They Taste Like Old

They taste like old; that sweet and musty, medicinal flavour of vintage treasures one pulls out of a drawer at the grandparents house.

My Dad gave these harmonicas to me a few weeks ago. They belonged to my Great Grannie (his Dad’s Mom) and they taste like old.

I picked up the Echo-Luxe and blew a basic jazz riff and was left with the essence of vintage tingling my lips and tongue. These harmonicas have the long dead lip skin cells of Grannie all over them. It’s strange to think about the dried out saliva of a dead woman that permeates the inner chambers of these babies. She’s in there, my Great Grannie; the remnants of a dead person hiding in plain sight as ancient grunge. I never met her.

The thought reminds me of something Rob Breszny once wrote: “The air you breathe has, in the course of its travels, been literally everywhere on the planet, and has slipped in and out of the lungs of almost every human being who has ever lived.”

It’s not the remnants of a dead person hiding in plain sight as ancient grunge that link me to my fierce and prideful Great Grannie, it’s the family history my Uncle sent me when he learned my Dad gave me her harmonicas.

In roughly 1910, Amelia (my Great Grannie), her parents and two of her three brothers fled Bohemia when Russia steam rolled into their country and took over. Amelia and her family were Bohemian royalty who fled with nothing more than the clothing on their backs. They managed to gain passage on a boat bound for Montreal. Upon landing in Canada, they changed their last name. (My family doesn’t know Amelia’s original last name.) The family took a train to Calgary where they lived for two years, before moving to a hamlet in Alberta where they became farmers.

There’s a touch of bitter-sweet romanticism, to me, in the thought of fallen royalty carving out their existence as farmers in a country they adopted as their new home.

From 1930 onwards the tale takes a turn towards fake deaths, hidden divorces, and death-bed confessions revealing a half-brother and sister that led to the uniting of a half-blood family in the ’80s. But I’ll save all that for another blog post.

Right now, I’ll let the rich and buttery melody these old harmonicas produce carry me away to a pocket in the frock of my Great Grannie where I imagine her tilling the soil and day-dreaming of a life left behind.

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