My grandmother was a unique woman. I don’t know if she didn’t get the memo about spoiling grandkids rotten, never enjoyed entertaining children or if I simply came along too late to experience her hosting skills in their prime but no one could describe her home as “kid friendly” and it wasn’t a place I liked to spend a lot of time.
Note: This was not the organ at my grandmother’s house.
Her toy selection was limited to a deck of Uno cards; a few back issues of Highlights Magazine, a box of die cast cars, and exactly one doll. When she acquired a VCR she added a videotape of Peter Pan to the cache, but that was it. Our conversations centered on her inquires into my personal health and the status of my education and she never had normal snack foods such as Oreos or Ding Dongs on hand to placate the under 10 set. Instead she offered up oatmeal cookies with macadamia nuts and Town House Crackers topped with Philadelphia Cream Cheese (aka Old Lady Food.)
However, she did have one thing no one else in the family had and that one item was enough to make up for an otherwise lack of amenities in her abode: a Hammond Organ.
It was a glorious instrument with two rows of keys, a recording device, a host of orchestral effects that could be summoned at the flip of a lever, and additional pedal accouterments that my legs weren’t long enough to reach. (No one was sad about that, I assure you.) While the grown-ups chatted in the living room, I gave grand concerts in the den, making up songs as I went along and trying to teach myself how to play using a cardboard guide to tell me one note from another.
My show stopping number, and the only song I could actually play was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” which I performed in oboe mode and paired with a jaunty little backbeat. It didn’t sound very patriotic. In fact it was off key and full of mistakes, but no one ever mentioned it to me. Either the adults in my life were tone deaf, happy to have me out of their hair, possessed an unusual affinity for creative expression or realized I was six and were willing to blame it on the Bossa Nova.
Unfortunately, the good times couldn’t last forever. When I was 12, Grandma decided she wanted more space rather than stuff and sold her precious organ. I was devastated. Not only did this thwart my music career for the time being, but horror of horrors, it actually meant that I would have to find something else to do whenever we visited. I tried not to take her move personally, but it did occur to me that the timing coincided with my growth spurt. My grandma was a very smart woman. Perhaps she noticed my feet were getting closer and closer to those “power pedals” and what was once a joyful noise was about to become a terrible racket.
Of course, I’ll never know for sure.