A Journey Inside

I remember the way she smelled. It was this beautiful blend of baby powder and lavender. She always seemed to smell like lavender.

Doris Avada Rothgeb was born on April 13th 1915 in Allen County, Indiana. I wish I could tell you some exciting story from her childhood, or how she remembered a time her family was hungry or if they always had food or if she fought with her brother often or what her mother, my great grandmother, smelled like. Sadly I can’t. I can only imagine things from her past because my grandmother left this world in 2001 and not really listening to her stories when I was young is one of my greatest regrets. All I have left are the memories I made with her. Fragments of memories really. You know the type… memories that seem so real and yet you can’t be sure if you really remember them or if you saw a photo or if someone told you about them.

Over the last 10 years or so my grandmother has become a bit of a fascination of mine. I suddenly missed her terribly and wanted to talk to her and hear her voice and hear her stories. I admired her and wanted to know her as my adult self. I don’t know why exactly. She was nothing like me and as I recall we often didn’t see eye to eye. She was a rule follower, a bit uptight really, and definitely would have hated everything about my bald head and my tattoos. Yet, now that she is gone, I look back at her with so much fondness and respect. She felt the same anxieties that I do today. She had the same desires to fit in and be accepted.

I remember a story my mother once told me and my aunt had to remind me of the details. It’s a story of my grandmother making a pie for a work function. I thought the story went that it was for a party, but either way, it was for a special occasion of some kind. I know it to be true that my mother is a lot like my grandmother in many ways so I know this pie was a big deal. My mom has always been the type to make a good impression. Cloth napkins and the good china and making meals from scratch. It used to annoy me as a child, but now as an adult, I respect the effort she dispensed to make things special.

So this pie, it was blueberry and according to my aunt they were of the homegrown variety. I imagine in my head, my grandmother on the farm in Lafayette.

(Below is a photo of my son on the steps of the farm house where my grandmother lived)

She probably carried a basket or bowl out to the garden and plucked the best blueberries of the bunch, taking them inside to start her pie. I know the kitchen of the farm house well. I can visualize her standing there and making each element of the pie with great care. I’m certain it was a spectacular pie.

The pie was baked and covered and my grandmother was ready to go. She hurried out to the car to leave for her work event or party and I’m sure she was thinking what a wonderful impression this pie would make. Surely it was delicious and would receive the utmost praise. She placed the pie atop the car, climbed inside and began to drive.

The pie, never made it into the car. The beautiful fresh blueberry pie, was now all over the drive of the farm. According to my mother, my grandma was devastated and rightly so. Not only was all her hard work all over the ground, but she would now have to arrive empty handed, and that was not an acceptable impression. Don’t we all know that feeling? Personally I don’t give a shit if I have a pie in hand or not… but I sure know what it feels like to dread going somewhere for fear I may be looked upon in disapproval.  

It turns out that my grandmother and I had another thing in common. The love for music. My grandma could read music and had learned to play on an old pump organ purchased by her grandmother years before.

Recently mom and dad decided it was time to sell their house and move to a smaller space. This move caused quite a purge of things that just wouldn’t be able to fit in their new apartment. One of these items happened to be my grandmother’s organ. It was a large, elegant piece with ornate trimmings and a claw foot wooden stool. The music only played if you pumped really hard, which was a bit archaic, but very intriguing to a child. I have many memories of sitting on the stool, my feet barely touching the pedals as I tried to pump and play the keys at the same time. Not a simple task mind you.

Above the keys there was a built in music stand of sorts and this was by far my favorite part. If you lifted the music stand, it revealed a hidden compartment inside where you could store sheets of music, or toys from your baby sister, or possibly cookies that you knew you weren’t supposed to eat. It was a magical little hiding spot. As I got a bit older I started to look over the music sheets inside. I realized, of course, that they were old but I had no idea the sentimental value they carried. 

As moving day neared, my mother talked of probably selling the organ. I had no idea where it would go or what I would do with it but I begged her to let me take it. I suggested I might have a friend who could use the wood to create a beautiful piece. I just knew I couldn’t allow it to be sold. 

My amazing husband, who is constantly trying to keep up with my ideas and project desires, agreed that not only should we take the organ, but that we could create some pretty great things out of it on our very own. And boy have we ever. I can’t share these projects with you yet, because that may spoil the surprise for some people. I can tell you that I found a secret inside that I didn’t know existed, and it helped validate the decision I made to keep the organ. I’m certain I will share more of this discovery in another post.

What I want to share with you is the experience of taking this beast apart.

My husband Rob and I had no clue really what would be needed to take the organ apart. As it turned out, it really ended up being mostly a lot of screws at odd angles that needed the use of a screwdriver. Each piece came off pretty easily and I remember being surprised at how clean it was inside minus a little dust and a random lost penny. I marveled at how something made so long ago could be so complex. The idea that pumping made wind which in turn made sound was pretty simple in theory, but once inside, the complex pieces were really quite stunning. Inside we found a stamp on the keys that stated it was built in July in the early 1900’s. The stamp is worn but it looks to be 1908.

The entire process was thrilling. The kid in me was hoping I would find some hidden treasure inside. The granddaughter in me was mourning as I took each piece from its intended place, rendering it completely useless. I worried that I was doing the wrong thing. It made me sad to think that music would never again spill from its bellows, and I wondered if grandma was looking down and was sad with my decision.

I knew in time that I was wrong. The more we smiled and explored and laughed and created, the more I knew she would have been very proud of me. I saved the organ. Maybe not in its intended form, but I saved it and I kept it close and I enjoyed the process. 

I miss her every day. I would give anything to go back and sit and have a conversation with her about so many things. I’d love to share with her how much she’s meant to me over the years for reasons I’m not even sure of. She was special, and even though we were so very different, in a way, this adventure with the organ feels like I’ve helped her to live on. Of that, I know she would be so proud.


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