pandora, an accordion player
I was thirteen years old the first time the Beatles appeared on the Ed Television Show. I recall sitting on the edge of our olive-green, velvety,
vaguely Mediterranean-style couch bouncing up and down, giddy with excitement. For some obscure reason my father had painted the
living room walls a burnt-orange color and the lights of the television glimmered off the walls. I remember growing angrier and angrier at my father
as he sat there, so self-important, criticizing their music, their clothing,and certainly, their hair. I was near to tears. I loved Paul, no, Ringo, no,
John, no, George. I was possessed by Beatlemania. After that night I wouldn't play the accordion again for 50 years.
Oh yeah, I'll tell you something, I think you'll understand....
The next morning, armed with my baby-sitting money, I walked to the Mercantile, plunked down $2.98, and bought my first LP. It was also
the first time I broke my parent's heart. I'm certain I broke it many times after that, but this was the first, the virginal and deepest cut.
That evening, at dinner, I announced to my mother and father that I had told Mr. Sevienti that I was no longer taking lessons, and was no longer
playing the accordion. I had been taking lessons since age 6 and was a bit of a prodigy. I played for Polish weddings, family birthdays, and for
the annual Polish day celebration at Kennywood Park. Now I had discovered the Beatles, rock n' roll, and AM radio. I was an American teenager
and the accordion was not cool.
I was an only child, unusual in a Polish-Catholic family. But there had been fertility problems, and I was the last hope. That accounted for a
Polish girl on Pittsburgh's SouthSide bearing the name of Pandora.
Telling my grandparents was nearly as difficult as telling my parents.
"Pansy," my bubba sighed, "we have always had an accordionist in the family. It is an instrument of life, of love and laughter. It is the rhythm
of breath, the bellows in and out. It is about our history. It is real magic".
But I was interested only in the magic of rock n' roll and teenage popularity. Pandora, Pansy, became Pan....a sophisticated and somewhat feral
name I thought, much more suited to the 1960's. The accordion was traded for an electric guitar. But somehow I didn't shine on the guitar as I
had on the accordion. I was a mediocre bass player and not much of a singer. I played in a few garage bands through high school but left it all
behind after graduation.
Hey Jude, don't be afraid, take a sad song and make it better.
I went on to college, majored in nursing. I fell in love, married, had children. Not quite in that straight line order. Life of course had its bobbles,
pain, ups and downs. My husband was a high school music teacher, a band director. I became a geriatric nurse, a specialist in Alzheimer's
and dementia care. Our children grew up, moved away. I became a grandmother and we moved to Florida. My parents and grandparents
grew old, became ill and died. Life was full and good. Yet there was an emptiness I sensed but couldn't articulate. It was a dull ache, a
hollowness I felt at the center of my body. Meditation assuaged the feeling, as did unrelenting busyness. Of course music helped, John
Coltrane, Miles, Gregorian chant, the Beatles. But the discordant note remained, a constant thrum against the ground of my life.
There are places I remember all my life...
The day before my sixty-second birthday, I fell and fractured my left ankle. I was playing with the grandkids at the playground, tumbled from a
misstep on a rope bridge, and there I was casted, out-of-commission, and cranky as hell. Without the distractions of work and activity the vague,
persistent hum of anxiety that played constantly in the background of my life crescendoed to a constant roar. My doctor suggested medication.
My best friend recommended distraction. She showed up at my front door with a lightweight traveling wheelchair and a plan.
"Listen Pan, Sally declared, "it's time for you to quit sitting around the house moping. We are going to lunch at La Lafayette and then we
are going shopping. I'be been watching Pawn Stars and I think we should go browsing at the new pawn shop on Davis Boulevard".
Sally was a few years older than I, an unrepentant hippie with waist-length silver hair, a yoga-toned body, and an unerring instinct for finding
the most unusual and best bargains in town. I have salt-and-pepper short, spiked hair, purple bifocals, and my body is courtesy of Paula Deene
and an old DVD of Yoga for Round Bodies. And I can never resist an adventure with Sally, a thrift shop, pawn shop, or antique store.
I get by with a little help from my friends....
The pawn shop on Davis was neon green outside and fluorescent lit inside. There was an amazing array of merchandise and I suspected the
recent collapse of Florida's construction industry had contributed to the bounty. I left Sally happily browsing the estate jewelry selections.
I wheeled my self toward the back. Here it was darker, dustier. Other people's long forgotten treasures lay displayed on tables. My wheelchair
pedal bumped against an ancient, battered brown leather case lying on the floor under the table. Looking at it closer, I heaved the case onto
my lap, and unsnapped the hinges. Nestled inside against faded red plush velvet was a Weltmeister rainbow accordion. It gleamed under
the fluorescent lights, with its white pearlized body, rainbow buttons, and chakra colored bellows.
The magickal mystery tour is coming to take you away....
Sally helped me put the Weltmeister in my lap and into position. Muscle memory kicked in. The bellows were a bit stiff but soon loosened up. I run scales up and
down the buttons. Goosebumps ran up and down my spine. There was no doubt that the rainbow was coming home with me.
Instead of waiting for rainbows in the sun, you've got to go out girl and make you one.
It took some time to find an accordion teacher. I made the daily hourly trek to Lehigh Acres. Sophie, a Polish emigre, schooled in jazz accordion helped me remember the basics and the chords. It all came back quickly.
I used to get mad at my school. The teachers who taught me weren't cool.
Now, I needed an audience. I knew that music was helpful for people with dementia. I volunteered to entertain at the local dementia daycare center.
I decided a would start one-on-one.
Helen was severely impaired. She would soon be leaving daycare for full-time care. She didn't speak much and seldom participated in activities. I sat down next to
her, opened my case, and placed the accordion on my lap. Helen let out a loud guffaw at the sight of my rainbow monster.
Lady Madonna, children at your feet, wonder how you make ends meet.
Purely on instinct I began playing "Michelle". To my surprise, and the staffs Helen began singing and humming along with teats in her eyes. The daycare center
director told me afterward that Helen had had a daughter Michelle who had died before her.
I knew, for certain, that this was Pandora's magic accordion. My heart was no longer empty.