Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 9

The next morning, Homer ran to school early to meet Jamie. “That true what Reverend McIvor said? He don’t want you and your grandpa playin’ harmonicas at church no more.

“Yeah, but that’s not all. He told Grandpa he had to take his hat off.”

Shocked, Homer’s mouth dropped open and then he said, “Awgowan! Does your grandpa ever take his hat off?”

“Only to switch from one to another and he does that so fast it doesn’t count. He sure isn’t going to take it off for that new reverend.”

“What’s he gonna do?”

“He didn’t say, but I guess I’ll find out next week.”

“Sounds like next Sunday’s gonna be real interestin’.”

Jamie laughed. “Judging how things are shaping up, I think you’re right.”

Homer dug around in a pocket and pulled out a sheet of tablet paper. “By the way, I talked to my sister yesterday and she told me what to put in the first note to Sam. Here.”

Jamie didn’t take the paper, “You aren’t going to give this up, are you?”

Homer’s expression flashed from a grin to a frown. “No! I’m gonna get even.” He leaned toward Jamie until they were almost nose-to-nose again and said, “Well, best friend, you gonna help me or not?”

Jamie had hoped that over the weekend, Homer would drop his plan. But if he didn’t, Jamie reluctantly decided he’d have to help because he was afraid Homer might come up with something that he wouldn’t tell him about. Maybe after a few notes, Homer would be satisfied and quit.

He sighed and said, “All right.” Frowning, he jabbed a finger at Homer. “But that’s all. Don’t ask me to do anything else. Best friends or not, I won’t do it.”

“Okay. Okay. Meet you at the tree.”

Jamie went inside to his desk, got a tablet and a pencil, walked to the tree and sat down. Under his breath, he muttered, “I know I’m going to regret this.”

When Homer plopped down next to him, Jamie held out his hand. “Let me see what your sister said to write.”

Homer gave a sheet of paper to Jamie. “She said it don’t have to be long.”

Jamie glanced at it. “What were you doing when you wrote this, riding a horse? I can’t read it.”

“Gimme that.” He snatched it from Jamie’s fingers. “I’ll read it to you. First off, you gotta write ‘Dearest Sam’ at the top.”

Jamie put that on the first line and then wrote as Homer read what he’d gotten from his sister. At the end, Jamie made a face and stuck out his tongue. “Eeeyuk. This is really mushy. Are you sure this is what girls really say?”

“Beats me. I dunno what girls say when they write to boys. She had boyfriends in high school, so she oughta know. Anyway, she wouldn’t try and fool me.”

“Oh, yes she would. I know your sister.”

Homer rubbed his chin. “You got a point, but it’s too late now.” He looked at the note and pointed. “And down at the very bottom, put in a bunch of Xs and Os instead of signin’ it. My sister says that means hugs and kisses.”

“Eeeyuk,” Jamie said again as he drew a short row of each. Ripping the page out of his tablet, he thrust it at Homer. “Here. And if anyone asks me, I don’t know anything about it.”

Homer took the note, folded and stuffed it into his pocket. “I’m gonna go and put it in Sam’s desk when no one’s lookin’.” He rubbed his hands together. “I’m gonna like this. Yes, sir, I am. Thanks, Jamie.” He ran toward the schoolhouse.

Jamie looked up and said to the tree, “Well, I was right and I regret it already.”

Later that morning, Jamie was concentrating on a grammar exercise when Homer jabbed him with a pencil. “Look. Sam’s about to find the note. I put it in his readin’ book.”

Jamie looked in Sam’s direction to see what he’d do when he found the note.

Homer jabbed him again. “Don’t look! He’ll know we done it.”

Turning back to his work, Jamie propped his chin on his palm. “Make up your mind. Do you want me to look or not?”

“You keep on workin’ and I’ll tell you what happens.”

“Fine. I didn’t want to be part of this, anyway.”

“He found it. Openin’ it.”

Homer snapped around in his seat to face the front of the room. Out of the side of his mouth he said, “That was close. He almost caught me lookin’.”

Homer pretended to work for a minute and then peeked at Sam again. “Okay, he’s got it spread out on his desk… Readin’ it. Now he’s really smilin’. He’s foldin’ it up and puttin’ it in his pocket. Yeah, this is gonna work.”

Miss Kuelmann heard him whispering and asked, “Do you have a question about your assignment, Homer?” Homer shook his head. “Then work quietly, please.”

At recess, Homer climbed the tree and perched on a limb where he could see the schoolyard and Jamie sat on the ground against the trunk.

“Well, he didn’t go to the shed and he’s just sittin’ on the porch. Wait… he’s takin’ the note out and readin’ it again. Okay, now he’s lookin’ around and he’s foldin’ it up and puttin’ it away. Must be tryin’ to figure out who it’s from.”

Jamie said, “As much as you’ve been watching him, he probably knows it’s from you.”

“Naw. He ain’t seen me. This is workin’ great. I’ll get another note ready.”

“Homer, I’m not going write one every day. Maybe once a week. That’s it.”

Miss Kuelmann rang the bell and Homer dropped from his branch. “Oh, all right. That’ll probably be enough anyway.”

The rest of the morning Homer watched, but Sam didn’t look at the note again. When Miss Kuelmann announced dinner recess, Homer grabbed his pail and sprinted to the tree while Jamie followed. They’d just finished eating when Sam walked to the tree, carrying the school baseball bat and ball with Doc, Keith and Ken and Terry Smith tagging along.

Sam asked, “Do you want to play baseball?”

Homer jumped to his feet. “Sure do. We ain’t got enough for teams, but we can play workup like always.”

Homer laid out the diamond with the horse shed as the backstop, organized everyone and got the game underway.

They already knew Terry was a terrible baseball player, but Sam was worse. He couldn’t hit the ball, even if they lobbed it underhand and he didn’t know the names of the positions or what to do at each. It was the worst baseball game they’d ever played.

Walking back to the schoolhouse, Homer kicked at clumps of grass. “Shoot, we might as well go ahead and let the girls play. They’re probably better’n Sam.”

Jamie struggled to keep from laughing. “Well, you wanted to play baseball. Give Sam a chance. He’ll get better.”

Homer snorted. “When? You ever seen anybody who played baseball that bad?”

“No, but where would Sam play baseball in New York City? With that many people maybe there aren’t any fields and he hasn’t played before.”

“Someone who never played baseball before? That ain’t possible.”

Friday, Homer organized a game of Andy Over instead of baseball, but Sam and Terry weren’t any good at that, either. Terry couldn’t throw the ball hard enough to get it over the schoolhouse roof peak and Sam couldn’t catch it when it rolled off. Homer stalked back inside, complaining about wasting good recess time.

At Saturday supper, Jamie finished his dessert and asked, “Grandpa, are we going to practice harmonicas tonight?”

“Humph! Sure are, boy, but we ain’t practicin’ none for that new reverend. I ain’t goin’ no more.”

Jamie’s mom and grandma stared at him like he’d grown a second head. Jamie’s dad was so surprised, his fork froze halfway to his mouth.

Jamie’s grandma used her napkin when she didn’t need to and then asked, “What did you say?”

Staring straight at her, Jamie’s grandpa said, “You heard me. I ain’t goin’ to church ‘til that Reverend McIvor’s willin’ to take me and my hat and my harmonica all at the same time. A harmonica ain’t no organ, but it’s music to sing by and that’s a whole lot better than nothin’.”

When Jamie’s mom and grandma and grandpa all started fussing, his dad pointed at the door. “Jamie, go take your bath.” He looked around the table. “Now! And make it a long one.”

“Yes, sir!” Jamie jumped out of his chair and trotted out to the porch.

Jamie picked up his water, went to the machine shed and took a bath until the ends of his fingers wrinkled up like raisins. After he’d put everything away, he crept back to listen at the kitchen screen door. They were still bickering, but Grandpa was standing his ground and Jamie silently rooted for him.

He went around and sneaked in through the outside cellar door and up to his room to get his harmonica. Then he went behind the barn and practiced. Ten minutes later, his grandpa came steaming around the corner with waves of mad radiating from him like heat off of a red-hot stove.

His grandpa sat down, reached in his pocket and to Jamie’s surprise, his hand came out holding his harmonica instead of cigarette fixings. They practiced for a few minutes, but everything his grandpa played sounded mad.

“Humph! That’s enough, boy. We’re just spoilin’ good music.”

They put their harmonicas away and silently watched the sun go down.

At dusk, when they got up to go to the house, his grandpa put one hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Just a minute there, boy. This business about me not goin’ to church is between your ma and grandma and me. You stay out of it. There might come a time when you’ll have to take a stand, but it ain’t now. Understand?”

“Yes, sir. But if I can’t play my harmonica, I don’t want to go, either.”

“I ain’t surprised, but you just wait awhile. There’s lots more furrows in this field left to plow. You let me handle the women-folk and that new reverend. You promise?”

“Yes, sir. But I don’t like it.”

“I know, but things got a way of workin’ out for the good if you give ’em time.”

Sunday morning Jamie’s mom and grandma weren’t talking to his grandpa and after breakfast, his grandpa stomped out the back door, toward the barn. Jamie changed into his church clothes, making a special effort to look good. He even searched through his dresser, found his comb and for the first time in weeks, managed to slick down his hair.

When they arrived at church, he didn’t see Homer or his dad, although his mom and little brother were there. When Jamie’s family walked to their pew in front, there were five pews with only one or two people sitting in them and the pew for moms with babies was empty. That’d never happened when Reverend Hawbecker was there. He liked having babies in church.

Reverend McIvor started the service and didn’t seem to notice how few people were there. When he announced a hymn, Jamie wondered how they were going to sing without music. The Reverend gave the name of the hymn and waited until everyone got hymnals and found the right page. Then he took off waving his arms and singing. He had a good voice, but he sang so loud Jamie didn’t think he noticed the congregation lost a little steam after each verse. By the end, everyone was mumbling and no one enjoyed singing the way they had when Jamie and his grandpa played.

To Jamie, the sermon sounded like a repeat from last week about everyone’s backsliding ways and warning about the terrible things that would happen if they didn’t change.

Silence jerked Jamie’s attention back to the service. He’d been putting so much effort into blocking out the Reverend’s sermon that when he quit talking, it startled him.

Reverend McIvor folded his notes and announced the first collection for the organ. As ushers passed the plate, a few people put coins in, but most didn’t. Grandma and Mom each put something in, but Jamie couldn’t tell how much. He was sure Grandpa would ask him if they had. The Reverend frowned at how little money was in the plate, but didn’t say anything. He ended the service by leading another hymn while everyone moved their lips, pretending to sing.

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