Week 29: #52 Ancestors – Music
By Eilene Lyon
Of all the family photos I’ve scanned in recent years, this is a favorite. In the middle sits my great-grandfather, Walter Gusso (1890 – 1980), flanked by his two younger brothers, Henry (with violin) and Bill (cornet). They also had a sister, Katie, but I don’t know if she played an instrument.
Henry looks so serious in this picture (and in the only other photo I have of him), but Walt and Bill seem to have mischievous little smiles on their faces.
Until I saw this image, I was unaware great-grandpa had played clarinet. Walt was known for playing the fiddle in later years whenever people gathered, because dancing was a popular pastime. Certainly they needed some way to keep warm in those brutal South Dakota winters!
This is a photo of my great-uncle, Clifford Smith (1901 – 1977) playing the slide guitar. I didn’t even realize that was a thing back then. The young man on ukulele is unidentified. I really wonder what this song they’re playing sounded like! (Note the skis behind them. I’m not sure what that crank handle is for on the left. Meat grinder?)
Music was always an important component of family life as I grew up. Both my parents could play violin and enjoyed singing. There were pianos in both the grandparent Halse and Smith households, at least by the time my siblings and I were around.
My maternal grandmother played piano and organ, as I wrote about in Celestial Blackmail. There are many other musically talented people in my family tree.
I mentioned at one time that my mother has severe dementia. She learned to play guitar as an adult, and played violin and piano when she was in school. She called me out of the blue recently, asking me to get her a violin!
It was so surprising. I don’t know what happened to her violin or her guitar, but she hasn’t played any instrument in the past few years. When dementia first started to take hold, I asked her to play her guitar for me – she hadn’t touched it in ages – and she played and sang very well!
I rented a violin last week, and my aunt took it to Mom. Aunt B. reports that she played a scale and it sounded very good. It’s amazing how we retain certain abilities, even after we lose our other memories. She even speaks Spanish way better than I do!