Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 14

The next morning at school, Miss Kuelmann waved Homer over to her desk as soon as he came in. “Mrs. Lily called me last night and said you were quite the storyteller.”

“Yes’m. I told ’er one yesterday.”

“Would you like to tell it to the class after dinner?”

“Yes’m. Mrs. Lily said I should and see if the little kids like it.”

All morning, Jamie heard Homer mumbling parts of the story. After dinner, Miss Kuelmann announced that Homer was going to tell a story and called him to the front.

He started the story, but the little kids didn’t pay attention and got fidgety. Homer stopped, frowned and put his hands on his hips. “Somethin’ ain’t right. I can’t get this story goin’.” He paced back and forth thinking, while everyone waited. Finally, he glanced down and pointed at his boots. “I know what’s wrong. Just a minute.”

He sat on the edge of a desk, unlaced his boots and dropped them on the floor. Miss Kuelmann said, “Homer, you know you have to wear shoes in school.”

“Yes’m, but I can’t tell stories that way. Lemme try and if it don’t work, I’ll put ’em back on.”

When she nodded, Homer slapped his bare feet on the floor to get everyone’s attention and started over. The story came to life as he ran all over the room creating his characters and scenes, pulling everyone into his made-up world. The little kids’ eyes got big and round as they followed every move.

When he finished, everybody clapped and begged for another. Homer hammed it up by bowing several times, walked to his desk and flopped into his seat with a big grin on his face. Then he did something Jamie would’ve never believed if he hadn’t been sitting right next to Homer to see it. Without being told, Homer dug around inside his desk, pulled out an assignment and went to work on it.

Off and on the rest of the afternoon, Homer stopped working, looked up and got the same far-away expression he’d had at Mrs. Lily’s after he told the story. After a long pause, he’d nod, smile and work on his assignment again.

Miss Kuelmann saw the change and at the end of the day she asked, “Homer, do you have more stories?”

He grinned. “Yes’m. I make ’em up all the time. You want me to tell another?”

“Absolutely. In fact, I think we should make your stories a regular part of class. Would you like to do that?”

“Yes’m, I would. I got one I can tell tomorrow. It’s real funny.”

“Let’s plan on it then.” She pointed and said, “Better put your boots on before you go home.”

Homer looked down at his bare feet. “Oh, yes’m. I forgot already.”

Jamie laughed and socked him on the shoulder.

The next day after dinner, Homer told a story about two fishermen making up lies about how big of fish they’d caught. Tanner Smith, one of the first graders, laughed so hard he got sick and they had to clean up before Homer could finish.

Miss Kuelmann asked Homer to talk with her about his storytelling at afternoon recess. Curious, Jamie stayed too and when they went to her desk, she said, “Homer, if you’re going to tell stories that funny, you’ll probably have to tell them before dinner and not afterward.”

“Yes’m, that was a mess.”

“But don’t worry about it. It’s not the first time someone got sick at school. Anyway, you know Jamie’s grandfather plays his harmonica for my children’s class at the Lutheran church.”

“Yes’m. Jamie told me.”

“Would you like to tell stories to my class? You could ride into town with me and Jamie’s grandfather.”

Homer hesitated. “Maybe. What kinda stories?”

“Could you tell a Bible story each week?”

Homer frowned, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. “My ma’s been talkin’ to you, ain’t she? She’s tryin’ to get you to help her get me goin’ to church again.”

Miss Kuelmann picked up a wooden ruler and rapped Homer smartly on the knuckles. “Your mother has talked to me, but I’d never try to trick you into doing something you didn’t want to do. Going to church or not is a decision each person has to make for himself.”

He shook his hand, pretending his knuckles hurt. “Yes’m. Ma and my sisters have been goin’ on and on about it, so I figured… Well, never mind.”

“Homer, all I want you to do is tell a story. I think everyone would enjoy it.”

Homer put on his crooked smile. “I gotta talk to Pa and if he says it’s okay, sure, I’d like to.” The smile faded. “But I don’t know any Bible stories.”

“That’s all right. I have a book of Bible stories you can choose from.”

He looked down at his boots. “Yes’m, but could Jamie help me with the readin’? It’d go lots faster that way.”

“Yes, as long as Jamie doesn’t read it to you. The only way you can improve your reading is to do it yourself. Do you boys understand?”

Jamie nodded while Homer said, “Yes’m. I’ll ask Pa tonight and tell you tomorrow.” Miss Kuelmann smiled and the boys ran outside for recess.

Homer came to school early the next day, trotting down the road at the same time as Jamie got to the playground. “Hi, Homer, what’d your pa say about telling stories?”

“He said it was all right by him. Good thing I asked him first because when I told Ma, I thought she was gonna wallop me over the head with a chunk of stove wood. She said she wanted me to go to church, but not there ’cause they’re Lutherans.”

Jamie laughed. “Sounds like my grandma and mom. So what happened?”

“Pa got in it on my side and he and Ma had a big row. Finally, Pa said that best he could tell, one church was the same as another and I could go.”

“Great, let’s get Miss Kuelmann’s Bible stories book.”

At their desks, they paged through the book and Homer picked the story of Jonah and the Whale. Jamie started to help him read it, but Sam had to take over partway through after Jamie got mad at Homer because he wasn’t paying attention.

At recess, Sam and Jamie ganged up on Homer. Sam said, “If you want us to help you with Bible stories, you’re going to have to learn to read a lot better than that.”

“Yeah,” Jamie said. “If you think we’re going to read all those Bible stories to you, you’re bughead.”

Homer put up both hands. “Okay, okay. I’ll ask Miss Kuelmann to help me with my readin’.” Sam and Jamie smiled, but Homer frowned, put his hands on his hips and said, “But only so I can tell stories. I ain’t doin’ it for no other reason.”

That night while Jamie did chores in the barn, he told his dad and grandpa what Homer was going do. His grandpa liked the idea, but his dad was concerned.

“Your mother and grandma already know about it from the party line and they won’t be happy. You’d better think of some good reasons why he’s storytelling at the Lutheran church before you go up to the house for supper.”

At supper after they’d said grace, the first thing his mom said to Jamie was, “I hear Homer’s going to Miss Kuelmann’s class at the Lutheran Church.”

Jamie’s grandpa smiled and his dad nodded encouragement so he said, “Yes’m, but only to tell stories. Homer’s good at telling stories and Miss Kuelmann wants him to tell the little kids Bible stories.”

His mom’s eyebrows went up. “Bible stories? Which Bible stories?”

“He’s going to tell the one about Jonah and the whale tonight.”

“Well, I guess that’s all right.”

Jamie’s grandma nodded. “That sounds like a nice story to tell to children.”

“Yes’m.” Since they were agreeing with him, Jamie said, “Homer wants me to come with him to help tell the story. Can I go too?”

His grandma frowned while his mom asked, “And why does Homer need help?”

“Homer’s terrible at reading and he told Miss Kuelmann he’d try to learn to read better. That way he can get Bible stories from books.”

“So you’re going to help Homer learn to read using Bible stories?”

“Yes’m. Aren’t Bible stories the same no matter what church you go to?”

His grandpa put his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing and his dad choked on his mashed potatoes. His mom looked around the table and jabbed her fork at him. “All right, Jamie, you win and you can go. But the next time I talk to Miss Kuelmann, she’d better tell me that you and Homer are reading Bible stories. Understand?”

Jamie almost managed to keep from smiling. “Yes’m.”

The next two days, Jamie and his grandpa practiced harmonicas at every opportunity to get ready for Miss Kuelmann’s class.

Wednesday night, Miss Kuelmann stopped and picked up Jamie and his grandpa. His grandpa said, “Howdy there, Homer. All set to tell your story?”

“Yes, sir. I told it to Wilbur and he liked it a lot, so them kids at the church oughta.”

Miss Kuelmann said, “I’m sure they will if it’s as good as the ones you tell at school.”

When Miss Kuelmann started her class, she had Jamie’s grandpa play a hymn and since Jamie knew the melody, he joined in. Next, she played some word games with the kids and then had Homer tell his story.

While Homer told the story, Jamie’s grandpa played music to match the action. When Homer heard it, he grinned and made the story even more exciting. Jamie listened to what his grandpa was doing for a few minutes and then played along with him. When Homer finished, all the kids jumped up clapping and cheering.

On the way home, Miss Kuelmann said, “Homer, the children certainly liked your story.” Homer didn’t answer and she asked, “Homer?”

Jamie looked at Homer and saw that he had the dreamy, far-away look on his face again. When Jamie nudged him, he looked around as if he didn’t know where he was. “Huh? What?”

Miss Kuelmann said, “The children liked your story. The music added a lot to it.”

“Yes’m, it did.”

Grandpa nodded, “That’s a fact, boy. We’ll all have to get together and practice as soon as you pick out another story. I bet we can do even better next time.”

Jamie sat next to his grandpa on the way home and became concerned when he heard him breathing hard again. At home, his grandpa dropped into his rocker without switching hats, something Jamie had never seen him do before. He always changed hats as soon as he came in.

Jamie took off his coat, hung it up and then asked, “Grandpa, you all right?”

“Sure, boy. Just a little tired. I’ll rest a spell and then go to bed. Be fine in the mornin’.”

Jamie got the hat his grandpa usually wore indoors and gave it to him so he could change and not have to get up. After he hung up the hat, he got his schoolbooks and sat at the kitchen table doing homework. When he looked up, he saw his grandma helping his grandpa out of his rocker and then into their bedroom. He was startled and more worried than ever. His grandma never had to help Grandpa up before.

His mom brought her mending into the kitchen and sat down across from Jamie. “How was your Grandpa tonight?”

Her question scared him because of the serious tone in her voice. “Well, he was fine at the church, but on the way home he was breathing hard. Is he sick?”

“We don’t know. Ever since he had that cold, he’s been having trouble breathing. He’s been to the doctor in town who’s sending him to the hospital in Sioux City for more tests next week.”

Jamie’s mouth got dry and it was hard to swallow. “Hospital? Tests?”

“That’s right and we won’t know anything until they’re done. One of the reasons I let you go to Miss Kuelmann’s class is so you can keep an eye on him. He’s supposed to take it easy and I want you to be sure he doesn’t overdo it.”

“Yes’m, I’ll do that.”

“Good. We’ll know more in a week or so.” She threaded a needle to start her mending. “Finish your homework and get to bed. It’s late.”

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