My Son's First Harp or the Day the Dump Lost

When Nathan was seven (in 1993), two events took place to change our lives for the better. Like all of our children, we encouraged Nathan to pick an instrument. When he said the harp, Janet & I looked at each other and shrugged. I called the local harp teacher (notice "the" local harp teacher) who had been my 9th grade speech teacher. In fact I had attended most of school with her daughters. I have only vague memories of her harp from visiting them, the daughters. My mind must have been on something other than music. At that time, Joan (pronounced joe anne) told me to wait a few years.

Near as we can tell at about the same time (within a year either way), a lady who was retiring and moving from Billings called a friend to have her husband haul a bunch of stuff from her home to the dump. A slightly damaged Lyon & Healy Washburn Model J # 269 was among the items to haul away. The baseboard, at the bottom of the column, had a small crack and the darn thing simply would not change pitches well with the pedals as evidenced by the masking tape around several disc posts in the lower register. Flora had no use for it where she was going. It had served her well and was ready for an ignominious retirement. The couple hauled away the stuff, but the harp -complete with shipping crate- ended up in a covered porch behind their garage for the next several years. The harp was pretty and would someday make a nice object d'arte in the living room.

Fast forward now to fourth grade for Nathan. The required time has passed and I again asked, "Are you still interested in the harp, Nathan?" You know the answer or you would not be reading this. About that time the prayers started. My former speech teacher said she knew of a family with a lever harp that was not in use. The father and daughter built the 22-string harp from a kit. They rented it to us for $15.00 a month starting in October of that year. By early December, we all decided that Nathan was going to like the harp so I could not see tossing $15.00 a month down the hole. Now began the search for the right harp. I couldn't spend much but I knew that $15.00 a month spent toward his own kit harp would be better spent. Even three years ago, you could not buy much harp for $15.00 a month. I was within a few weeks of ordering more harp than we could afford, a 36-string kit with the required levers, when Janet told me Joan had called with a proposition.

Seems that she had played recently in a concert with a local bell choir, bellissimo! Janie, one of the bell players, came up to Joan and told her about the harp she had at her house (see above). She thought is was a student harp because Joan has a concert grande and this one is not. To make a long story longer, Joan checked it out and decided it had possibilities. Janie did not want to rent the harp because it was broken nor did she want it sitting unused when someone could get more than visual pleasure from its form. When I called to arrange to see the Washburn, Janie & I had a wonderful time renewing acquaintances. We had grown up together in the church she and Flora both attended. The harp was staying in the family, sort of. Joan had not given her the name of the precocious student.

My brother and I borrowed a truck from my father-in-law and went over late on Christmas Eve, loaded the shipping case (harp enclosed), and hid it the garage. Since Geoffrey had a Christmas bike in the garage that Nathan knew about, I could keep him out of the garage easily. Christmas morning when all was open and cast aside, Jim and I (yes, almost everyone I know or am related to has a name starting with "J") brought in the harp while Nathan was downstairs. Once everyone else was in place, I went downstairs with my empty cup of coffee. After a minute, I asked Nathan to go up to get more coffee from the living room (no I don't keep the coffee pot in the living room, but I do keep the harp there). I followed him in time to hear "Is it mine? Wow! A real harp! " and other exclamations of joy.

For the past three years, we have all learned a lot about the harp. He has learned to play and I have learned to tune and repair.
Now, I don't know if God set aside Flora's harp when she left Billings just so Nathan would have it several years later. We think so. Nathan's borrowed harp (on ten year loan) is a testimony both to a little boy who wanted play and our loving Father who provides for his children. Every day I see that lovely piece of wood, glue, metal, and string in our living room, I remember how much God loves my son.

If anyone knows the history of the Washburn Model J or even #269, drop me a note at

The next installment of Nathan and the Harp tells about how we dealt with the "small" crack in the baseboard.


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