Mama’s Music

Mama learned play music on an old pump organ, and I dimly remember her playing our piano when I was a wee tot; sweeter, lighter and more melodic music than Daddy’s straight forward play-by-ear, bang-away productions. Then she stopped playing. We’d beg her to play a song but she always demurred. She drew note shapes on the keys, taught us to play, but her fingers were silent.

What seems like not too many years ago Mama learned that one of her cousins had their grandmother’s pump organ, stored in pieces in his garage, last stop before the land-fill. The thing was in more pieces than one would suppose and only my optimistic Mama could imagine there was any music left in the dusty, cob-webbed junk. When they loaded the pieces in my brother Gary’s pick-up truck nobody knew if even half the organ was there and everyone except Mama thought it was a rather hopeless endeavor.

Gary offered to store the junk in his machine shop and to try to put it together in his spare time….any effort the whole family dismissed as fanciful at best. Neither Mama nor Gary had any experience in restoration but Mama was quietly determined and Gary is right smart at figuring things out and they plugged away at the project.

It took them a couple of years, and I don’t have any idea how they did it, but Mama moved it from the machine shop to her home. It is a magnificent organ, every bit as proud and perfect as it was a hundred years ago when Mama’s grandfather uncrated it and proudly watched while his children pumped the pedals, and tentatively touched the keys, freeing its first melodic tones. Intricate decorative carvings reflect the Victorian era of its birth and its tall mirrored backboard lends dignity and presence. It could be a modern reproduction except for the aged patina of the ivory keyboard and the old carpet on the bellows pedals worn by generations of players.

This is the real thing. Made new.

I dropped in on Mama one day, to drop off some Ruritan Club barbecue, say hello and get a hug, and as I walked up the porch steps I could see her rise from the three legged spin-top stool at the organ.

“Were you playing the organ?” I teased as I came in. “I thought you gave that up forty years ago?”

Mama grinned with the guilty grin of a four year old caught with her hand in the cookie jar, “Well, I took a notion a couple of weeks ago that I might like to play it and so I did,” she responded.

“Well, play us a tune,” I suggested, fully expecting the same refusal she had given so many times in my childhood.

“Ok, just one,” she answered, and sat down with an alacrity that surprised me almost as much as her agreeing to play at all.

She started pumping the bellows pedals and lowered her hands to play. The notes of an old familiar gospel song floated from the organ’s ancient throat; sweet music, delicate and melodic with a soft touch I’d not heard for forty years and had half-suspected was more imaginary memory than truth.

As she played I could almost see gathered around us, smiling, happy, the generations past who had heard the organ play and generations to come who would, linked by all our Mamas who have the love and perseverance to fix the all the hurts.


  1. Marilyn Keffer says:


  2. Leroy Miller says:


    I enjoyed the story, but it shouldn’t end with the last sentence. One way or another, persuade your Mama to let you video record a couple songs. It would be delightful to see it on facebook and, at the very least, a recording would be a wonderful memento for her posterity.

    Blessings to you,

    Leroy Miller

  3. Jean Douglas says:


    You and your family are so lucky to have your mother with you today and many more to come. I know I sure miss my ma and dad to this very day. They didn’t express much back then either, but after leaving home then coming back, their hearts seem to be more open and finally expressed love for me.

    Merry Christmas!

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