Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 25

Jamie’s family stood together, crying and hugging, but no one noticed he wasn’t with them. He wanted to yell, “He was my Grandpa too!” But his mouth was too dry.

The walls of the room began to close in on him and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He dropped the magazines, grabbed his coat and ran outside. On the sidewalk, he turned his face into the wind and took deep breaths. So many emotions fought for attention that his muscles strained and twitched and it was impossible to stand in one place. In desperation, he let his legs carry him along the sidewalk, marching him one way, turning and then marching him back.

It wasn’t enough! Panic rose, making him gasp for air again. He had to get away! A full moon hung above the horizon at the end of the street and he ran toward it just because it was there.

After a few minutes of slogging through the snow, he knew what to do. Sam! He could help. This had happened to him before. Mrs. Lily lived a mile or so outside of town and Jamie turned in that direction.

As he ran, the pressure of his grief built up inside of him until he felt like a steam engine boiler about to explode. When he couldn’t hold it anymore, he by howled his anguish, trying to fill the night with the sound of his loneliness and pain. His streaming tears blurred the road and moon and it was hard to see, but he managed to keep up a stumbling run along the edge of the road.

He saw the lights of Mrs. Lily’s house and turned into the lane. As he did, he stepped into a hole and fell, one hand breaking through the ice on the top of a puddle and his face and forehead banging on ridges of frozen snow. Silver comets soared in front of his eyes as he pulled himself to his hands and knees. Taking deep breaths, he struggled to his feet and staggered in a broken run toward the lights.

He stomped up the porch steps, tripped on the top one and crashed onto the wooden floor, bringing Mrs. Lily, Sam and Mr. Jorgenson to the door. The last things Jamie remembered clearly were hands helping him up and his face pressed against Mrs. Lily’s wool sweater.

Jamie opened his eyes in the book-filled parlor. He was lying on the sofa under a patchwork quilt with his boots off. Carols played on the radio and a Christmas tree covered with shining ornaments and colored electric lights stood in front of the window. Sam was curled in a chair reading and Mrs. Lily sat at her desk, writing.

Mrs. Lily glanced up and saw he was awake. “Good evening, Jamie. Please don’t get up. You had quite a blow to your head and should rest. I called your parents and told them you were here so they wouldn’t worry. They said they had a number of things to arrange and you could remain here for a few hours. I’ll get hot chocolate and cookies for you and Sam.” She stood and glided from the room.

Jamie pulled his hands from under the quilt and found the right one neatly bandaged. His face hurt and he had a terrible headache, but the panic that had driven him from the hospital was gone. When he thought of what he must have looked like when he crashed onto the porch, his face flushed with shame and he turned away from Sam.

Sam asked, “Your grandpa?”

To hold in his tears, he only nodded.

“I’m sorry, Jamie. I know how much he meant to you.” Sam closed his book and set it on a table. “Thank you for coming.”

“No, Sam. I shouldn’t have busted in on you. But I had to get away from the hospital and I couldn’t think of anyplace else to go.”

“Well, you were a bit of a mess, but Aunt Lily didn’t mind fixing you up. It looks like you’ll have a better black eye than the one I gave Homer.”

Sam’s smile disappeared and lines of pain and sadness took its place. “I know why you came. Thank you.”

Jamie wondered why Sam kept thanking him, but before he could ask, Mrs. Lily came in carrying a tray with two huge mugs of hot chocolate and a plate of cookies on it.

“You may sit up, Jamie. Getting something warm to drink will help you feel better.” She set the tray on a small table.

His head throbbed, making him dizzy, but he pulled himself up using the arm of the couch. Sam got up and sat beside him. He picked up a mug in both hands and held it out. When Jamie took it, he picked up the other.


Jamie sipped the hot chocolate. It didn’t taste like any he’d ever had before, but it was good. Since it wasn’t too hot, he took a big gulp. Fire burst to life in his empty stomach and waves of heat radiated from there to cover him. He took another swallow, leaned back and closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation. As the warmth spread, his aches faded.

Mrs. Lily said, “I will leave so you may talk.” She gave Sam a kiss on the cheek and left, sliding the double doors closed.

Jamie stared at the Christmas tree admiring the decorations and colored electric lights while he sipped hot chocolate, delighting in the warm comfort spreading from his middle.

Sam held out the plate. “You’d better eat some cookies. I’m sure Aunt Lily put brandy in your hot chocolate.”

“Brandy? You mean real brandy?”

“The real stuff. She’s not supposed to have it, what with Prohibition, but she keeps some on hand in case of emergencies. You looked like you needed it.”

“You won’t tell anyone? Mom and Grandma would have fifty kinds of fits if they knew.”

“I won’t. Explorers keep each other’s secrets.” Sam picked up a cookie and nibbled on it. “I’m glad you came, but I can’t help you.”

Jamie almost spilled his chocolate. “But why not? I need someone who can tell me what to do.” Tears ran down Jamie’s cheeks and he didn’t wipe them away.

Sam said, “When Dad died, I had the same questions, but no one could give me any answers. I don’t think there are any.”

“There has to be! I feel like I’ll blow up any second. You must know what that’s like.”

Sam reached up and touched a tear on Jamie’s cheek with a finger. “I do, but I still don’t have answers for you. If I did, I’d tell you.”

Jamie squeezed his cup with both hands. “Yeah, you would. What am I going to do?”

Sam reached over, pulled one of Jamie’s hands free from the mug and held it in both of his. “What you’re going to do is tell me all about your grandpa. I’ll listen for as long as you want to talk. Trust me.” He squeezed his hand. “It was the only thing that helped me.”

That wasn’t what Jamie expected, but he had to ease his pain somehow. If it worked for Sam, he’d trust him and try it. He took a breath and opened up to Sam the way he’d always done when he talked to his grandpa.

Even though each memory hurt, he laughed when he remembered funny things his grandpa had said or done as told them to Sam. When he described how fast his grandpa could make a cigarette and then try to hide it from his grandma, he laughed so hard that he almost slid off the sofa. He explained how his grandpa taught him to play harmonica and when Sam said he understood what his grandpa was doing, Jamie realized that Sam was the first person who did. After hearing Sam play his recorder at the Christmas show, Jamie could tell Sam played from the heart too.

Jamie described his grandpa’s hats and told funny stories about when he’d wear each one. But when he told Sam about the hat his grandpa gave him the night he told him he had cancer, Jamie cried and Sam cried with him.

It was after eleven o’clock when Jamie finally trusted Sam enough to tell Sam the secrets only Grandpa knew. All his dreams and hopes he’d told to Grandpa when they practiced harmonicas.

Then Sam told him the things he had only told to his dad when they were on their trips and they discovered they had the same dreams. They wrapped their arms around each other and cried, their falling tears making dark spots on each other’s shirts.

When they could talk again, Jamie pulled out Grandpa’s harmonica and told Sam what his grandpa had said to him in the hospital.

Sam said, “He’s right. You can make it live by playing it.”

Jamie stroked the cool metal with his fingers and nodded. “That must have been why he spent so much time practicing with me the last few months. I have to play it because it’s how I’ll remember Grandpa. But we always played together. Will anybody want to listen to just me?”

“I don’t know. But you should carry it, so you’ll have it when someone does want to listen.”

“I will. Grandpa always did.” Jamie stared at the harmonica, put it to his lips and stopped before he blew a note. “I can’t. Not now.”

Sam nodded. “Aunt Lily says people should always wait for the right time to do important things.”

He nodded. “She’s right. I’ll wait.”

Jamie slid his grandpa’s harmonica back into its bag, put the bag into his pocket and told Sam more stories.

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