3. Charivari
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Three Charivari At first, I felt like celebrating: I finally had my hands on a real accordion . But what I deserved was an old-fashioned Cajun “charivari”— a mocking, raucous serenade, when the neighbors gather outside the window of an ill-fated couple on their wedding night. It is a party for a pair that’s mismatched or outside the bounds of propriety, like when an old man takes a young wife or a widow remarries with unseemly haste, or when an older couple gets together, second time around for both of them. Once the glow fades, there you are, stuck with the reality that falls short of your dreams. I remembered how excited I’d felt, when Steve and I drove away from that music store. I’d cradled my new accordion on my lap, eager to get home and unwrap it. But now, after three months, I couldn’t deny the truth: this dance was not going smoothly. My new accordion and I were definitely an odd couple. I saw the first signs the moment I got my new treasure home. I pulled the little black accordion out of the bag, extended the bellows—and sniffed. A musty smell filled the dining room. Hmm. Strange. How long had this new accordion been in storage, anyway? Or maybe I really had stepped out of time—back into the past, and then out again, with the atmosphere of that old music store still clinging to the instrument. Even the sales receipt looked old.Yellowed paper, with the name and address of Walles Music stamped at the top, in sepia-toned ink. Below, typed in black fading to gray, I could read the details of my purchase: -One- “Eagle-Brand” 1 row 2 stop $130.00 2 basses accordion & book Sales tax 10.40 _________________________________________ -Thank You- $140.40 The brownish date stamp read simply “SEP 29 PAID.” No year. 30 Charivari 31 But I knew the sales receipt was new. The storeowner had typed it out right in front of me, laboring on her old typewriter. Besides, at the top I could see the complete date, including the year, along with my name, which had come out as “Mr. Blair Kilpartirck.” Such a mysterious transformation. On paper, I had become a man, and with a new last name with a vaguely Eastern European ring. My Slavic roots were showing. When I examined the accordion bellows more closely, I could see that someone had tried to repair the thin, papery surface with a clear lacquer coating in a few spots. And the fabric thumb strap had started to shred. It appeared that charming old-fashioned look might be more than skin deep. But I brushed my questions aside— easy to do, in the excitement of finally having an accordion in my hands. I pushed and pulled, as I worked my way up and down the ten little white buttons on the right hand side of the accordion. It sounded like a do-re-mi scale—sort of. I pushed, then pulled—and went up a note on the scale. On to the next button, push and pull, and I continued up the scale. But then I’d hit a button where it turned around on me, and the push started to take me back down the scale. Sometimes a note appeared to be missing. A peculiar instrument , with a major catch: you got a different note when you pushed and pulled, much like playing the harmonica, when you inhale and exhale. Maybe it was time to look at the book included with the accordion. The instruction manual reminded me of those old-fashioned music books I’d used during my couple of years of piano lessons in grade school. Simplified musical scores for popular songs, children’s classics, and folk tunes—with a German twist, since the publisher was Hohner, that German company. Not very useful to an aspiring Cajun accordion player who could barely read music. Luckily, I soon located a manual more to my taste, through one of my Cajun catalogs—“You Can Play Cajun Accordion” by Larry Miller , a Louisiana accordion builder. The straightforward title matched the booklet’s homemade appearance: spiral bound, hand typed, partly hand lettered, rough drawings. Larry, an educator, had re-connected with his Cajun heritage at a relatively late age, in his thirties. He’d set out to learn to make—and 32 Beginnings play—accordions, following in the footsteps of a...


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