Let’s Dance!

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!

SCAN1904

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!

22 thoughts on “Let’s Dance!

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  1. That top photo is a gem! And that’s so interesting about dementia. My husband’s mother has dementia also and used to play the piano. She gave it up when she couldn’t see to read the music, but now I’m wondering if she could possibly remember any pieces she once memorized. Great post, thanks!

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  2. What lovely photos! My family has always loved music. My grandmother and some uncles played the mandolin. My Dad taught my mother guitar. I tried to play but it held no interest for me as a teenager, unlike my brothers. My mum has dementia now, too, I’m not sure if she still picks the guitar up – my brother still plays for her – I’ll have to check.

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  3. I’ve read that knowing a 2nd language keeps working even as the first fades.

    My grandkids are turning into champion Southern Bluegrass players—banjo, mandolin, guitar, singing. Their dad makes them practice—tears at first but now they’re good and it’s fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great-Grandpa Walt also played the organ and I imagine the piano as well. As a kid, I was always very proud of the fact that I could play the same instruments that my great grandpa could play. It was so much fun when he’d get his violin out and play for us. He ended up pawning his violin to pay his rent in his older years. We didn’t know about it until it was too late to get it back.

    Liked by 1 person

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