Stories from my Harmonica Teacher
I picked up another bound copy of life stories from the printer earlier this month. This time the stories are of my 97-year-old harmonica teacher.
Decades before Lucille helped me learn to play the small instrument, she taught herself. She was 4 years old or so, and the harmonicas she and her sisters got from “Santy Claus” each year helped keep them entertained while growing up on a farm. How Lucille first picked up the harmonica was not important to her, and to this day she holds it upside down; she plays it with the high notes to the left and the low notes to the right.
Lucille was the eighth of 10 siblings. She and the three closest to her in age sometimes would ride to elementary school together on a strawberry roan mare named Bert. When they got to school and dismounted, they turned the horse around to find its own way home, 2 ½ miles away. Which it did. Every time.
In her teens and early 20s, Lucille was one of many young ladies from her rural county to find work as “domestics” in larger cities a few hours away, including Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. She and one of her sisters were the upstairs and downstairs maids, respectively, for the family for whom the Eiteljorg native American art museum was later named. A photo accompanying that story shows Lucille, another of her sisters and three friends in their winter coats and pillbox hats with arms linked. All worked as maids and often met up on their Thursdays off; they would go to a movie (25-cent admission) and eat supper together.
Lucille was courted by a neighbor with whom she exchanged letters while he served in the Army during World War II. She had a handful of pen pals serving their country, but Othmar stood out.
“He wrote the most beautiful letters,” she said of the man who became her husband. Three days before their intended wedding date, Lucille was diagnosed with diphtheria and was hospitalized. They married on March 2, 1946.
Othmar died nearly 30 years ago. Lucille keeps marching on, and continues to play the harmonica. She plays by ear, and her repertoire includes hundreds if not thousands of songs. Until she started having health problems last year, she regularly played at area nursing homes.