“The Pillow Book” by Sei Shonagon – it was to this book I referred in my recent blog about lists. What was lost is found. Thank-you, Jo Edgett, for wrangling this book back to me. Beautiful Jo.
On things lost and returned I can spend hours of thought. There’s one great loss to which I return more than what is practical. That is the loss of my first musical instrument, a little Hohner harmonica – a Christmas gift when I was eight.
My brother describes his disbelief and subsequent delight at finding, when he was 12, a .22 calibre rifle under this Christmas tree. My delight was as great. I remember longing for and anticipating a saxophone. Why a saxophone – I can’t say. Perhaps the Simpson’s catalogue featured one in its slim two-page music section, and I, with my early and enduring fascination with beautiful machinery, was smitten by the curves and valves. Maybe the magpie in me was mesmerized by the shine. Maybe I just knew, instinctively, that with it would eventually come a porkpie hat, and what eight-year-old girl did not dream of that?
What came was not the saxophone, but a small rectangular box that held a polished chrome Marine Band harmonica. My love was instant. I developed an immediate tunnel vision. All that surrounded me disappeared, all fell silent. I saw only the little mouth organ. There was nothing in the world so complete, so lustrous, so right. And just like no one else got to play with my brother’s .22, no one got to play with my harmonica. Both are dangerous in the wrong hands.
My brother took the bus to school, but I fell into an age group that required me to go to one room school, not served by a school bus, about a mile from home. Winter in rural Nova Scotia blew dress codes to threads – I wore snowsuits, sometimes over my flannel pajama bottoms, or leotards (tights, really, but we called them leotards). Sometimes flannel-lined jeans for which I still hold a dreamy fondness. If, for some reason, I was required to wear a skirt, the snow pants remained underneath the skirt all day. I, and all the girls, looked like hippos in a plaid, reversible tutus, snow boots for toe shoes. A snowsuit ensured a pocket in which I could tuck the harmonica.
On the way to and from school, I lagged behind other kids, gave them a long lead time before I headed out. I walked to school playing my harmonica. Played it, tucked it in my pocket to dance a little, play, dance, play, dance….I did this throughout the winter and spring. It was pure and elevating joy. My teacher once waited with me so that she could walk with me as far as her house. She asked if she could try my harmonica. She put it to her lips and played a tender – soulful almost – rendition of “Little Brown Jug”. I was stunned by her sudden transformation into a deity.
One spring day, after a short spell of dancing myself home, I reached into my pocket for the harmonica to discover it wasn’t there. I retraced my steps. Many, many times on many different days. Never found it. Foolishly, I believe it’s intact in some preserving pocket of time, and that it shines still, waiting for a magpie’s eye.