Sometimes things find us and other times we find things. This is the story of a boy and an accordion who found each other.
The depression in the early 1930’s was a hardship for many. My father, an electrician, sometimes had to go out of town for work. At one point, Mom, Dad, and I moved into my Grandparents home. It was never explained to me why the move, but I think it was for financial reasons. Later, we moved back into the house we had been renting and where I was born.
Prior to Christmas 1936, I came home from first grade with a picture of a Christmas Tree and a box under the tree. Of course, the question was, “what’s in the box.” I said it was an accordion. Back then, accordions were as popular as guitars are today.
Since my father was also a musician, I think he felt that the accordion was an ideal Christmas present. The “box” contained a small 12 bass accordion, a size ideal for a young child.
Lessons followed and of course, practicing. Sometimes, practicing was easy. When it was a harder piece of music, I preferred playing outside with my neighborhood friends.
I eventually progressed to a bigger-sized accordion. The lessons continued and I became more proficient, but not perfect.
Mother was active in the church lady’s society and she asked me to provide Accordion. So, I dutifully played a respectable song. When they asked for an encore, the first song that came to my mind which I readily knew, was not a church hymn, but the Beer Barrel Polka. Nevertheless, the ladies enjoyed it.
During my Junior High School days (grades 7-8-9), I started playing the trumpet in the school band. The trumpet was the same instrument that my father played. During this time, I occasionally played the accordion. Being outside with neighborhood kids was more fun.
One summer between my 9th and 10th grades, I restarted practicing and acquired quite a repertoire. Around my Junior, Senior years in high school, I joined a 3-piece orchestra and continued playing during my first year in college. It was the University of Wisconsin extension division in my hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin where I spent one year. Of course, I had to join the Musician’s Union. The money earned went a long way toward college expenses.
Next, I went to Madison, Wisconsin for on-campus enrollment. There, I had fun playing at fraternity parties and for fellow pharmacy classmates at a local tavern.
During my senior year in Madison, the football team won the Big 10 title, which meant the team would be going to the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1953. Alan Ameche, running back was the star player and eventually became a Colt in Baltimore.
I decided to make the trip to the Rose Bowl. Our journey was by train from Madison to Los Angeles. I do not remember exactly, but it was a 2-3-day trip each way. My trusty accordion accompanied me on the trip. I would play from railroad car to another “On Wisconsin” and “California Here I Come.” The playing continued in the Club car.
As a Pharmacy student with the class I visited pharmaceutical companies like Abbott in No. Chicago and Lilly in Indianapolis. During a banquet at the Abbott visit, we were entertained my strolling musicians, one of whom played the accordion. Not being bashful, I asked if I could play it, which I did.
Later, the accordionist said he was getting a new accordion. Would I be interested in his accordion? We finalized a deal and I was the proud owner of a professional accordion.
That accordion helped me earn money playing with an orchestra during my grad school days. Courtship was limited, as I was likely playing on Saturday night. In retrospect, I earned money, rather than spending it on a date. My future bride understood.
Now, I play for entertainment at Marquette in Assisted Living and in Reflections (memory care). My wife, Alice, currently is a resident in Reflections.
The accordion which I acquired in college was showing its age. I took it to the accordion doctor, and I said it had asthma – it was wheezing. The repair person said he did his best and suggested it might be time to look for a different accordion. After all, it had been good to me for 67 years.
Ever since my high school days, I admired the Excelsior brand, which was played by some of the leading players of the day. I went to eBay and lo and behold, I found a very professional Excelsior.
So, I am now realizing my childhood dream. I have been playing since the age of 6 and soon I will be 90 years young. What turned out to be in the “box” under the Christmas Tree, it has provided a source of pleasure and income.
Contributed by: Fred Hecker
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