Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 16

At home, Jamie walked into the kitchen where his mom and grandma were sitting at the table waiting for him. A plate of oatmeal cookies sat at his usual place, a sure sign something was wrong. He hung up his hat and coat and then sat down, but didn’t take a cookie.

His mom said, “Grandma, Grandpa and I are leaving Monday morning for Sioux City on the bus. I’m going to stay until they’re settled with Grandma’s sister who lives there. Grandpa has to be at the hospital on Wednesday morning. I should be back Thursday afternoon and Grandma and Grandpa will be back on Monday or Tuesday next week.”

Jamie’s mouth got dry and he tried to act as if he wasn’t worried. “Oh, okay. When will Grandpa find out about the tests?”

His grandma said, “It’ll take a few days and as soon as we know, we’ll tell you.”

Jamie trusted his mom and grandma, but he was afraid they might not tell him if the tests were bad. “Yes’m. Dad and I can get along for a few days while you’re gone.”

His mom nodded. “That’s what he said. I’ve put some things in the icebox that you can heat up on the stove. Is that all right?”

“Yes’m.” Jamie couldn’t think of anything to ask and said, “I guess I better go and do chores.” He wasn’t hungry, but he took two cookies and went to his room to change.

Jamie’s dad didn’t say anything about his grandpa going to the hospital as they worked and no one mentioned it at supper. That night, Jamie and his grandpa practiced for Miss Kuelmann’s class.

“Grandpa, I can’t play the way you do. Maybe I should wait until you get back.”

“You can’t do that. Just ’cause I can’t make it one week don’t mean you shouldn’t go. You and Homer can carry on. Play songs the children know and you’ll do fine.”

“Yes, sir. But I wish I had your confidence.”

“Well now, bein’ confident comes from playin’ for folks. The more you do that, the more confidence you get. You’ll see.”

They practiced until Jamie’s bedtime and as he went upstairs, his grandpa sat in his rocker softly playing hymns and rocking in time with his music.

Jamie changed into his nightshirt, turned his lamp down, climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling. After some light taps on the door, the shadow outline of his grandpa’s hat came through the partly open door.

“Come on in, Grandpa. I’m not sleeping.”

He came in and sat in his usual place. “Didn’t think you would be.”

Jamie took a couple of shaky breaths. “Grandpa, I’m scared, but I’m not sure why.”

“Well, truth be known, so am I. But all we can do is wait and see what comes of it. There ain’t no need to worry ’til then.”

Jamie scrubbed his hair with his fingers. “Do you believe that, Grandpa?”

He sighed and said, “I ain’t gonna lie to you, boy. No, I don’t and I can tell you don’t neither. Your ma wanted me to tell you that.”

Jamie opened his mouth to complain, but his grandpa held up a hand to stop him.

“Now, don’t you go gettin’ upset. She wanted me to tell you that ’cause she didn’t want you to worry. I told her you wouldn’t like it, but you know how the women-folk get about these things.”

Frowning, Jamie crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes, sir. I suppose so, but I wish she wouldn’t treat me like a little kid.”

“I know, but don’t you be in just too much of a hurry to grow up. I ain’t gonna like it if you do. Let’s us make a deal and say we both won’t worry about it ’til we know somethin’ for sure.” He held out his hand to Jamie.

“All right, but it won’t be easy.” Jamie shook, sealing their deal. “I love you, Grandpa.”

“Humph! And I love you. Long as we both know, that’s all that needs to be said. We’d best get to bed. You got chores and I gotta take that bus trip on Monday. I’m gonna need all the rest I can get for that.”

Thinking about his grandpa riding all the way to Sioux City cooped up with his mom and grandma made Jamie smile. They’d probably fuss at him the whole way, especially if he wanted to make a cigarette.

“Okay, Grandpa. Good night.”

He got up and blew out Jamie’s lamp. “Good night then. Things are gonna work out.”

Monday morning, his grandma and mother were bustling around packing things so Jamie wolfed down his breakfast and left for school early to get out of the way.

At school, he did chores for Miss Kuelmann while he waited for the other kids. He was determined to keep his part of the bargain and not worry. He hoped staying busy would help keep his mind off it, but he wondered if he could find enough things to do for a week. All of a sudden, seven days seemed like a long time.

Wednesday night, Miss Kuelmann picked up Homer and Jamie to go to the church for her class. She didn’t ask why his grandpa wasn’t there. His tests at the hospital had been the subject of party line gossip for days and everybody knew where he went and why.

Miss Kuelmann talked to the kids first and then Jamie played a hymn. Homer told the story about the Tower of Babel and when the tower fell, Jamie played fast music to make it more exciting. He didn’t think his music was as good as Grandpa’s, but it wasn’t bad.

In the car on the way home, Homer said, “That went pretty good, didn’t it?”

Jamie said, “Yeah, it did. But it would’ve been better if Grandpa had been there.”

Miss Kuelmann said, “Indeed, you did well. The story and music were just right. You’d better think of what you want to do next week so you can practice.”

Jamie’s mom came home Thursday afternoon and Jamie and his dad met her in town at the bus stop in front of the general store. As soon as she stepped off the bus, Jamie asked, “How are the tests going?”

“I don’t know. We’ll have to be as patient as we can.”

People called and talked to his mom about his grandpa and at school, the older kids said encouraging things. Jamie appreciated their efforts, but it didn’t ease his worry.

Sam didn’t mention Jamie’s grandpa, but every so often, Jamie thought he wanted to talk to him, but didn’t know how.

It was hard to find things to do after a few days, but Jamie managed to keep busy until his grandpa came home Tuesday afternoon. When he came through the door, Jamie met him carrying his inside hat.

“Hi, Grandpa, how was your trip? Here’s your hat.”

He took the hat and made the switch, handing his outside hat to Jamie. “It was mighty tiring’. You wouldn’t think that just sittin’ and ridin’ would take so much out of a body.”

His face was pale, making the lines and wrinkles darker and deeper. When he unbuttoned his coat and Jamie saw his hands trembling, his happiness drained away and fear replaced it. It was then that he knew the test results would be bad.

Jamie said, “I never rode on a bus, but I can see where you’d get tired.”

“I can’t say as I’d do it again. I’d better rest up so we can play tomorrow.”

He hung up his grandpa’s hat and watched him shuffle into his bedroom. Shuffle? Jamie had never seen him walk like that before. When Grandpa’s bedroom door closed, he got his homework and sat at the kitchen table.

Wednesday morning, Jamie’s mom and grandma made him a big breakfast and packed his dinner pail with his favorite foods. His grandpa hadn’t gotten up yet, but his grandma said he was just tired from the trip.

Grabbing his dinner pail, he walked to school where everyone asked about his grandpa, but Jamie couldn’t tell them anything because he didn’t know any more than the day before.

When he got home that afternoon, his grandpa was sitting in his rocking chair playing his harmonica. He waved and said, “Go get your chores done so we can practice before supper.”

Jamie was relieved to see he looked better. Maybe it really was only the trip that wore him out. “Yes, sir.” He went to his room, changed into his chore clothes and ran out to the barn.

His dad let him quit early so he could practice and he went inside to sit on the floor next to his grandpa. “So how’d things go last week, Jamie?”

“We did okay, but it would’ve been better if you’d been there.”

“Thought you’d do a good job. What’re you gonna do this week?”

“Homer’s going to tell the story about the Battle of Jericho.”

“Humph! Homer seems to like them Bible stories about things getting’ wrecked. You’ll need some music for when the walls come down. How ’bout this?”

He played a fast, scary-sounding song that Jamie picked up and played after he’d heard it twice. When they finished, Jamie said, “That’s a good one. It sounds walls falling.”

“Good, you and Homer won’t have any problems then.”

“Me and Homer? Aren’t you coming?”

“Not this week. I need a couple more days to get to my strength back. You’ll do fine.”

Jamie wasn’t sure about that. But the next day, he and Homer were better than ever. He still wished his grandpa had been there, though. Going home, Homer got his far-away look again and Jamie had to poke him to get his attention to talk about the next story.

His grandpa had already gone to bed when he got home and Jamie was disappointed he couldn’t tell him how they did. He was drifting toward sleep when his door opened a crack.

Jamie saw the light and said, “Come on in, Grandpa. I’m awake.”

He came in carrying a lamp. “I was hopin’ you was. I guess I dozed off. How’d it go?”

“Easier than last week. You were right about getting better with practice.”

“There ain’t no substitute for playin’ for others. Tell me somethin’. After Homer told his story, did he seem like he went away for a while and wasn’t here no more?”

“Yes, sir. That happens every time he tells a story.”

“That’s what I thought was happenin’.”

“Nothing’s wrong with him is there?”

“Not at all. Fact is there’s somethin’ good happenin’ to him.”

“Good? I don’t understand.”

“Storytellin’s a special gift ‘cause Homer makes up his own world and he lives in it for a spell. It belongs to him and he shows it off to folks by tellin’ a story. He feels good when people show they like it by clappin’. He don’t want that to end so later he goes back into his world to listen people clap again. That’s when he goes away.”

“I’ve never seen anyone do that.”

“Probably not ‘cause it’s rare. Mark my words, we’re gonna see lots of amazin’ things outta that boy.”

Jamie almost laughed, but he could tell that his grandpa was serious so he held it in. “That’s hard to believe. I mean, he’s just Homer. Like me, I’m just Jamie.”

“I know, but he’s gonna surprise everybody one of these days.” He patted Jamie’s knee. “Awhile back I asked you to be a good friend to Homer and watch out for ’im.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I want you to keep on doin’ that and be there to keep ’im from gettin’ hurt.”

“How can Homer get hurt? I don’t understand.”

“I know, but I got a feeling he’s gonna need your help real bad sometime soon. Promise me you’ll stick close and do what you can.”

“Yes, sir, I will, but figuring out what he needs isn’t easy.”

“I know, but when the time comes, I believe you’ll know.”

“I hope so because I didn’t do a very good job last time.”

“You’ll do fine. Now let’s get to bed. My bones and the almanac are tellin’ me snow’s a comin’.”

He picked up his lamp and Jamie said, “Good night, Grandpa. I’ll do my best.”

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