Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 22

Mr. Jorgenson dropped the boys off at the front porch of Mrs. Lily’s and Sam pulled the door open before they rang the bell. “Come on in. I’ve got everything ready.”

Sam took their coats and hung them up while Homer pulled his boots off. They followed Sam into the kitchen and when they sat down at the table, he gave each of them a school tablet and a few pencils. “Let’s get started. Homer, did you think of a story?”

“Yeah, but I got a better idea. Instead of a story, how about doin’ a minstrel show like the one at the county fair last summer? Jamie and I’ll get some burned corncobs and rub ’em on our faces to make ’em black. And then we’ll dance round and sing songs….”

Sam interrupted. “Homer, no! I know what minstrel shows are and we’re not doing one.”

“Huh? Why not? It’s funny. Folks dress up and act like they was n…”

Sam leaned across the table and held a fist near the end of Homer’s nose. “Finish that sentence and I’ll give you another black eye.”

He leaned back in his chair. “Okay, okay! We won’t do that. But lemme tell you somethin’, Sam, I could get along with you a whole lot better if you’d stop makin’ fists at me.”

Sam glared at Homer and rapped his knuckles on the table. “Do you have a Christmas story or not?”

Homer glared back and said, “’Course I got a story! I always got a story, but I can’t tell it in here. There ain’t enough room.”

Sam led them into the parlor where Sam and Jamie sat down on the couch to listen. Homer said, “Okay, a long time ago at Christmas, there was these two sheep grazin’ up on a hill. And they was named…”

Jamie settled back and watched Homer create his imaginary world of words and motion.

When he finished, Sam and Jamie jumped up and applauded. Sam said, “That’s our Christmas program. It’ll be easy to get everyone involved.”

Jamie said, “Homer, can you tell it again slow enough so we can write it down?”

“Sure, long as I don’t gotta help write.”

They went back to the kitchen and sat at the table. Sam said, “Jamie, you start writing the story while I find the book of Christmas carols that Aunt Lily has.”

Jamie grabbed a pencil. “Okay. Homer, start over and tell the story without acting.”

Homer sat down and began, but after only a few sentences, his arms were twitching and he wiggled and bounced on his chair. “Tellin’ a story sittin’ still is real hard.”

“Stand over there between the stove and the table where you’ll have some room. Try to stay in one place and don’t make such big arm motions.”

By the time Sam came back carrying a book and a narrow flannel bag, Homer was struggling to tell his story slow enough that Jamie could write it down while keeping his acting under control. He wasn’t succeeding at either.

Homer stopped and flopped into a chair, breathing hard. “Sam, you got any cookies? This is some of the hardest work I ever done.”

Sam piled cookies on a plate while Jamie read aloud what he’d written. Setting the plate on the table in front of Homer, he said, “Keep in mind that once it’s written down, you’ll have to tell it the same way every time, otherwise we won’t know what to do.”

“But that ain’t how story tellin’ works. Every time I tell a story, I think of different ways to tell it. I dunno if I can do it the same way twice.”

“Sure you can. Just look it over before you start so you’ll remember how you did it the first time.”

Sam opened the book she had to the table of contents and set it on the table. “Here, Jamie. Look at these carols and tell me which ones you and the other kids know.”

All the familiar carols were there along with many he’d never heard of. Jamie pointed at a few and said, “I can play these on the harmonica.”

Sam said, “Great, let’s do that too. It’ll be great to have music for the carols.” He pointed to a title. “Do you know this one? It’s one of my favorites.”

“Nope. Never heard of that one.”

Sam flipped through the pages to the words and music, opened the flannel bag and shook out an instrument. “This is called a recorder. Get your harmonica and let’s play it together.”

Jamie pulled out his harmonica. “Okay, but you’ll have play it first. I have to hear a song a few times before I can play it.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that. I’ll start then.”

Sam played the carol and Jamie understood why Sam liked it. It had an easy melody and he joined her on the second verse. Homer looked over Sam’s shoulder and sang at the chorus. Jamie was so surprised he almost quit playing. Homer had a clear treble voice that blended perfectly with the music even though he mispronounced words.

When they finished, Jamie said, “That was great, Homer. Why didn’t you sing at church?”

He shook his head so hard his hair flopped down over his eyes. “What? And have people think I liked bein’ there?”

Sam set his recorder on the table. “I didn’t know you could sing, either.”

“Sure and I can play the spoons too.”

Sam had a blank look on his face and Jamie said, “No kidding? Let’s hear it.”

“Can you get me a couple of big spoons, Sam?”

Mystified, Sam pulled two soupspoons from a drawer and handed them to Homer.

Homer said, “Watch. You hold ’em in one hand and play ’em like this.” Homer tapped out a complicated rhythm against his other hand, table and thighs.

Sam said, “That’s wonderful. I’ve never heard anyone play spoons before and I’ve got the perfect song for them.” He paged through the book and pointed.

Jamie smiled and nodded. “I can play Jingle Bells.”

They played together while Homer sang and clicked his spoons making the sound of a horse trotting. Mrs. Lily and Mr. Jorgenson came in near the end of the song and applauded when they finished.

Mrs. Lily said, “That’s wonderful. It sounds like you have your own band.”

Sam said, “It does. Too bad we can’t get all the kids at school to play in a…” His eyes unfocused and he let the sentence trail off. “I’ve got an idea. Mr. Jorgenson if you’ll help me, it’ll make our Christmas program special.”

Mr. Jorgenson nodded and smiled. “I will help Sam. You tell me what we will do.”

Homer and Jamie asked what his idea was, but he told them they’d have to wait until Monday, which irritated Homer so much that he gobbled down two more cookies.

Mrs. Lily helped them finish writing Homer’s story and then added what she called ‘stage directions’ so the actors would know what to do. Every so often Mrs. Lily had them act out parts while she wrote characters’ lines. Even Mrs. Lily acted out some parts. When she did, Jamie was amazed at how gracefully she moved about the room.

Then they made sketches of the scenery and lists of costumes and props they’d have to make or get. It took several hours and another plate of cookies before they finished. Mrs. Lily said she’d type it up by Monday and they quit for the day.

Sam led the boys to the door and Jamie asked, “Sam, how does your Aunt Lily do that?”

Puzzled, Sam asked, “Do what?”

“It’s hard to explain, but she sort of glides around the room when she walks. I’ve never seen anyone move like that before.”

“Oh, I understand. I’ve lived with her so long that I don’t notice unless someone mentions it. Aunt Lily’s a dancer.”

“A dancer?”

“She came to New York City from Sweden when she was six years old to go to ballet school. She studied for ten years, but then there was a depression and she had to give it up.”

“What did she do then?”

“Well, she met Richard Lily, they got married and moved here, but she never quit dancing. When they had this house built, she included a dance studio and practices every day.”

“Really? What does she do when she practices?”

“I don’t know. She never lets me watch, but I know when she does because I hear the music. Sometimes she dances for hours.”

Homer said, “Wow, a real ballet dancer. I’ve seen pictures, but never saw anybody do it. I wonder if she’d show us some time.”

“I doubt it, but you never know. Aunt Lily surprises me all the time. See you Monday.”

As Mr. Jorgenson took Jamie and Homer home, Homer told a funny story, bouncing around the cab of the truck as he acted out the parts.

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