We spent this New Year’s Eve in Chicago with our best friend’s. We all met in college and we rotate hosting each year. This year we celebrated in their new Buck Town home. Built sometime in the 1860’s, it’s a remodeled gem with original features like exposed brick walls and slightly sloping, incredibly charming 2nd level floors. At some point a large garage was constructed out back and sometime in the last half century, someone purchased a ’66 Farfisa mini deluxe compact organ and then left it in the rafters. Left it. Think The Doors, Percy Sledge or Strawberry Alarm Clock and you have an idea of the sound. My husband and I were giggling with excitement while our friends looked at us with surprise and, thankfully, nodding in agreement that we should take it home.
When Dan told us there was a old keyboard in their garage left by the previous owners, we thought cheapy-Casio remix, three octaves with saccharine sound from the ’80’s. Something you could part with. But a rare vintage (portable!) organ? It’s hard to imagine. And yet, if you are not a sound or keyboard fan, it makes sense. Maybe they had to choose? It could have come down to taking the fake Christmas tree or the organ. We all place value on things differently, ranging from not-at-all-valuable– to I cannot-live-without-this-and-will-remortgage- house-to-have-it! There is nothing, other than my children’s education, I would consider re-mortgaging the house for but you get my point. It is the reason Antiques Roadshow is in existence, why the pawn shop business model works, and why so many of us love shows like American Pickers or radio shows like NPR’s Story Corp and The Story with Dick Gordon. A lot of us humans love our history wrapped in particular personalized package, be it sound, story, or object.
The E above middle C on our new/old Farfisa has a perfectly round cigarette burn. In this way, one can almost romanticize the act of smoking as a prop to musical performance and reminisce about its stylistic virtues. Sheets of smoke and likely, other paraphenalia littering the flat shelf of the organ and adjacent amps. It’s the kind of instrument designed to be played in the very least as a trio with bass and drums. Social. While driving through the year’s first blizzard on the way home we wondered and fantasized about the organ’s lifespan and it’s owners and musicians who made it sing the funk and swoon a slow groove. It didn’t take long after it was set up in our basement for me to to consider this new stranger in our home and compare it to the way we interact with humans and their unknown stories.
I had a conversation the other night at a funeral home in town with the family member of a neighbor who recently died from Alzheimer’s disease. We talked about the changes he experienced and she marveled at the way his awareness flickered in and out in unexpected and heartening ways for being in the late stages of the disease: the name of a grandchild suddenly spoken, the recognition of a familiar face, his laughter. She recognized and appreciated the open and loving behavior of the staff where he lived out his life and their complete acceptance for who he was, just as he was. She shared her understanding of the challenges families have in constantly comparing what is with what once was; the on-going struggle with balancing the difficulty of their sadness in witnessing losses and their love for the person who has changed so profoundly. The staff, by comparison, in compassionate long term care and adult day settings understand, appreciate and accept their residents and clients just as they because they do not have direct experience with each person’s history. We celebrate them as treasure troves of stories, known and unknown, and we love them in recognition of their lifetime of living and experience in living.
When we pause and reflect on our daily life and personal history we can see how the perception we have of ourselves , and others, is a story. Many, many interconnected stories. We are story. We are sound. We are object. And yet, so very, very much more in ways we all recognize. It’s what brings us to tears when we are moved by listening to a story, or watching one unfold in a favorite movie or even a well executed commercial. It’s what has us on our feet clapping and whistling at a child performing in her first dance recital, tearing after receiving a message from a dear old friend out of the blue, cheering when our favorite football team has a dramatic win, coo-ing over babies, or swaying at the end of moving musical performance, a birth, a retirement, a son’s first home run, a 40th birthday, a 100th birthday, a 1st birthday, first kiss, last kiss…..
With a straight face and without a hint of cynicism or naivete I believe we all possess a limitless capacity for love, creativity, compassion and enthusiasm. Achievement works on a different scale from these ways of being. I do not mean our ability to win the Nobel Prize or achieve recognition, I specifically mean our potential to inspire and uplift others around us; support for each other’s stories and creations and for our own. And yet, all of these things can sometimes embarrass or scare us into in-action when we think we’ve over expressed ourselves. I believe we are closer to healing when we can shamelessly promote the talents of others and when we can see and appreciate artistic creations and members of our civilization equally, regardless of how worn, tattered, and aged they are.
The Farfisa is a relic from a musical generation pieced together by simple engineering, before the dominance of the digital age. We will not attempt to polish or replace any of its parts. Maybe a good air bath to clear its connections, but for now, it will sit in our home amidst other technology as we record its sounds and enjoy its distinct brand of simplicity. More happiness. What the New Year has reminded me so far: Be present, create, and help each other out when we find someone hidden in the rafters.
Found: Christmas 2011. My friend Stephanie’s grandmother’s beloved doll. Discovered in a box with baby quilts made by her grandmother for Stephanie’s and her sister’s children (now in elementary school). The doll’s hands tell a story of pretend play and companionship we’ll never know, but can appreciate because of our own play and well-loved lovies.