Joshua's Harmonica | By: Barry Fraser | | Category: Short Story - Children Bookmark and Share

Joshua's Harmonica


While keeping careful watch over her class of active students early one Tuesday
morning, Mrs. Lindsay's eyes were continually drawn back to Joshua. She could
see his excitement building as "Show and Tell" time approached. The small, six
year old grade one student was wriggling with anticipation like a little trout
swimming up stream against the current. This was not a good sign. When Joshua
was asked to choose items to share with the class, anything was possible. One
rainy day, he had collected worms in his pockets from the school yard. More
recently, he had wanted to bring his baby sister to school and share her with the

Mentally steeling herself for the worst, Mrs. Lindsay asked the magic question,
"Did anyone in the group bring something for show and tell today?"

One hand leaped straight up into the air followed by three other tentative

"I did, Mrs. Lindsay, I did!" Joshua bellowed, without waiting to be asked.

May as well get this over with, the teacher thought to herself.
"Josh, why don't you show us what you've brought ?"

Joshua stood up and reached into his pants pocket, withdrawing a beautiful,
antique harmonica. The silver, metallic sides although worn and scratched, were
gleaming in the fluorescent lights of the room. For a moment, the sly whispers and
bustle of the class quieted, as the other children paused to admire this little musical
instrument in the palm of Joshua's hand.

Knowing Joshua's penchant for outlandish, exotic treasures, the real boy kind,
Mrs. Lindsay was almost at a loss for words. "Why Joshua," she cooed, " This
instrument is beautiful!"

"It belonged to my grandfather." Joshua explained, grinning from ear to ear with
the realization he had finally managed to bring something sensible for "Show and
Tell." Not wanting to be thought of as sensible for any length of time though,
Joshua immediately began to blow loud, flat notes up and down the scales of the

As if a spell had been broken, the other children started to squeal and laugh
demanding a closer look, and Joshua proudly passed it around the room for all to
see. Within minutes, two of the boys were struggling over whose turn it was to
admire Joshua's prize. Leon, grabbed it from them, stood up and pretended to be
a silly song and dance man blowing loudly into the tiny pipe holes and writhing
about the room with glee. Reluctantly, Mrs. Lindsay finally had to step in and take
the harmonica away .

"This is a wonderful treasure Joshua but I'm afraid it might get lost. I'll keep it
here on my desk until it's time for you to go home." She was struggling to use her
most, reassuring voice. All the children sighed and moaned, but they knew Mrs.
Lindsay was a very good teacher and they were soon immersed in other things,
until the bell rang for recess.

After the children had run outside, Mrs. Lindsay went back to her desk hoping to
have a closer look at the harmonica. It was not in the place where she had set it
down. The harmonica was missing.

As Mrs. Lindsay hurried out to the school yard, several possibilities for the
harmonica's disappearance occurred to her. It didn't take her long to find Joshua
sitting in a huddle, with his back to the school wall, obviously in tears. As she
approached, she soon understood the cause of his distress. In his little hands were
the broken remains of what was once, his grandfather's harmonica.

"Oh Joshua," she exclaimed, putting her arm around his shoulder to comfort him.
"What happened?"

Joshua looked up at her, tears running down his pudgy little cheeks. "Leon broke
it.,' he said. "I had it in my pocket here, and he kicked me and broke it!"
Mrs. Lindsay rounded up Leon Evers, a troubled boy in her class, and took
both of them to see the Vice-Principal.

Mr. Hodder was a bearded, happy man with a knack for handling the crisis of
young children and it didn't take him long to delve into the heart of this matter.
He learned, after only two inquiries, that Leon had kicked Joshua for a reason.
Joshua had spit at Leon and called him names. Mr.Hodder was aware that he was
wading knee-deep into familiar waters.

He dealt with Leon first, giving him a stern lecture about the evils of fighting
back, and sent him on his way. Leon would have to spend the next recess at the
office printing lines for Mr. Hodder. He also spoke to Joshua about spitting and
then told him, the school was keeping his grandfather's harmonica until the next
day. Joshua's mother would be notified.

A sad, defeated Joshua returned to class with Mrs. Lindsay, who hoped against
hope, for the thousandth time this year, that this kind of misfortune had taught
Joshua a lesson. But somewhere, deep down inside, both of them knew that with
his kind of track record, it probably hadn't.

The next morning at recess, Mrs. Lindsay was surprised when she and Joshua
were called down to Mr. Hodder's office.

"Joshua," Mr. Hodder began, as the teacher and her reticent pupil arrived. "I have
a story to tell you. Come in and sit down. "

"When I was a boy your age, and I was once, you know," he went on. "My
grandfather also played the harmonica." This was unexpected news. Just as
unexpectedly, he reached inside the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a larger
harmonica than Joshua's, embellished with floral engravings on highly polished

"This is it!" said Mr. Hodder. " It is the only thing of my grandfather's that I own,
and I value it enormously."

Joshua's bright eyes were locked on the hamonica and Mr. Hodder, an avid
fisherman, knew the boy was hooked. " My grandfather died many years ago and
this is all I have to remember him. It is a treasure Joshua, not just a musical
instrument. Do you understand that?"

Joshua nodded his head sadly, but hadn't taken his eyes from the palm of Mr.
Hodder's hand. Without uttering a word, the treasure was past, hand to hand from
the elder to his younger charge. Joshua, now without any sign of his earlier
shyness or fear, held the harmonica tightly in his hand and ran his fingers back
and forth, enjoying the texture of the engravings. Skeptically, he eyed Mr. Hodder
with a sideways stare that lasted for an eternity, or so it seemed. The office was
tense now, but very quiet. .

"Can you play it ?" he asked brazenly, all at once.

Mr. Hodder's dancing eyes caught hold of Joshua's daring stare. He took the
harmonica from the small hands that held it, knowing he was reeling in the catch of
the day and played a full chorus of " When the Saints Go Marching In."

Joshua was mesmerized, a rare and amazing event. Mrs. Lindsay was
speechless. When Mr. Hodder had finished, to smiles and applause all around, he
reached purposefully into his other pocket, and withdrew Joshua's harmonica,
perfectly reassembled and gleaming once again in the lights of his office. Joshua's
face shone almost as brightly.

"I took this home with me last night," Mr. Hodder told him. "I polished the metal
surfaces, sanded the wood, reassembled the sides and tuned it. Many hours of work
went into your harmonica, but for such an important cause, I was happy to oblige."

They played a few bars of "When the Saints Come Marching In" together this time,
Joshua's harmonica making odd noises along with the beat, but both laughing and
very much enjoying the bonding of their spirits in a song.

"This harmonica is a treasure too," Mr. Hodder was explaining to Joshua when they
were through ."If I give it back to you, I want you to promise that you will never
bring it to school ever again. Keep it at home, in a safe place."

"Thank-you, Mr. Hodder," Joshua muttered humbly, squirming and staring at the
floor. " I will."

Then, as the teacher and Joshua went out of the office, Mrs. Lindsay asked once
again for the harmonica, to keep until home time. Joshua knew enough not to argue
anymore, and he left his treasure in the safe keeping of Mrs. Lindsay for the rest
of the day.

When Joshua's mother came to pick him up from school, Mrs. Lindsay could
hardly wait to tell her what the Vice-Principal had done. Joshua's mother was
moved, and especially pleased that Mr. Hodder had gone to so much trouble for her
small son.

"But the truth is," she told Mrs. Lindsay, " we have thirty-nine more of these at
home. My father was a professional musician and this was the smallest harmonica
in his collection. Joshua was only given this one to play with because we kind of
thought it might get damaged, knowing the boy as well as we do."

Which left Mrs. Lindsay wondering if she should return to the office to
tell Mr. Hodder there were thirty-nine more harmonicas waiting for him at Joshua's
house in dire need of his very impressive reconditioning services?

In the end, she decided not to tell him. For ever after, though, every time she
hummed " the Saints " to herself, she would picture Joshua, his harmonica
and Mr. Hodder. Her smile said to everyone, she was feeling just a little bit better
about the world in which she lived .
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