Of all the instruments stacked beside the piano in our living room, my brother’s big Hohner accordion was my favourite. If only I had a smaller one just like it.
Eaton’s mail order catalogue was most accommodating, featuring a little 12 bass accordion on its pages. Not only that, but customers could make full use of a novel new marketing idea — so much money down and so much per month and the accordion could be mine.
Trying to find a means to implement my scheme, I stumbled across another plan that our Canadian government had just initiated — family allowance cheques. My parents were actually receiving the grand sum of $5 per month for the privilege of raising me. If I could convince them to sacrifice such a huge amount on my behalf, the money could be used to buy the accordion.
I gingerly broached the topic and to my surprise, both parents agreed, no small concession for people who had always avoided the social stigma of buying anything “on time.”
On a cold January night we filled out the application for credit and my long wait began.
January passed, February came and went, but still no accordion.
The Canadian National Railway train puffed and wheezed into town three times a week, dumping the mailbags onto the station platform, but still no parcel from Eaton’s.
By now, we were in the middle of a spring thaw. On March 17, I came home from school, whipped off my soggy mittens, kicked my boots into the corner and tossed my snowsuit over the wood box.
It had come.
There in front of the sofa was a large cardboard box plastered with “Fragile” stickers, the red, white and blue Eaton logo in one corner. I thought it would take Dad forever to get out his jackknife and slit open the box.
As I reached in and pulled out the black leatherette case, Mrs. Ingram, an elderly Irish lady who was convalescing with us at the time, shuffled up beside me to see what was going on.
“And if it’s not right from old Erin’s Isle,” she exclaimed. “Black and green, so it is.”
And so it was, a jet black accordion with bellows a bright Kelly green.
I strapped it on and began to pick out the notes of Galway Bay, a song then popular on radio.
Mrs. Ingram slipped into the rocking chair beside me and the confusion of thought that usually clouded her bright blue eyes seemed to clear away. She was no longer a disoriented old lady with wispy white hair. The colour rose to her cheeks, a smile played around the corners of her mouth and she was back in her beloved Ireland picking “praties” (potatoes).
The days of her youth established once more in her mind, she started down memory lane, verbally retracing each step of her life, until much to our surprise, she grasped hold of reality for the first time in days.
As I watched the miracle of music penetrate clouded memories and bring a ray of light to eyes grown dim with age, I began to see that however distant the mind becomes, the heart retains its songs.
It was the first lesson I learned on my little Irish accordion.