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More Stories - The Way We Were

How I Killed Two People with my Accordion

This is a two-part story.  Be patient.  It shows that joy and grief, life and death, are only two sides of the same coin. 

I was corresponding by email with Larry, complimenting him on his great and broad taste in music, ranging from the thirties to contemporary.   We sent notes back and forth for a while about various artists.  He asked if I knew Art Van Damme.  I didn't.  He explained that Van Damme was from his town in Illinois.  Van  Damme was the only person he knew that played jazz on an accordion.  Van Damme is GREAT!  How I wish I could have played the accordion like that!   Larry explained:  

"In a nutshell, Art Van Damme lived in Maywood, Ill., a west suburb of Chicago.  Was a "studio" band for the NBC affiliate, then WNBQ.  Was on with all the locally produced shows in the 40's and 50's.  Owned a music studio in Arlington heights, Ill., backed-up many singers on records, but was not credited with all of them.  My father worked at NBC Chicago, thus my knowledge of that generation.   I have no idea when he died, or any further history of him.  I know it is few and far between when an accordion is used for other than polkas. Usually billed as a quintet on record liners."

Larry's business is transferring home movies to videotape.  If you have any old movies, transfer them now before they deteriorate any  further; you'll enjoy them later on and so will future generations.  I'm still trying to track down old family photos I remember, to post on this website, and many have disappeared. 

The discussion on accordions reminded me of my own experiences with the instrument, so on to the second part of this story:  

When my father resigned from his counseling position at the Back to the Bible Broadcast Company (See Who Do We Owe, Chili Weather & Florida Cuisine), he headed for Florida with only a dream and a prayer.  His mother lived just outside of Tampa, and my mother's uncle, Theo Tupper, was a builder in Sarasota, just an hour to the south. 

Dad was convinced that the Southern Baptists were entirely too liberal in some respects (smoking and drinking, for instance) and felt he could start a new church with higher standards and people would come.  But to hedge his bets, since accordions had suddenly become the instrument of choice (God only knows why) he signed up to sell, repair and teach the accordion.   Mother taught piano and played the organ and piano for church services, Dad played piano also, a little less proficiently, and had taught clarinet and saxophone.  I played any number of instruments, was taking advanced studies in classical piano and had no intentions of ever teaching anyone! 

By the time we left Lincoln, Nebraska, Dad and I could both wheeze away on an accordion adequately, as well as take them apart, fix them and put them back together.  

Fast forward to after I left home to work in town.   I was living in a boarding house, with no piano, and had an older, used accordion I'd play sometimes for amusement and practice.  

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Uncle Theo's mother, my great-grandmother Eliza Tupper (yes, distantly related to the Tupper of Tupperware), had  been a piano teacher, played the piano and reed organ at church, and even led the choir.  She loved music, particularly the old hymns.  At nearly ninety years of age she decided she'd had enough of being snowbound each winter and took off for Florida.   

One winter, weakened by a bout of influenza, she fell and fractured her hip.  Back then there wasn't a lot they could do, so she was bedridden in a nursing home for the duration, bored out of her mind.

When we went to visit at Thanksgiving, she announced that before her birthday on Christmas day, she was going to leave and spend Christmas with the angels.   Uncle Theo, a bit touchy about the subject of death, left abruptly.  My mother started in with platitudes and reassurances; Grandmother was strong as a horse, healthy except for not being able to walk, would probably live for years.   Grandma grabbed my arm and pulled me down to her.  She still had a grip like iron.

"They don't understand," she whispered in my ear.  "I am tired of laying in this bed and I want to go celebrate my birthday and Christmas in Heaven with the angels, and I will.  But you have to promise me first to bring your accordion and play it for me."

I promised, as much to get her to stop bruising my arm as anything else, and put it out of my mind.  I was sixteen, and at that age, one doesn't think as much about life's end.

A few days before Christmas I looked up from the sales counter at work and saw Uncle Theo speaking with my supervisor.  He came over to tell me I'd been given permission to leave, as Grandma Tupper has been raising Cain the entire day at the nursing home and disturbing the other patients, demanding to see me with my accordion.  Finally they called Uncle Theo and begged him to bring me.  We passed by the boarding house to pick up my accordion.  At the nursing home Uncle Theo waited in the car, refusing to  come in. 

Grandma had been moved to a private room because of the carrying on.  They had told her I was en route, and she was now laying quietly in the bed with her arms crossed on her chest.  All she lacked was a lily.  I tiptoed over, not knowing what to expect. 

She opened her eyes.  "Do you have your accordion?  Play the old hymns and songs that I love." ...More >>>

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