Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 20

Jamie sat down at breakfast wearing Grandpa’s hat and everyone acted as if he’d been wearing it all his life. When they got up to do chores, Jamie couldn’t find his outdoor hat. His grandpa winked and pointed at his hat rack. Jamie nodded and together, they went to the rack took off their inside hats, hung them up and pulled on their chore hats. After that, Jamie always wore Grandpa’s hat inside and hung his outdoor hat with all of his grandpa’s hats.

Outside, they shoveled paths to the buildings and broke ice to get doors open. Chores were harder and took longer since everything was frozen. Jamie’s grandpa shoveled for a short time, but had to go inside to rest when he couldn’t catch his breath.

By dinnertime, Jamie was tired, hungry and looking forward to the stew he’d smelled simmering all morning on the back of the stove. He was carrying in an armload of wood when the telephone rang.

His mom said, “It’s for you, Jamie. Sam’s calling.”

Jamie dumped his wood in the wood box and took the receiver from his mom. In spite of how he felt, he tried to be cheerful talking to Sam. “Hi, Sam. Getting dug out?”

“Yeah. I never had to shovel snow before and it’s a lot more work than I expected. How often does this happen?”

“Depends. The almanac says we’ll get lots of snow this year, so there might be five or six big ones like this and a bunch of little ones.”

Sam moaned and then said, “Oh, no. By the way, I talked to a reporter from the Prairie Country Gazette newspaper this morning. He’s writing a story about us that’ll be in paper Wednesday.”

“We’ll be in the newspaper? You didn’t tell him about your fight with Homer, did you?”

“No, just about getting lost and how we dug the cave.”

“But that was your idea.”

“Doesn’t matter. We did it together.”

“Okay, but you still did most of the work.” His mom rapped on the table with a spoon. “I gotta go. I’ll talk to you Monday.” When Jamie’s mom looked away, he put his mouth right up to the phone and whispered, “Sam, I need your help. Something real important.”

“Jamie, what’s wrong?”

“Not now. Tell you Monday, okay?”

Jamie’s mom rapped again. “Jamie, hang up the telephone so we can eat dinner.”

“Sam, I have to go.”

“Okay. We’ll talk Monday.”

It took all weekend, but they dug their farmyard out. By Sunday evening, Jamie’s shoulders and back ached so much he went to bed early. Later, his grandpa came in, sat on his bed and explained about his lung cancer and what they were going do.

He patted Jamie’s knee and said, “I asked everybody not to talk about it ’til you and me had a chance. We got lots of things to do and I’ll just have to take it a little easier, but that’ll give us more time to practice harmonicas for Miss Kuelmann’s class.”

“Are we going to keep doing that?”

“Humph. No reason not to. We ain’t gonna let them children down, are we?”

“No, sir. And if we practice more, we’ll be better than ever.”

“That’s the idea. We’ll go on like always. Understand?”

“Yes, sir. Like always.” But even as he agreed, Jamie couldn’t see how he could. He promised and he’d try, but he knew he’d worry about Grandpa every day.

“Good. You best get some sleep. You got school tomorrow.”

When Jamie got to the schoolhouse, most of the shoveling was done so he carried in firewood. When Keith and Ken rode up, Miss Kuelmann put them to work digging a path to the shed for their horses.

Jamie went out for more wood and met Homer coming in with an armload of his own. “What are you doing here so early?”

“Pa sent me. He said I should help out here ‘long with everyone else.” He stomped his boots on the porch to knock the snow off. “It’s only the first snow and I hate it already. Wilbur’s the only one havin’ any fun. He’s been sleddin’ all weekend and yesterday him and me dug a snow cave. Then he cried and fussed when Ma wouldn’t let ’im sleep in it. ‘Tween pullin’ Wilbur around on his sled and shovelin’ snow, I’m wore out and I come to school to get some rest.”

When Jamie smiled, Homer shot him a sour look. “Don’t think I’m gonna make a habit of it.” Homer gave Jamie a sharp ‘so there!’ nod and carried his wood inside.

Sam drove up when they were walking back to the woodshed. He jumped out of the truck, ran up to Homer and handed him an envelope. “Here, Homer. It’s from Aunt Lily.”

Homer held it up. “A letter? I never got a real letter in my life before. What’s in it?”

“No idea. Aunt Lily didn’t tell me.”

Homer tore it open and pulled out a note and a smaller envelope. Homer read the note aloud, stumbling over the larger words.

‘Dear Homer, I transcribed your mouse story and sent it to a magazine that is going to publish it. Enclosed is your portion of the remuneration I received.’

Homer scratched his head and asked, “What’s trans-sribb-ed and ree-mun-er-shun, or however you say it?”

Jamie shrugged. “Open the other envelope. Maybe that will tell us.”

Homer ripped open the smaller envelope and pulled out a five-dollar bill. “Whoa! Money!” Homer held the bill up. “I ain’t never had this much money in my whole life.”

Sam took the note from Homer’s fingers, read it and said. “Aunt Lily writes stories and sends them to magazines. She wrote down your mouse story, sold it and gave you part of what they paid her because it was your story. That’s what remuneration means.”

Homer stared at the bill, his eyes round and wide. “My story’s gonna be in a magazine? And they paid me five dollars for it?” In a dreamy voice, he said, “I gotta tell more stories.”

“You should. Aunt Lily is always looking for good ones.”

“Wait ‘til Pa sees this. Five whole dollars just for tellin’ a story.”

Miss Kuelmann came out with her bell to start school. “Homer, my goodness! Where did you get so much money?”

Homer explained and handed her the bill. “Could you keep this for me ’til after school? I don’t wanna lose it.”

She took it and put it in her pocket. “Certainly. Go on in and we’ll start class.”

Before Sam went in Jamie grabbed the sleeve of his coat and said, “I have to talk to you and Homer. It’s important.”

Sam stopped and said, “Okay, let’s meet on the porch at recess.”

After the Pledge of Allegiance, Miss Kuelmann asked Homer, Jamie and Sam to tell everyone about getting lost in the snow. They tried to tell it at the same time and it didn’t make much sense until Homer pulled off his boots and acted it out. As he did, Jamie thought what happened in Homer’s story was a lot more exciting than he remembered.

Sam, Homer and Jamie met at recess and they went to the horse shed where Jamie told them about his grandpa.

Homer asked, “He ain’t gonna die right away, is he?”

Sam poked him in the ribs. “Homer!”

“Ow. What’d I say? I just wanted to know.”

Jamie shrugged. “He’s taking some medicine and resting. Nobody knows, I guess. Sam, what should I do?”

“I don’t know, Jamie. The way I lost Dad and Mother is different than what’s happening to your grandpa.”

His shoulders sagged and he stuffed his fists into his coat pockets. “Isn’t there anything you can tell me? I need help real bad.”

Sam touched Jamie on the shoulder. “Go on with what you’ve planned and enjoy your time together.” He looked sad and whispered, “As long as it lasts. That’s all I can tell you. I’m sorry.”

Jamie nodded, fighting back tears. “Grandpa said the same thing so I guess I’ll do the best I can.”

That night, he did his chores and homework even though he didn’t feel like it. Those things didn’t seem important any more. Before he went to bed, he sat on the floor next to his grandpa’s rocker and they practiced harmonicas. His grandpa’s playing sounded the same, but Jamie had a hard time playing happy tunes.

When he went to bed, he turned his lamp down and tried to relax. His body was tired and trying to sleep, but the thoughts buzzing inside his head kept him awake. How could so many things happen in such a short time? Sam getting hurt, Homer’s stories, Sam saving everyone in the snowstorm, Sam becoming his friend and his grandpa being sick. He felt like he was riding a runaway horse, pulling on the reins as hard as he could, but it wasn’t slowing down.

He thought about how much Sam was part of his life now. Homer was his best friend even before they started school and they’d always been together. Now he was with Sam as much as he was with Homer.

Homer and Jamie had been friends for so long that Jamie knew what he’d do or say most of the time. But Jamie could never guess what Sam would do next and liked the way he kept surprising him.

His grandpa tapped on the door and came in. In the dim light, Jamie could only see him as a shadow at the end of his bed. “You’re up late, boy.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve been thinking, I guess.”

“You always did do a lot more of that than Homer. Somethin’ in particular?”

“Yes, sir. Mostly about Sam. I like him, but there are times when I don’t understand him.” Jamie shifted around under his blankets and pulled the quilt up to his chin. “Grandpa, can I talk to you?”

“You’re talkin’ to me now, ain’t you?” He leaned forward into the light of the lamp where Jamie could see the concern on his face. “Somethin’ wrong?”

“Well, no. But maybe. It’s about Sam.” He frowned and crossed his arms over his chest.

“I thought you two was gettin’ along real good.”

“We are, but I think that’s the problem.”

Jamie thought about what to say next for a moment, hoping his grandpa would understand his situation. In a rush, he said, “He keeps holding my hand.”

Jamie’s grandpa’s eyebrows went up, almost disappearing under the bill of his cap. He rubbed his chin and said “Well now, it seems to me that if you don’t want ’im doin’ that, just ask ’im not to. He’d understand.”

“Yes, sir. I know he would.”

Jamie stopped and took a few breaths while he pulled on his nightshirt with both hands. “But… I don’t want him to. I… I like it when he does.”

He felt his face get hot, so he stared at his toes where they made a bump under his quilt to avoid looking at his grandpa.

“Humph! I don’t see what your problem is then.”

“What? Sam’s a boy! Boys don’t hold hands.”

“And why not?”

“Because they don’t! Everybody knows that.”

“Well now, they don’t here, but Sam’s from New York City. Maybe they do things different back there. Ever think of that?”

“No, sir, but I can’t believe things are that much different. Homer’s been my best friend forever and we never held hands.”

“Ain’t Sam a friend too?”

“Yes, sir, but he’s not like Homer. I mean, Sam’s like Homer, but then, he’s not really… Or is he? I don’t… I think that maybe he is… But… Oh, shoot. I don’t know what to think.”

His grandpa chuckled. “But that’s what you gotta do, boy. Think on it and I believe you’ll find your answer thataway.”

“Grandpa, can people have more than one best friend?”

“Well, sure. You can have as many best friends as you want. By my reckonin’, you can’t have too many. Thing about best friends is that each one’s different than the other.”

“You’re right about that and holding hands is really different.”

“Maybe it is and maybe it ain’t. Don’t Homer grab a hold of you at times?”

“Yes, sir, He’s always poking at me or hitting me on the shoulder or something like that. But he’s just fooling around.”

“Think he’d be doin’ that sorta thing if he didn’t like you?”

“No, sir.”

“And then take Sam. He likes you, don’t he?”

“Yes, sir. I know he does.”

“Well, there you are. Far as I can see, they’re both sayin’ you’re friends and they’re just showin’ it different.”

“You’re right, Grandpa. I never thought about it that way, but that’s exactly what they’re doing.” Jamie frowned. “But when Homer fools around, nobody pays any attention because all boys do that, but when Sam holds my hand…” He had a brainstorm and stopped. “Know what, Grandpa? Sam only holds my hand when no one else can see him do it. Sam and Homer really are saying the same thing.”

“Sounds like it to me. If you like holdin’ hands with Sam, I wouldn’t worry about it none. It looks like you got yourself another best friend and that’s always a good thing.”

“Yes, sir and I hope Sam and Homer can get to be best friends too.”

“Well, you never can tell about Homer. He’s got his own ways.”

Jamie chuckled. “That’s for sure. And Sam does too.”

His grandpa nodded. “One thing you gotta remember is that the only thing in the world that’s worth anythin’ is the time you spend with your family and friends. Once you spend your time, you ain’t never gonna get more, so you gotta spend it wisely.” He squeezed Jamie’s knee under the quilt. “You better get some sleep ‘cause right about now I’m sure that’s what Homer and Sam are doin’.”

“Yes, sir. Goodnight, Grandpa. And thanks.”

When he got up and left, Jamie blew out his lamp, tipped his head back into his pillow, and thought about what his grandpa had said about time. When they talked at school today, is that what Sam meant about enjoying his time with his grandpa?

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