The Accordion (Part one)

I called my Grandfather this morning around ten. He answered the phone with a weak, “hello?” His voice was soft and dull, not having spoken to anyone today, and still lying in his bed after being sick all weekend. He cleared his throat and asked me how I was doing. After the back and forth, I asked him about the Accordion story. I had heard him tell the story before, as it was a family story that was often recounted and I wanted to make sure I had it right.

Grandpa said that to tell this story accurately, one must understand the history of the Germans in Russia. Catherine II, a German princess who married the heir to the Russian throne (and then had him killed) ruled over Russia in the late 1700s. She was known as Catherine the Great, as she was successful in overthrowing the Ottoman Empire, advancing Russia’s borders, and re-establishing Russia as a major political player.

Apparently Catherine wasn’t happy with the way the Russians farmed the land, and invited her fellow Germans to live and work in Western Russia. The Germans came in masses, as Western Russia was ripe with fruit trees and beautiful landscapes near the Black Sea. My Grandma’s father Theodore was born there, and often reminisced about the beauty of that land.

In the early 1900s everyone began to hear about the opportunities in America, and the Germans in Western Russia were no exception. Theodore and two brothers, Dieter and Hans decided to make the long journey to North America.

They brought an old accordion along on their trip across the Atlantic. The brothers would take turns playing the accordion, entertaining those accompanying them on the ship. After five or so weeks, they arrived in Canada, and shortly after, boarded a train west, eventually stopping in Melville, Saskatchewan.

Theodore ended up settling in Melville, he married and had five children, one of which was my Grandma Elsie. Theodore became employed as a tombstone maker. (Grandpa laughed out loud when he told me of the first time he visited Grandma at her parent’s home. He came in through the backyard, past the numerous tombstones that dotted the back lawn, unaware of her father’s chosen profession, and baffled as to why they would want tombstones in their yard).

Theodore’s brothers didn’t enjoy those cold Saskatchewan winters and decided to head south. They both took up residence in Washington State. Shortly after arriving, brother Hans died of the croup, while brother Dieter took solace in marrying a rather “difficult” woman (the disagreeable type), and she hated poor Theodore.

Grandpa coughed into the phone and said he would have to call me back later.

To be continued…

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