamie a blank look, but let Jamie walk him in in and sit him his desk. Then Jamie took the blankets out to Miss Kuelmann and went back in to sit next to Homer.

The little kids were crying and the older girls were comforting them. Jamie said, “Doc, give me a hand and get a cup of water for Homer.” Doc came back with the water and then helped Jamie get Homer’s coat and hat off.

In a far-off voice, Homer said, “Who was that?”

Jamie tried to get him to drink some water, but he didn’t pay attention. The door was open so Jamie yelled, “Miss Kuelmann, he won’t drink any water. What should I do?”

“Get a cloth, dip it in cold water and put it on his face and forehead.”

When Jamie went to the water bucket near the door, he heard Miss Kuelmann talking to Sam, so maybe he wasn’t hurt as bad as Jamie first thought.

He got a small towel, dipped it in the water bucket and brought it back to Homer. Putting the towel on Homer’s forehead, Jamie said, “Sam’s okay.”

Homer looked up and said in a whispery voice, “Huh? What’s wrong with Sam?”

Jamie kept talking to Homer, telling him Sam was all right and gradually Homer made more sense.

Ken galloped across the playground from George Peat’s farm. By that time, everyone for miles around was stirred up. Fifteen of their neighbors were on the same party line so every call could be heard by everyone. People listened in for something to do or just to be nosey and nothing travelled faster than bad news. Jamie looked out the window and saw cars and trucks coming from all directions.

Miss Kuelmann called, “Jamie, Keith, Ken, you boys keep everyone settled in there.”

As parents ran to the door, Miss Kuelmann told them it was just a little accident and Ken had gotten a little excited when he called. Since everyone was so upset, she was calling school off for the rest of the day. One by one, parents came, got their kids and left. Ken, Keith, their little sister and Doc got on their horses and trotted home.

Most of the kids were gone when Jamie heard the sound of a truck he recognized. When he looked, his dad and Mr. Meiers were in his old truck careening down the road. The truck stopped with screeching brakes and Homer’s dad burst out and sprinted for the school. He didn’t even slow down when he ran by Sam and Miss Kuelmann on the porch.

He crashed into the room yelling. “Homer! What’d you do now? Wait’ll I get…”

Jamie jumped up and blocked his charge across the room. “Don’t, Mr. Meiers, please. Homer’s hurt.”

“Huh? I heard that he was the one that did it. Maybe killed somebody.”

“No sir. He’s hurt, but I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Talk to him, please.”

Mr. Meiers stared at Jamie while he caught his breath. The look on Jamie’s face was saying more than his words because Mr. Meiers managed to calm down, but his eyes bugged out and his cheeks turned purple with the effort. He yanked off his hat, swatted his leg a few times with it while he pulled on a clump of his hair and ground his boot heel into the floor all at the same time. He took a deep breath, exhaled, flipped his hat back on and squeezed into the desk in front of Homer.

When Homer didn’t look at him, he touched Homer’s face. “Homer? It’s Pa.”

Homer looked around with unfocused eyes. “Pa? What are you doin’ here?”

A heavy hand clamped onto the back of Jamie’s neck and his dad said, “I talked to Miss Kuelmann and she says she doesn’t know exactly what happened, but you and Homer were the ones who did it. That true?”

Jamie shuffled his feet and swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.”

“I’ll expect you to explain everything to me later when all this gets sorted out.”

“Yes, sir, I will.”

“What’s wrong with Homer?”

“I don’t know. He’s been like that ever since...” Jamie let the sentence trail off.

Mr. Meiers struggled out of the desk and stood. “I’d best take him home and put him to bed.”

Jamie’s dad said, “I’ll carry him. You drive. Jamie, you stay here and help any way you can. Then come home.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jamie’s dad never yelled, but when he talked in the voice that he was using now, Jamie knew he’d better do exactly as he was told.

He scooped Homer up out of his desk chair as easily if he were a big rag doll. Mr. Meiers picked up Homer’s coat and hat and they walked to the truck. They passed Homer in through the window and Mr. Meiers drove away. Jamie went to the porch where Miss Kuelmann was holding bandages on Sam’s head as he lay on the floor.

“Jamie, what in the world happened here?”

He gave her a short explanation of the prank. Since Homer was part of it, Jamie knew she’d be able to fill in the details.

She sighed. “I should have banned that game as soon as Homer thought of it.”

“How’s Sam?”

In a weak voice, Sam said, “I’m okay. Tell Homer not to use such a big piece of ice next time.”

Jamie heard a siren while Miss Kuelmann shook a finger at him. “There won’t be a next time. Is that understood?”

“Yes’m.”

The ambulance backed across the playground and attendants loaded Sam onto a stretcher. Miss Kuelmann patted Sam’s hand and said, “I can’t go with you because there are still children here and I can’t leave them. They’ll take good care of you at the hospital and call your aunt.”

When the attendants slid the stretcher into the back of the ambulance, Jamie jumped in.

At the hospital, the nurses wouldn’t let him in at first because he had to be thirteen years old or a relative so Jamie lied and said he was a cousin and Aunt Lily told him to stay with Sam until she got there. The nurse didn’t look like she believed him, but she let him in anyway.

Curtains surrounded Sam’s bed and Jamie went inside. “I’m awful sorry, Sam. We’ve played that game lots of times and no one ever got hurt.”

Sam’s eyes were only half-open. “I’ll be all right. Thank you for coming with me, I didn’t want to be alone. My head hurts and I’m tired…”

Sam dozed while Jamie stood beside Sam’s bed wishing there was some way he could take it all back. He heard a commotion in the hall and when Mrs. Lily came in, she seemed to take up all the space left inside the curtains.

She looked him over as if he were a calf at the auction barn, making his face flush then said, “The admitting nurse tells me that you are Jamie Williams, who goes to school with Sam and is a distant relative. Is that correct?”

“Yes’m.”

“Thank you for staying with Sam. You may wait outside and I will tell you how Sam is after I speak with the doctor.” She opened the curtains and waved him out.

Jamie sat in the waiting room on a hard, uncomfortable chair. When he got tired of sitting, he got up, paced around the room and then went back to sitting. Finally, Mrs. Lily came out.

“Jamie, Sam will be fine. He has a bump on the head and the doctor has put in several stitches. He will have to rest for a few days, but there has been no lasting harm. Sam told me how it happened and he doesn’t blame you.”

Jamie let out a sigh of relief, but Mrs. Lily frowned when he did. “He may not, however I do.” Jamie’s shoulders sagged and he looked at the floor. “Sam tells me that you are different from the other boys at school. Based on his description of your character, I would expect that in the future, you will exercise leadership over the other boys and not allow pranks that can injure your fellow students to occur. Do you agree?”

“Yes’m.”

Jamie wasn’t sure what he just agreed to, but it sounded like she wasn’t blaming him too much.

“Can I see Sam?”

“I understand you rode in the ambulance from the school and do not have a means of getting home. Is that correct?”

Yes’m.”

“Very well. We will take you to your home. Sam will be leaving as soon as I complete the required paperwork and you may speak with him on the way.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Lily. I’m real sorry about what happened.”

She touched his cheek with her fingers and in a completely different sounding voice said, “I know, Jamie. It was considerate of you to come to the hospital with him. Please wait here.”

Jamie thought about what Mrs. Lily had said. Sam had told her that he was different from the other boys. Leadership? Character? He didn’t know exactly what she meant, but he liked the sound of it.

Mrs. Lily came out followed by the blonde young man who drove Sam to school. He was carrying Sam who was wrapped in a blanket. “Jamie, this is Mr. Philip Jorgenson. He will drive us home and then you may give him directions to take you home.”

Jamie nodded at Mr. Jorgenson and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Lily, Mr. Jorgenson.”

He ran ahead opening doors as they walked out. Outside, Mr. Jorgenson led them to a Packard limousine that gleamed and sparkled in the sun. He settled Sam in the backseat and held the other door open for Jamie so he could sit in the middle. When Mrs. Lily followed him in, he closed the door with a quiet thunk.

Mr. Jorgenson drove out of the parking lot and onto the highway toward Mrs. Lily’s. The car rolled silently and Jamie leaned back into the soft seat, enjoying the ride.

Sam took Jamie’s hand and when he looked at him in surprise, he smiled and nodded a tiny bit. No boy had ever held his hand before, but since their hands were on the seat between them and no one could see, he didn’t pull it away.

He’d wanted to talk to Sam at the hospital, but now that they were in the car, Jamie couldn’t think of anything to say. Maybe it was because Mrs. Lily was sitting next to him. Sam secretly held Jamie’s hand all the way to Mrs. Lily’s house and let go only when Mr. Jorgenson slowed down as he turned into the lane.

Mr. Jorgenson parked, got out and opened the door for Mrs. Lily, then went around to the other side and lifted Sam out.

Mrs. Lily said, “Jamie, please remain here and Mr. Jorgenson will return to drive you home. Good morning.”

It was hard to tell if she was mad at him, but she’d nodded and smiled a bit before she closed the door, making Jamie feel better.

Mr. Jorgenson came out and got in. “I am sorry. Don’t speak good English. From Sweden. You talk slow. I understand.”

Jamie gave directions and Mr. Jorgenson drove him home. Riding in the backseat of that fancy car made Jamie feel like a rich person and he thought he could learn to like it.

Mr. Jorgenson turned in at Jamie’s farm, drove down the lane and stopped near the kitchen door. Then he got out and opened the door for Jamie. By that time, Jamie’s mom and grandma had come out onto the porch see who had arrived in a limousine. Jamie enjoyed their astonished looks when he got out and waved to Mr. Jorgenson thanking him for the ride.

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