The Gift of Music
A long time ago, in another lifetime called 1959, Christmas was approaching. I adored my grandfather, and loved to be with my grandmother. I didn't get to see them a lot, but somehow this year was different. You could fairly smell it in the air that something was up this year for Christmas. Little tidbits of information kept leaking out about how this was a BIG year for Christmas. Something BIG was coming my way. The excitement made the air crackle as you breathed it in.
The weather in New York state was being cranky and the wind blew through a winter snow that was serious enough to irritate most folks. My mother took the opportunity to remind me, yet again, that I was born in the middle of an epic snow storm (somehow this was my fault?). The streets had a shiny sheen that looked lovely in the winter nights to my child eyes, but probably made adults quiver at the thought of black ice. Somehow, someway my grandparents had made the journey to our house located at the highest point in Westchester County. Our subdivision was a winter wonderland of lights in a day long before miniature lights had been invented. People took pride in their outdoor displays with a fervor, and it was beautiful to sit on the ridge and look down at the twinkling houses below us, looking like a living Christmas card.
My grandparents were fairly recent immigrants from Ireland. They'd only been in the country a few years. America was a land of bounty after eaking through the war years in Northern Ireland. Pictures taken of them from "the old days" show thin people with achingly large eyes and backgrounds that moaned of poverty. My grandfather worked as a truck (like 18-wheeler) mechanic not far from their home. I found his work fascinating. He'd save me the magnets from some part of a truck and I'd play with them by the hour, AMAZED at their power. He always had an underlying grime to him from the garage, no matter how much he scrubbed, but when he went out, he always, always, always wore a suit. It didn't matter if it was 100 degrees and we were at the beach (I kid you not; I have pictures to prove it.) or if we were on a picnic at the lake, he wore his suit.
My grandmother, being no slouch either, is preserved in memory by various unhappy looks at the camera, because she never, ever, ever went out without putting on her corset. This vile contraption had real bone, strings that went everywhere and looked like some puzzle. It forced her body to conform to some 19th century idea of what women should do to themselves, but it also spoke of the pride she had for wanting to appear as prim as possible in public.
Christmas night there was my grandpa in his suit, and my grandma all dressed up in very proper attire, gussetted into her undergarment of torture. The presents were under the tree, the house sparkled from a super cleaning, the snow outside glistened in the crisp night air....all was beautiful and just right for the excitement about to take place. Indeed there was a HUGE box under the tree. It had my name on it. I had been taken to fever pitch of excitement throughout the day, and was barely able to hold myself together. THIS year something magical was happening and it was for ME!
In the kind of torture that only adults can manufacture, all the small presents had to be opened first. OF COURSE I was Santa and had to distribute all the gifts. I endured watching everyone open their presents, and I endured opening the smaller gifts of underwear and slippers that we thought were pretty standard back in that day. THEN all eyes focused on me as the big, big box's time had come. I was FINALLY released to open the big present.
I was nearly vibrating with excitement. WHAT could possibly be in a box that size???????? I tore into the paper and there was a suitcase. How odd is that? A very, very large suitcase. It was new and had shiny brass buckles. Indeed what could this large suitcase hold? My imagination took me only to dead end ideas. I could not, in fact, imagine what the heck was in that suitcase. Gently I opened it up. Deep, cobalt blue velvet peeked out. I opened more of the case.....and there shining, and beautifully crafted.....was.......an........accordian. Yes, just like you see on Laurence Welk. A nice BIG accordian, more glamorous and more lovely than the one my grandfather played every evening.
He played the accordian every evening bringing a certain gaiety into the little apartment they lived in. Every evening songs that he made with his accordian oozed out of their windows. He was fascinating to watch. Pushing buttons here, pushing keys there, and all the while coordinating the squeeze in -- pull out action of the instrument. It was magic to watch him do this, and now I knew I had been anointed to join him in this experience. It was an honor, it probably was a large portion of several paydays, it was a sacrifice for people who lived on the edge, it was a gleaming example of ........expectations gone awry. My little body quivered and I pushed back that feverish excitement and found some diplomacy somewhere in my child self. There was no way I could possibly feign the "gratification" that was anticipated, but I tried.
There, was my grandfather showing me how to make it work. Hoisting it on my body so I could feel the dead weight of it. Guiding my hands he lovingly showed me how to use the keys and the buttons to make the magical noise he breathed out as easily as could be into music. I, however, saw a monster. That thing was nearly half my size and about one-third my weight. It required arm strength that no child could muster easily. This was a full-sized adult accordian, for a half-sized person. And, in a moment of utter innocence, they had picked an instrument at a time in my life, when those "flowery buds of womanhood" would soon be right in the way of the squeeze in -- pull out action required. Ouch!
This was my most memorable Christmas gift. It held the expections for so many, and was the yoke of failed aspiration for me. My father arranged lessons, for which I was forced to take. Then as if the lessons were not enough, there was a recital. Take a moment in your mind and imagine dozens of youthful students at an accordian recital. Yes, it was as awful as you can imagine and worse for the participants. I felt humiliated as if somehow I'd been asked to take my panties down in public, only it was worse because it was my panties down while I had an accordian on, in public.
The accordian finally moved to the closet over the years. Sometimes it got dusted off. Clearly it was a special treasure and spoke of the love my grandfather had for me and how he wanted to share the treasure of music with me in a special way. It just was a spectacular moment of ill conceived generosity. I will always remember my grandfather lovingly with his accordian playing into the night and bringing beautiful music to our lives. I hope from his spot in heaven he can forgive me for not sharing in his special gift that Christmas. I'll always have a special love for him and for music, but that accordian....that was ........a devilish thing to give to a child unprepared for the honor or magnitude of generosity.
I have pictures. Yes, it really was HUGE. Merry Christmas and here's hoping none of you experience the giving or getting of such a gift this Christmas. ;)
Peace and joy to you and those you love, this and everyday.