On the Tenth Day of Christmas …

10thxmas The French Harp
by Glenda Barrett

You know how sometimes a special moment happens, and inside your heart you know it will always be with you. One of those moments happened at my grandmother’s house one Christmas day several years ago. In order for you, the reader to fully understand this moment, it will be necessary for me to give you a bit of background.

My grandmother never owned a credit card, a new car or attended college. Instead, she was a lady who lived during the Great Depression and learned how to spend wisely. However, this did not stop her from giving. It was simply done differently — and always from the heart.

For example, as far as I can remember, she taught every one of her grandchildren how to catch a fish. She sat side by side with them on the creek bank and listened as they shared parts of their life. Sometimes, she surprised us with a picnic lunch. While watching our lines waiting for a fish to bite, we munched happily on Vienna sausage, banana sandwiches and milk.

She was generous with other things as well. If we did odd jobs for her, she’d say, “Here take this money, you can’t work for nothing!”

Not one time during my growing up years did she ever make me think that I was a bother to her in any way, even though I walked out to her house regularly to visit. Each time she’d say, “Would you like something to eat?”

Every Christmas as she became older we had this same conversation. She’d say, “Glenda, I’m not going to have much money to spend this Christmas. I’m afraid I can’t buy much.”

My answer was always the same, “Mamaw, you know you don’t have to get us anything, I know you don’t have a lot of money.”

My words were wasted because when she talked about Christmas, she got that determined look in her eyes. Even when her arthritic hands worsened, and she became unable to wrap her gifts, she got her daughter to wrap them. Not only that, she still insisted on cooking Christmas dinner for everyone. I’ve seen her cook a large meal and then be too tired too eat when it was done. Instead she’d say, “Y’all go ahead and eat, I’ll just rest a minute and warm by the heater.”

Sometime, I don’t remember when, it could have been on the creek bank, Mamaw shared with me how as a small girl she had always wanted a French Harp, but times were so hard her family could never afford one. So, that year I decided I would buy her one for Christmas. It would be a surprise.

When the holidays rolled around, and it came time to open the gifts, I carried hers over to her and placed it in her lap. Everyone watched as she eagerly tore at the paper. As she looked inside, her face lit up like a small child. She reached into the box, pulled out the French Harp, and looked it over real good. She then rubbed the mouthpiece gently on her apron and placed it to her lips.

We watched mesmerized as she took a deep breath and began to play. None of us knew of her hidden talent. Suddenly, streams of, “Amazing Grace” filled the room. I’m not sure whether it was the song or Mamaw’s face that touched me, but a stream of tears began rolling down my cheeks.

After the second stanza, she paused to catch her breath but never took her eyes from the French Harp. In a minute, she continued, and the room came alive as the music swirled up around the rafters and circled the room.

Mamaw is no longer living but the memory of that moment remains with me as plain as yesterday. I can still see her face and hear the music as she played the French Harp — and old age, pain and heartaches fell by the wayside.

*Originally published in an anthology in a writer’s group titled, “The Spirit of Christmas,” in 2004. 

Glenda Barrett, a native of Hiawassee, Georgia is an artist, poet and writer. Her work has been widely published. To name a few: Woman’s World, Farm & Ranch Living, Country Woman, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Bread ‘n Molasses, Journal of Kentucky Studies and Smoky Mountain Magazine. Her Appalachian artwork and her chapbook “When the Sap Rises” are for sale at Fine Art America.