Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 28

Mr. Jorgenson dropped Jamie off at Mrs. Lily’s front door and then drove around back to put his truck away. Sam pulled the door open as Jamie climbed the steps.

“Hi, Jamie. Come on in.” Sam took his coat and hung it on the hall tree, but didn’t ask if he wanted to hang up his hat.

“Thanks for calling, Sam. I really needed to get out of there.”

“Thought you might. Did people pinch your cheeks and talk to you like you were three years old?”

Jamie laughed. “I didn’t get any cheek pinches, but people patted me on the head. I hate that.”

“Me too. Why do they do it? I’m going to remember not to when I grow up.” Sam took Jamie’s hand and led him upstairs. “Come on, I have something to show you.”

In her room, she lifted a brightly painted box off her dresser and set it on the bed.

“Dad got this for me in China on one of his trips when I was little.”

They sat down on the bed with the box between them. Sam lifted the lid then took things out. “This was Dad’s watch. I haven’t wound it up since he died. These are the gold cuff links he wore with his suits.”

When she put them in his hand, Jamie was surprised at how heavy they were.

She lifted out a thick envelope bulging with photographs. “Dad took pictures of me on every trip I took with him. I wrote where it was taken and when on the back of each.”

The pictures were in order by date and as he flipped through them, Sam got younger and smaller, but no matter what her age, her face still had the strong features and smile that Jamie had come to recognize as part of her personality.

He set them on the bed and pointed at a small, velvet-covered box. “What’s in there?”

Sam opened it to display a gold ring with a diamond surrounded by smaller colored gems. Jamie’s eyes opened in wonder. All he knew about diamonds was that they were very expensive and the bigger they were, the more expensive they were. This one was huge and he breathed out a slow, “Whooooooaaa!”

“That’s what I said when Dad showed it to me. Whenever he went on a trip, he’d buy Mother an expensive gift. He planned to give this to her after the Alaska trip.”

Jamie snapped the box closed and handed it back to Sam.

“After Dad died and we didn’t have any money, the bank sold everything. We lost our house, furniture, cars, all of Dad’s things and even most of our clothes. Strangers barged into my room and took all my things. It was like someone stealing everything I had while I had to watch. How could anyone do that?” She pounded a fist on her thigh. “I’ll hate them as long as I live.”

Anger made Sam’s breathing faster and turned her face red. But under her anger, Jamie could hear bitter triumph. “I fooled them, though. It was probably wrong, but I took some of Dad’s things and didn’t tell anyone. Since I was the only one who knew about the ring and where he kept it, I got it before the bank people found it.”

Sam paused and took a few deep breaths. She held the ring in her fist and whispered, “It’s mine! I’m saving it for my wedding. That way, Dad will be there with me.”

Jamie didn’t know what to say and since Sam was so upset, he changed the subject. “What’s in there?” He pointed at a small cloth bag.

Sam picked up the bag. “Hold out your hand.”

When he did, she poured a few pennies onto his palm.

She touched her finger to his palm. “These are my good luck pennies. Every year on my birthday, Dad gave me a new penny with that year’s date on it.”

When Jamie looked, he found they were dated 1920 through 1929. “You don’t have a penny for your eleventh birthday.” Then he remembered why that one was missing and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, Sam. That was a stupid thing to say.”

She nodded, accepting Jamie’s apology and continued to show him things. She even had the marble shooter Jamie had given her at her birthday party. He smiled when she took it out, pleased that she’d want to save something from him.

When the box was empty, she sat silently gazing at him. From her expression, he knew she was waiting for him to say something, but he couldn’t imagine what it might be. When he stared into her eyes, he saw her loneliness and hurt and wondered if his eyes looked the same.

Jamie sighed and said, “All day yesterday, I kept looking for Grandpa. Every time I saw something of his, I felt a jab of pain because I knew he was gone and he’d never use his things again. When do you stop noticing?”

Sam laced her fingers together in her lap. “I’m not sure you ever do. Your grandma and parents will give away what they don’t need and keep a few things. But even after that, you’ll keep seeing things that remind you of him. They’ll pop up in the strangest places. What you should do is keep some things to remind you of him.”

Jamie pointed at her box. “You’ve saved memories of your dad.” Sam nodded. “And you think I should make a box too. It’s another answer.”

“Yes. I don’t have anything of Mother’s, but then, she’s still alive. I’ll get a few of her things later. It’ll be hard because she’s in the hospital and never had much of anything I can remember as really belonging to her.”

Jamie pulled Grandpa’s harmonica out of his pocket, took it out of the sack and turned it over in his fingers. “I spent almost every day of my life with Grandpa and I can’t believe all I have is his harmonica. It doesn’t seem like it’s enough.”

“I know, but what you save doesn’t have to be big. Sometimes small things can mean the most. Like my pennies. Your grandpa’s harmonica may be all you’ll need because you can play it for people the way he did.”

He nodded. “That’s what Grandpa always said while he taught me how to play. Then in the hospital when he gave it to me just before…” Jamie swallowed and forced the words out. “…he died. He said I could make his music live again by playing his harmonica. But I don’t know if I can. I can’t play as good as he could.”

Jamie took a breath, put the harmonica to his lips and stopped. He let the air hiss out between his teeth. Holding the harmonica on the palm of his hand, he shook his head. “I’m not ready.”

“Maybe not now, but there’ll be a time when you are. I’m sure of it.”

Jamie nodded. “I’ll wait ’til then, but I can’t imagine when that might be.”

He slid the harmonica into its bag while Sam gathered up her things and put them away.

Sam dug around in a pocket of her bib overalls. “I have something for you.” She handed Jamie the cloth bag that had held the marbles he gave to her for her birthday present.

He took the bag and untied the strings. When he turned it upside down, a single penny fell out. It was dated 1918, the year he’d been born and he smiled and laughed.

“I couldn’t find a shiny one, but if you rub it with a pencil eraser, you can clean it up.”

Jamie held the penny up, admiring it. “Thanks, Sam. It’s the best Christmas present I’ve ever had.”

“You’re welcome and I hope it brings you good luck. I’m not sure mine have, but I’m still glad I have them.”

Sam got up and set her box on her dresser. “I have something else I want to show you.”

She opened a drawer and pulled out a folder bursting with newspaper clippings and hand-written notes. She separated them into three piles and in the first pile, she pointed to a picture of a woman dressed as an airplane pilot. “That’s Amelia Earhart.”

“Oh, sure. She’s the one who said ‘Adventure is worthwhile in itself’ that we use for the motto of our Explorer’s Club.”

“Right. I clip out anything I read about her in newspapers and magazines.”

“Do you want to fly an airplane too?”

“I’d like to learn, but I don’t want to do what she does.” She pointed at another pile of newspaper clippings. “These are about Marie Curie. Have you ever heard of her?”

Jamie read part of an article. “No. It says she’s a physicist. What’s that?”

“A physicist is a scientist and she was first woman to win the Nobel Prize in both physics and chemistry.”

Sam pointed at the third, smallest pile, which consisted of hand-written notes. “These are about Mary Edwards Walker. She was a doctor in the Union Army in the Civil War and was the only woman ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award the military gives.”

“A woman doctor? I didn’t think that women could be doctors.”

“Of course they can. There’s no reason why a woman can’t be a doctor.”

Jamie thought about what a woman doctor did and felt his cheeks get warm. “You’re right, but I don’t think I could go to one unless I had to.”

“At least you’re honest about it. But that’s how a woman feels every time she has to go to a man doctor.”

“I never thought of it that way and it would be hard. Did you go to a woman doctor?”

“Yes, and she was very good; better than most men doctors. Mother didn’t want me to because she didn’t think a proper woman should be a doctor and didn’t trust her. Dad took me.”

“Your mom didn’t trust a woman doctor? Just because she wasn’t a man?”

“Right and that’s my point. I don’t want to be told what I can and can’t do because I’m a girl or not a boy. I want to do whatever I can based on my ability. Like Amelia Earhart or Marie Curie or Mary Edwards Walker.”

Sam gathered up her clippings and put them away.

“I understand why you decided to be a boy when you first got here. We would’ve treated you a lot different if we had known you were a girl.”

In Jamie’s community, boys became farmers or they worked at things that helped keep farms running like blacksmithing, veterinarians, being mechanics, carpenters or running stores. He thought about what girls did and didn’t come up with much. Most married and lived on farms, although some were teachers or nurses, or they were clerks in stores, or worked for the telephone company. They weren’t scientists or doctors and they sure never flew airplanes.

Jamie said, “I’m not saying this right, but I knew you were different from the first day of school and not because you’re a girl. You’re different because you don’t look at things the way we do. You always seemed to stand a little off by yourself and never really joined us. I think that’s what bothered Homer so much.”

Sam smiled. “As much as I wanted to, I didn’t know how to make friends with you. I didn’t even know how to play your games and I was afraid to ask.”

“Homer thought you were being stuck-up. We never guessed that you didn’t know how. We learn the games at home before we even start school.”

“In my school in New York, we never went outside to play because of the clothes we wore. If anyone from there ever saw me wearing bib overalls and crawling in the dirt playing marbles, she’d be shocked.” Sam couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice. “Teachers watched us constantly to be sure we said and did the right things every second. I hated it. Did you know I never played baseball until I came here?”

“You never played baseball? That’s not possible!” Jamie paused and then whispered, “Is it?”

Sam nodded. “Dad took me to some Yankee’s games so I knew something about it, but I never played. Anyway, can you see me sliding into second wearing a dress?”

Jamie tried to imagine not playing baseball or running around getting dirty, but couldn’t.
The thought of staying clean all the time while living and working on a farm was so impossibly strange that it almost made him laugh, but Sam looked so unhappy he didn’t.

“So that’s why you were so bad at baseball.”

“Right. I bought a baseball and bat and Philip tried to help me, but he’s not very good either because baseball isn’t popular in Sweden.”

“I’m sorry, Sam. The way you lived in New York is as strange to me as the way we live here must be to you.” Grinning, he said, “I’ve got some time right now. Want me to tell you how we play games at school?”

They laughed so hard that they slid onto the floor. Jamie pointed at the tears on Sam’s face. “There’s something else different about you. Until now, I never saw you laugh; only smile.”

“You’re right and I don’t think I have since Dad died. Laughing makes me feel good so that’s another thing to thank you for.”

By the time Mrs. Lily came in, they thought everything was funny and were laughing just for the fun of doing it. She smiled at their antics and said, “Samantha, the sauna is ready.”

“Thank you, Aunt Lily.” Sam grinned. “Want another sauna bath, Jamie?”

He put his hands on his face and felt the heat of embarrassment fill his cheeks. “Well…I liked the last one… but… then…I didn’t know… you were... you know, a girl.”

“Jamie, you’ve seen calves born haven’t you?”

“Huh? Sure, lots of times. What’s that got to do with a sauna bath?”

“When a calf is born, how do you tell if it’s a boy or a girl?”

His face felt like it was on fire. “Uh… you have to… you know… turn them over and look between their legs… to see… if, well they have... You know.”

“Yes, I do. New-born animals mostly look alike, don’t they?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Chickens are worse than calves. They’re almost impossible to tell apart until they’re older. So what?”

“Right now you and I are more alike than we are different. We’ve been in the sauna together before and you were comfortable. If we stay wrapped in our towels, you won’t be embarrassed. Come on, I know you like it.”

“All right, but there’s one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“If you brush me with the branches, I get to brush you. And I won’t peek, either.”

Sam laughed and socked him on the shoulder so he socked her back.

“You’ve got a deal. Let’s go and when we’re done, I’ll ask Philip to drive you home.”

When Jamie got home, there were only a few people still visiting. He found Sam’s lunchbox, put the remaining cookies in the cookie jar and cleaned out the crumbs.

He carried it into his room and set it on the top of his dresser. Opening it, he put the knife and compass he got from Grandpa for Christmas and the marbles sack with his birthday penny inside the box. Then he carefully laid his grandpa’s harmonica on the bottom and closed the lid. To watch over the box, he stood a framed picture of himself and his grandpa that had been taken at the county fair last summer next to it.

Jamie was happy to have a few memories to save and vowed to add to his collection. He’d also look for a penny with a 1930 date to give to Sam.

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