Accordion Dreams

Let me first say that I have never played the accordion in my life. Never even strapped one on for size. Wouldn’t I remember if I had?

Wouldn’t I remember the heft of it around my neck, my fingers grazing buttons on one side, hammering away at keys on the other, my forearms squeezing and unsqueezing the box? The logistics of it required an ambidexterity I surely didn’t possess. Never mind that I lacked then and still lack now even a smidgen of musical ability.

So the answer is yes, I would’ve remembered if I had ever played the accordion. And yet.

In January I was in San Diego to do a reading, attend a conference and visit my mother who was recovering from hip surgery. I was with my older sister in my mother’s room at the rehab facility where she was confined for several weeks for therapy and healing. The Lawrence Welk show was on the TV and whenever the conversation lagged we would glance up at it.

There was Jo Anne Castle with the blonde bouffant hairdo pounding out ragtime on the piano; toothy Bobby Burgess cavorting with his dancer partner Barbara, both in wackily garish costumes; Champagne Lady Norma Zimmer (whom I recently discovered grew up here in Seattle) warbling a duet with the stiff-necked Jimmy Roberts. Everyone smiling, smiling, smiling.

And there was Myron Floren, the accordionist.

That was when my mother said to me, “Remember when you used to play the accordion?”

I looked at her to see if she was kidding. She seemed not to be. Perhaps it was the medication she was on that made her imagine this piece of fiction as fact.

“I never played the accordion,” I told her.

“Yes, you did,” my sister said.

I was flabbergasted.

I had grown up watching Lawrence Welk. I used to have Lennon sisters paper dolls. If anything, I would’ve wished to be a Lennon sister, not someone coaxing polkas from a squeezebox.

How could both my sister and my mother have a memory of something that never happened? They live in the same house. Could their circadian rhythms be so synchronized that their collective memories conflated the image of me watching an accordion player with an actual accordion player?

Perhaps this is why I write fiction way more often than I write non-fiction—the unreliability of memory. Except that my memory is actually quite scrupulous. And I remember the closest I ever got to an accordion was on my fourth birthday. I was on the Monte Hall Birthday Club Show on our local TV station. I remember Monte Hall asking me a question, and me going mute with terror at the microphone he shoved in my face. Later all the children were arranged on risers to make a pyramid so we could be photographed. I’m in the front row, the one with the band-aid on her knee. I look stunned. At least I’m not crying like the kid next to me. But there, see her, the tall girl on the right? Yes, the one with the accordion. That is the closest I ever got to an accordion.

I am definitely going to write a story with an accordion in it. It’s going to be fiction.