Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 8

After the service, everyone always sat in their pews and let Reverend Hawbecker go outside first so he could shake hands and chat with everyone as they came out. Today, both reverends went out, but instead of following them, everyone stayed seated, too shocked to move. Three hundred dollars! Jamie couldn’t even imagine that much money. And Reverend McIvor expected them to give it to the church? After a long delay, Jamie’s grandma and mom got up and led everyone outside. Homer bolted from his pew, ran out the door, down the steps and across the churchyard to a big shade tree where he shinnied up the trunk into the lower branches.

Reverend Hawbecker stood on one side of the door and Reverend McIvor on the other. Everyone talked to Reverend Hawbecker first to say good-bye and then to meet Reverend McIvor and introduce their families.

After introductions, Grandpa said, “Havin’ our own organ sounds like a good idea, but it’s gonna take a spell to raise that much money. This ain’t Chicago, you know.” He smiled and put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “In the meantime, me and my grandson here can keep on playin’ for you.”

Reverend McIvor said, “That won’t be necessary, Mr. Williams.”

“Ain’t no trouble. Me and the boy here like doin’ it and folks sing better thataway.”

Jamie smiled and bobbed his head.

“I believe you have misunderstood, Mr. Williams. It would be better if you didn’t play at my services at all. A harmonica is, shall we say, a rather common musical instrument and inappropriate for a religious service.”

Jamie’s eyes opened wide and mouth dropped open while everyone stopped talking to listen. In a tight voice, his grandpa said, “So you’re tellin’ me you ain’t gonna want me and Jamie playin’ no more.”

Reverend McIvor nodded, a half-smile on his thin lips. “That is correct. I’m sure everyone appreciates your efforts and certainly thanks you.”

Jamie’s grandpa was so surprised, his eyebrows shot up, almost disappearing under his hat. But before he could recover from that shock, Reverend McIvor delivered another.

“Also, Mr. Williams, it is customary for gentlemen to remove their hats in church. I’m sure you can remedy that next week. It has been nice meeting you and your family.”

Jamie almost said something, but his dad’s hand clamped onto his shoulder and he closed his mouth with a snap. Then his dad took Grandpa’s elbow and walked him down the steps. Jamie’s mom and grandma nodded and followed a few steps behind.

Mr. Meiers and his family were next and Jamie heard Mr. Meiers introduce everyone including Homer, who was hanging upside down from a tree limb by his knees. Reverend McIvor said something about Homer wearing shoes, but Jamie didn’t hear all of what he said because he had to keep up with his dad and grandpa who were quick walking to their car. They rode home in silence except for an occasional grumble from his grandpa.

Jamie’s grandpa was first out of the car and stomped inside. When he’d changed clothes, he lifted his big straw hat from the rack, jerked off his church cap and crammed the straw hat down onto his head. Then he went outside, banging the screen door.

Jamie watched his grandpa walk toward the barn and wondered how much Reverend Hawbecker had told Reverend McIvor about people in the church. The new reverend didn’t seem to know that Jamie’s grandpa always wore a hat. He had a whole hat rack full of all sorts that he’d wear depending on what he was doing, the weather or his mood. They ranged from the big straw hat he wore when he worked in the sun, to the small, fancy dress cap he wore to church. He wore a nightcap to bed and a big black cowboy hat to take a bath. Reverend McIvor expecting him to take his hat off in church was like saying he had to take his pants off in front of everybody. It wasn’t going to happen. And Jamie thought getting Homer to wear shoes to church in warm weather might be a battle Homer could win.

To give his grandpa time to cool off, Jamie changed into bibs, put his Sunday clothes away and straightened up his room. After that, he carried in firewood for the cook stove, got water for his mother and grandma and then took his time walking to the barn.

In back where they practiced harmonicas, his grandpa sat smoking a cigarette. He wasn’t boiling mad anymore, but there was still steam under the lid and his jaw muscles were working between puffs on his cigarette. Jamie decided not to say anything and sat down on a log next to him.

After finishing his cigarette, Jamie’s grandpa slapped his thigh. “Can you believe that, boy? That reverend thinks a harmonica’s too common to play at his church service. He better take a good look around, ’cause that’s what we are, just common people and all the organs in the world ain’t gonna change that none.”

Jamie shrugged. “Maybe in a few weeks, he’ll get to know us and change his ways.”

“Ain’t likely. He sounds like one of them fellers who thinks he’s right ’cause of somethin’ he read in a book.”

“Well, having an organ would be nice.”

“I ain’t sayin’ it wouldn’t. But how we gonna pay for it? People are workin’ as hard as they can takin’ care of their families and keepin’ their farms goin’, but some folks still ain’t makin’ it.” He shook his head and made another cigarette. “Reverend Hawbecker wanted one, but he believed the church oughta be givin’ things to folks who need help and not be askin’ for things we don’t need.”

“Maybe if we got a bunch of people to ask Reverend Hawbecker to stay, he would.”

“Can’t do that. He’s seventy years old and his work for us is done. It’s time he moved on down to Arizona where his sons live and enjoy the rest of his years. Looks like we’re stuck with this new one. He may be a preacher and got himself a college education, but the man’s a fool. If music comes from your heart, then it don’t matter what you make it with.”

He started to make another cigarette and without thinking, Jamie said, “Grandma won’t like that.” As soon as he said it, he wished he hadn’t.

“Humph! I know that, boy and that’s why I’m gonna have me one.”

Jaime’s grandpa smoked cigarette after cigarette while they sat behind the barn gazing out over fields turning golden-brown with ripening wheat. When Jamie’s mom banged on the triangle, they got up and went to the house for their big Sunday dinner.

While they ate, Jamie’s mom and grandma talked about the new reverend. They thought he’d be good because he’d get all the backsliders in the church doing what they should. Jamie’s grandpa didn’t say anything until his grandma mentioned the organ.

She said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an organ like other churches?”

Jamie’s dad said, “I suppose, but no one has money for that. Anyway, we’ve gotten along for a long time without one.”

“That’s so, but if everyone made a little more sacrifice, we could raise the money.”

Jamie’s grandpa clanked his fork down on his plate. “Humph! Tell me how buyin’ an organ we don’t need with money we ain’t got is gonna make folks better off. When someone can do that, I might give somethin’. Otherwise, I won’t give a penny towards it even if I found it layin’ on the street.” He stared across the table at Jamie’s grandma. “And nobody else in this family oughta either.”

He got to his feet, picked up his straw hat from the rack, yanked off the cap he wore for meals and jammed the other one on. “I got work to do.”

After Jamie’s grandpa left, his mom and grandma changed the subject, but Jamie was willing to bet they were still thinking about that organ.

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