Thanks, Dad, For the Harp

My dad died 10 years ago today. Ten years ago, October 22nd was a brilliant fall Sunday. The hospital had called me about his admission late on Saturday night, far too late for my night-blind eyes to make the three-hour trip to the mountains where he lived. I was getting to ready to walk out the door on the following morning when the hospital called to tell me he’d just passed away.  So I had a much slower, safer, and solemn trip to the mountains, to begin the journey of losing my dad.

He was by no means a rich man, but he had worked steadily for the last 15 years, before moving into an assisted living facility due to congestive heart failure and vascular dementia. He had a little money left over in his savings account, as well as a couple of Individual Retirement Accounts that he’d not yet depleted. (He was saving those for “if he really needed the money” which so far had not happened by the time he turned 80.)  It ended up being enough money to create a chunk of a tax bite for me, so my accountant advised that I arrange a five-year distribution schedule. Twice each year, in January and July, a small check would arrive in the mail, that would end up being about enough to fund an extra trip to the beach or pay for whatever minor house repairs needed to be done since the last check. According to the distribution agreements, all funds would be distributed and the accounts closed in July 2005.

Fast forward five years. I’m attending my first harp tasting at the 2005 Southeastern Harp Weekend. I started taking harp lessons a year ago. I’d bought a Sharpsicle at the 2004 Harp Weekend, so I was not looking for a harp, but I’d never been to a harp tasting so I went to see what it was all about.

The back of the dining hall was lined with harps. I’d not yet seen so many harps in one place before. Two harpers set about playing the same tune on each of the harps, which were identified by a number before they were played. And when number 11 was played, I fell in love. I’d not heard such a rich, warm, velvety tone from any of the previous harps, nor from the ones that came after. On my note sheet, all I could write was “WOW!!!”

Harp tasting over, I rushed to the vendor hall to find who was selling number 11, and to find out what harp I’d heard and how much it cost. The vendor was David from the Folk Traditions Store in Savannah, the harp was an R-Harp by Rick Rubarth, it cost $2900, and he had three of them to sell. And also at the vendor table was my harp teacher with two members of her harp ensemble class, who were just as entranced with the sound of this harp as I was.

The three of us carried all three harps to the try-out room, and played each of them. Then our teacher played all of them. We played them again, all the while exclaiming how none of us had the money to buy a harp. And we played some more, falling more and more in love with them with every sound that emanated from the strings. We each wanted one of these harps, and we’d each bonded with a particular one of the three we were playing.

Ellen was ready to buy one if her husband gave the ok, Susan was on the fence, and I didn’t see how in the world I could do it. I was still working only half-time, had just paid for the fall semester of lessons, and had some medical bills coming due. Then, with a gleam in her eye, Susan said she was going to ask David how much he could take off the price if we bought all three of the harps so he didn’t have to cart them back to Savannah unsold.

Susan did exactly that, and found that David was willing to give us a discount if we bought all three, plus, since we were purchasing the harps in North Carolina and not Georgia, we would not have to pay state sales tax. So without a clue as to how I was going to pay for it, I pulled out my credit card and charged a harp.

My dad never knew that I wanted to play the harp. He knew I loved music, as he did. Trips with him in the car were spent singing Broadway show tunes. Saturday afternoons he’d crank up the hi-fi with works by brooding Russian and German composers, or else Gilbert & Sullivan operettas – to which he knew all the words. He never learned to play an instrument, despite his admiration for and envy of his friend Chuck who grew up playing the piano. And while he was alive, he never imagined that I longed to play anything beyond my three-chord folk song repertoire on my $25 guitar that I got at the pawn shop years and years ago with my babysitting money.

Two weeks later, I’m going through the day’s mail and there is an envelope from one of my dad’s retirement account companies. I’m curious, as all the accounts were closed out in July, but figure it’s something regarding what’s been reported to the IRS. Instead, it’s a check. A final, forgotten payout that completely covers the cost of the harp. This is something that happens in Hallmark Channel movies, not in real life, and not to me. But there it is, one final gift from my father, and my harp paid for.

I wish that my dad been able to hear me play, that I could have shared my whole world of harp with him. I wish there was a way to thank him, to tell him, five years after purchasing my harp, and him ten years gone, how much joy and delight his final gift brings me every day as I sit down to play. And how, as I pull the harp back on my shoulder and reach my arms around the sound board, I can imagine hugging him one last time.

Thanks, Dad, for the harp.