Everybody Has a Story: Harmonica memory sings across the years



In the summer of 1958, I was almost 7. I was invited to spend a weekend at the Luke family home on Simpson Avenue in Vancouver. My uncle and cousins, the Luke boys, were off somewhere else — fishing, I think. When Mom and Dad dropped me off, Auntie Helen was excited that I was just in time to help celebrate a birthday party for her friend’s little girl. About eight boys and girls showed up with their parents, and Helen announced we were ready to start the birthday games.

Helen had a sack of prizes for the games, like yo-yos, paint-by-number sets and candy, but there was only one green plastic harmonica. Since my daddy had a harmonica, I wanted that prize most of all. We played all kinds of kids’ games, like Spin the Bottle and Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but no one had claimed the harmonica yet.

Then it was time for the Squat-and-Pop-the-Balloon race. I was sure I was going to win that game. The kids lined up. On the word “go,” we ran to pop a balloon. I ran as fast as I could and began sitting on a balloon that just squished and squashed but would not pop. I heard popping all around me, but try as I might, mine would not pop. Auntie Helen came over, and with her help we finally popped that stubborn balloon.

Well, as the kids began grabbing their prizes, I sadly watched as one of the boys grabbed the green harmonica. He blew out some notes, and I began to cry. I had wanted that harmonica so bad. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t mine.

Auntie Helen and the other parents saw me crying and tried to make me feel better by giving me candy and another prize, a paint-by-number set. I was too embarrassed so I ran outside and cried some more. Later, I felt better when called in to have cake and ice cream and the birthday girl opened her presents. Then it was time for the kids to go home.

I thought about the great music I would have made that harmonica the rest of the day. Later, I decided to start my paint-by-number set when I was called for dinner. I washed up and came to the dinner table to find not only my favorite dish, macaroni and cheese, but next to my plate was a green plastic harmonica.

Now, I still don’t know if Helen had an extra one, or if she went and bought another one, but there it was. I thanked her with the biggest hug I could, and after dinner I played it outside so loud that the hobos on the Fruit Valley train tracks must have heard me. It was one of the best days of my life, and a great memory.

I wish I still had that green harmonica. But sadly, I wore it out. I saved it for the longest time, then lost it or tossed it out, I’m not sure which. That memory brings me a secret smile and music to this very day.

In early April, I went with several of my brothers to visit Auntie Helen Pearl Luke at Arbor Ridge Assisted Living in Hazel Dell. I read Auntie Helen this story — and as she listened, she gave a knowing look that told me she wasn’t going to tell me where the other green plastic harmonica came from.

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