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Power of Music

December 6, 2017

Regular readers know that my grandfather played a significant role in my life, but until now I haven’t mentioned that Grandpa and his two older brothers were orphaned when Grandpa was five years old. They’d been living on Terceira, a poverty-stricken island in the Azores and no relatives had the resources to take in three hungry mouths.

           

One brother was sent to live with distant relatives in Lisbon, another was shipped off to São Paulo, Brazil, and my grandfather came to America and settled in California’s Santa Clara Valley. The three boys had been very close and once they learned how to write they communicated with each other regularly. One of the things written about most was their determination to see each other again.

           

Unfortunately, the Great Depression arrived. Travel, like so many things, became prohibitively expensive. Years passed and the boys continued sending letters that soon included photographs of wives and children, but years turned into decades without the boys ever laying eyes on each other. Until one day in 1965.

           

Sixty years after being orphaned and separated, the three brothers, now bent and grey, arrived at our house forty miles south of San Francisco. Airfare had been paid by family members determined to see them reunited. My grandpa, Manuel, was first to arrive at our house. I remember how nervous he looked although I was too young to understand why. Being separated from my brother was something I prayed for daily.

 

A taxi pulled to the curb and Grandpa’s brother Paulo stepped out. He looked so much like Grandpa that I blinked a few times to be sure I wasn’t seeing double. It wasn’t long before Silvio arrived, his appearance closely resembling his brother’s.

           

The three guests of honor sat in our living room staring at each other, squirming in their chairs while trying to communicate. Language failed them. My grandfather’s Americanized Portuguese was much different than that spoken in Portugal or the Azores, and Silvio’s Brazilian dialect was incomprehensible to the others. Much effort and money had been spent bringing these three together and it seemed to have been for nothing.

           

I hadn’t noticed that my grandfather’s siblings had brought guitars. In an awkward moment of silence, they reached for them. Before long, strange music filled the air. My grandfather hadn’t thought to bring his guitar but when I saw his gnarled fingers stroking the air I dashed next door and borrowed the old guitar Ricky Delgado’s grandmother had given him in the futile hope he’d learn how to play. I returned and handed the guitar to Grandpa, and after a bit of tuning the three guitars united in harmonious sound. The three brothers began singing songs sung to them sixty years earlier by long dead parents, gentle lullabies filled with love and tenderness. Their awkwardness vanished and their scratchy voices became stronger, rich with a velvety power as they filled our home with soulful fado—songs of love and loss played at the Portuguese festas I’d been dragged to. They might not have been able to speak to one another but they could communicate through music.

           

Before long they were laughing between songs, hugging each other and chattering even though they could barely understand each other. I’ll never forget the sight of these three old men slapping each other on the backs and acting frisky as puppies. It was the first time I’d seen grown men cry.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

24 Comments
music, the universal language. so glad they finally got to be reunited.
By: Ellen Abbott on December 6, 2017
That's a great story. It's funny how something like music can bring us together.
By: PT Dilloway on December 6, 2017
What a wonderful story! Just what my heart needed this morning, so thank you
By: Kelly on December 6, 2017
Now that is awesome! That is the power of music. It's a universal language.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on December 6, 2017
A beautiful story that I think you've written about before. I never mind when you repeat yourself. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 6, 2017
You made an old lady cry, too!!
By: fishducky on December 6, 2017
A very touching story Stephen, what a wonderful sight of these three brothers coming together through music they remembered from long ago.
By: Jimmy on December 6, 2017
A joyous and heart warming memory. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story. A lovely Christmas gift to your readers.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 6, 2017
I hope you tag on on here and tell us how old you were in 1965. Old enough to remember the joy of the music that made the reunion, even if the huge significance failed you for a few years. This is beautiful.
By: Joanne Noragon on December 6, 2017
What a sweet, touching story Stephen. Wow, just what we all needed and perfect for the season.
By: Arkansas Patti on December 6, 2017
What a precious story! It's funny how they could write to each other, the language was the same, it was the differences in accent and pronunciation that gave them such trouble in person.
By: messymimi on December 6, 2017
That could be a movie on Lifetime or the Hallmark network...no, never mind, it is too good a story for those corny channels, maybe the big screen. Loved it!
By: cranky on December 6, 2017
What a wonderful memory, Stephen.
By: Botanist on December 6, 2017
I'd cry too if I hadn't seen my brothers for 65 years. a sad story with a happy ending.
By: Red on December 6, 2017
How great that they were able to reunite, and communicate in such a meaningful (and beautiful) way.
By: Val on December 6, 2017
If you were here right now you'd see another grown man with tears in his eyes. What a beautiful story.
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 7, 2017
sweet sweet memories.
By: Kathe W. on December 7, 2017
Unrelated to the story...as you know, I used to deploy with the Navy to Terceira (I loved it there) in the 1980s. I read that there are plans to shutter Lajes. Do you know how much of an impact this will be to the locals? I would think quite a bit, but was curious if you had any contacts still there.
By: Al Penwasser on December 7, 2017
You should go see the movie Coco. A scene just like this happens in the movie, and it will have you in tears. But a good cry is good for the soul.
By: Michael Offutt on December 7, 2017
Oh my goodness- what a sweet reunion. I'm glad you remember it so well, and can pass the story on.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on December 7, 2017
Your memoirs will be a widely popular and eventually made into a movie.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 7, 2017
What a wonderful story—music does seem to transcend language barriers
By: Sage on December 7, 2017
A truly lovely story. Wish you had made a famliy movie, but it still is better in your images. Do you have a photo of the three of them??
By: Tabor on December 8, 2017
What a great post. R
By: Rick Watson on December 9, 2017

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