By the time I came along, he came across as a gentle peace-loving family man. His musical talent was God-given; he’d self-taught himself to play both the harmonica and the fiddle by ear.
Sundays growing up meant sons and daughters, along with a passel of grandchildren, would all come from their scattered homes and gather for the day. Everyone brought something for the dinner but Mémè provided the pies for dessert. They would like the warming shelf on the coal-burning stove and uncles would glance that direction upon entering the kitchen, checking to see if their favorite was there.
Daughters took over the chore of setting the table and serving the food while Meme supervised from her rocking chair. Extra leaves were inserted in the round oak table and chairs crowded close to fit as many as possible.
Once the meal was over, we kids were sent outside to amuse ourselves and some of the uncles strolled down to the VFW to toss down a beer or two. Late afternoon found us all crammed into the living room; sleeping babies on the bed nearby while kids took up floor space at their parents' feet.
That's when Pépè put harmonica to mouth and began to play. When one tune ended, someone called out the name of another. He worked that harmonica until there was no more breath to play. Then took up the fiddle and continued to play requested songs.
Mémè constant request would be for Amazing Grace and Pépè acted like he didn't hear her as he played one tune after another. Finally, as if he knew she'd reached the end of her patience, he's begin those familiar notes, He always kept the best for last.
Lengthening shadows signaled packing-up time. Sleeping babies were carried out to waiting cars; washed bowls collected for kids to tote with them. We who shared the three-family house my grandparents lived in stood along the porch railing, waving as each car pulled out of the driveway.
Already we were looking forward to next Sunday's gathering.
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