Lois and her Accordion

1966. At cousin Doris and Dick’s place in the country. Everybody played instruments and sang. That’s Lois on the accordion and me clowning in the front.

My mom Lois got her first accordion when she was about 12. She was a  depression-era farm girl and such a big purchase was an extravagance.

Her dad made a deal with her that he would match any money she made picking and selling blackberries . After plenty of scrapes from the berry bushes she finally had saved enough to buy her first accordion.

She was self-taught on the piano and while the mechanics were basically the same, she was now slinging a big, huffing, and puffing machine pushing out the sounds.

Fast forward to 1967 and the divorce was in motion. Lois finally felt comfortable spending time with the fun side of her family.

The main stage was at Cousin Doris and Dick’s house in the country. Every weekend the various players, friends, and their sprawling families gathered in their living room. There was cheap beer and cigarettes. Kids were running all over the place.

Doris was lead vocals, (the voice of a country angel IMHO) guitar, and wrote many of the songs. Dick would be picking wildly on the mandoline. Lois on the accordion and harmonizing, Uncle Dale, recently back from Viet Nam, was on drums.

The music leaned heavily toward country with vocal harmonies. There was yodeling too. As well as the originals, there were some classics in the repertoire. Included were the best of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynne, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagner, and Johnny Cash. I remember the slightly risque “Harper Valley PTA” too.

Lois did a gut wrenching version of “The Legend of the Green Beret,” an anthem to boost the morale of the soldiers in Viet Nam. She also played “Release Me,” the Engelbert Humperdinck hit that was obviously a reference to the messy divorce that was dragging on.

Sometimes they would perform at functions in community halls for members of the various small-town groups like The Moose Club. I remember Doris calling Lois up on stage to sing with her at one of these appearances and I thought showbiz lightening had struck.

Songs from the church was usually the first exposure to music for many of them. The songs would be an easy go-to when they were trying to decide on what to play next. I remember the dramatic “The Old Rugged Cross.”

When Dale returned from the war he stayed with us. They gave soldiers some money to start their new lives. Dale spent his on two pair of bell bottoms, and 3 albums “Are You Experienced” by Jimi Hendrix, “Pearl” by Janis Joplin, and “Cosmos Factory” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The albums were on repeat around the clock at our house. It didn’t take long until these new influences made their way into the mix with the family band.

Music was an outlet and expression of the anxieties and emotions during a time when the world was changing fast.

In 2018 Lois had a stroke and was helicoptered to a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation. We all took turns spending time with her. You could see that she was quite terrified. It didn’t help that she had lost her speech during the stroke.

The hospital was quick to get her into speech and physical therapies. She was responding to the speech classes, but wasn’t speaking yet.

One day I was hanging out in her room  shuffling through the channels to find something that, and took a gamble on an updated Disney “Mickey Mouse Club.” The theme song was repeated frequently. “M I C K E Y   M O U S E, Mickey Mouse.” I sang along with it and at that moment she found her voice and started repeating the letters and tune.

I believe that music stays in a special container in your brain. Once it’s in there it is always at the ready. Maybe it has to do with the fact that you’re saying — singing something, and that makes a deeper connection than just reading or seeing something.

She was delighted at her ability to speak again. It was like hanging out with a kid learning to put words together for the first time. And when she hit a wall she had the music to turn to.

Lois won’t be picking up an accordion again. I do wonder how she’d respond if we pulled out her old instrument? I do think she’ll want to join in and sing along to any of her favorite songs. if only we could find someone who plays an accordion (do they even exist anymore?)