And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Christmas, of course, brings with it presents. And usually, there’s one or two that really stand out. That happened for me this year, though I have to say…the present that really stuck out and struck my heart is one I picked out myself.
A few weeks ago, when we were watching Olivia at her concert with the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra, my mind couldn’t help but wander to the music I loved to listen to, and the music I loved to make. From sixth grade through tenth, I played the trumpet, which I hated. I don’t even know where that trumpet is now. I lent it to someone somewhere along the way, and have long since lost track of it. I have always loved to sing, and for quite a while, I partnered myself with an instrument that became mine by pure happenstance.
I no longer remember if I was living in Minnesota or if I’d already moved to Wisconsin when my parents decided to replace my brother’s Wurlitzer organ with the mighty Hammond. But I do remember standing in the music store, growing increasingly bored as my parents hemmed and hawed over whether or not they would actually buy the organ. I wandered away and looked in a showcase at the front of the store. Inside, I saw an instrument I recognized.
It looked just like the one my music teacher in school, Mrs. Lindstrom, used when she came to our classroom to teach. (This is why I’m pretty sure I was still in Minnesota; that’s where Mrs. Lindstrom was.) From time to time, Mrs. Lindstrom let me come to the front of the class and strum the autoharp in accompaniment to the songs we were singing. I loved that instrument. It was like playing a guitar, but I didn’t have to figure out which fingers to use on the strings. I just pressed a button and strummed and the chord was right there.
The woman standing behind the showcase smiled at me, and I smiled back. “That’s an autoharp,” I said. “My music teacher lets me play hers.” The woman opened the showcase, drew the instrument out and handed me a felt pick. I was delighted and began to strum.
The salesman working with my parents noticed. He said to my parents, “If you decide to buy the Hammond, I’ll throw in the autoharp for your little girl.”
I still didn’t pay any attention to what was going on with the sale, but when we walked out of the store, I was carrying the box with the autoharp.
For years and years, that autoharp and its box resided under my bed. I would go upstairs to my room, shut the door, pull it out, and play. I played the songs in the book they gave me and I made up songs of my own. I played it when I was sad, and I played it when I was happy, and I played it when I just wanted to surround myself with music that included me in it.
There are no photographs of me playing the autoharp. I was always behind my closed door.
Whenever I moved, whether with my parents, or later, with my first husband, the autoharp came with me. But when I packed up to leave that first husband, I brought very little with me. My autoharp, at that time, was still in its box, but on a shelf in a storeroom in our basement. I didn’t think of it when I left. When I did think of it, and I asked my ex-husband about it, he told me it was gone.
All of this passed through my mind as I sat, listening to Olivia play her violin with the orchestra.
That night, I went onto a website that sells used instruments. When I put autoharp in the search bar, I was amazed at the number of instruments that came up. And so many of them looked like mine! They were the same brand. Some of them had the years listed that a particular model was made, and so I searched through the years that covered when I most likely received my autoharp. When I found one particular one, I picked it out because it looked so much like mine.
I went downstairs and talked to Michael. I asked if he was okay if I chose my own present this year.
“You want a what?” he said.
When I told him about it, he sent me back upstairs to my computer with his blessing.
I bought the autoharp. The seller contacted me and said he’d be sending it out the next day. Then, the next day, he told me that snow prevented him from getting out. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s a Christmas present, but it’s for me.” I explained that I was now 61 years old, and I wanted to reunite with this instrument that meant so much to a much younger me.
He sent it out the next day.
I asked him if he included picks and a tuning fork. I mentioned that the pick I liked most was a felt pick, because it didn’t make the metallic pinging sounds against the strings.
A day later, he emailed me and said I would be receiving a package from Amazon, with a tuning fork and felt picks. “Merry Christmas!” he said.
I tracked the package until it finally showed up at my door. When I unwrapped it, it was in its original box. And I couldn’t believe it.
My original autoharp had a puncture hole in the lower right of the box. So did this one.
Now, I know that it’s most likely not mine. But I’m happy to believe that it could be.
I don’t have a room here where I can close the door and sit and play, so I haven’t played it yet, other than quietly strumming the strings sometimes when I pass it. But I will play it. And I will sing. I don’t think I’ll be sitting on the floor pretzel-legged though. Those days are long gone.
For now, it’s enough to look at it. And remember singing and playing.
A part of me has come home.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.