The Old Mandolin
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“The Old Mandolin,” Tambuli, Aug.–Sept. 1986, 4

The Old Mandolin

The organ music was solemn and low, and a reverent silence fell over the congregation as the pallbearers entered carrying the simple pine box. A few garden flowers had been lovingly placed on top, and nestled among them was an old mandolin, its worn but polished finish gleaming dully in the dim light. The flickering candles made the large room seem gloomier, although sunlight reflected in here and there between the rough-hewn logs.

The organ seemed out of place in this rugged wilderness. There were few luxuries in this early western settlement, and the small organ, brought all the way across the plains on a wagon, was highly treasured.

Amanda watched little puffs of dust rise from the floor as the pallbearers walked slowly down the aisle.

“The coffin is so small,” she whispered to her mother.

“Your great-grandfather may not have been very tall in stature, but he was a giant in spirit,” Mother whispered back.

Amanda nodded, and bitter tears stung her dark brown eyes. Grandpa’s death was hard for her to understand. He had been light-hearted, always spreading laughter wherever he went. And music. How he loved music!

“Manda, the world would be a sad and sorry place without music,” he had said to her often. “It’s helped me more times than I can recollect, both before and after I left the old country.”

“Tell me a story about the old country, Grandpa. Please?” she used to plead.

“All right, but you know you’ve heard them all before.” His eyes would twinkle as the tale would unfold. “When I was a young lad, my family took care of sheep in the fields surrounding the town. The country was lush and green in the daytime, but at night everything was veiled in shadows. I had the evening watch alone. Sometimes the sheep were restless, so I always took along my old mandolin. I’d sing a quiet song, and it would settle them down. It would ease my mind a bit too. Tending sheep can be mighty lonely. My mandolin has always been a comfort to me, Manda. I’m glad you have learned to play it. Someday I want you to have it.”

A sharp nudge from her older brother brought Amanda back to the present. Bishop Madsen stepped up to the tall box that served as a pulpit and announced the opening song and prayer. Then Amanda’s mind wandered again as the service began. She could see herself bumping around in the back of the covered wagon, gazing longingly behind them as the trail disappeared into dust. She’d missed her home and the friends she’d left behind. Grandpa hadn’t seemed to, though. He’d sat in front, constantly looking ahead.

“Let’s sing a song,” he’d suggest. Amanda would be the first to join in.

Their voices had been carried by the warm Nebraska wind, and soon all the settlers in their company had began to sing along.

The most precious moments had been at night around the campfire. The wagons had been pulled together into a circle, and the moon had looked large in the prairie sky, softly shining on tired, sunbaked faces.

The trek to Utah was long and hard, Amanda thought. Grandpa had made it then. Why did he have to die now?

The bishop had finished speaking, and he turned toward Amanda.

“Amanda, we all know how much you and your great-grandfather loved to sing together. Do you think you could come up here and sing one of his favorite songs for us?”

Amanda froze in her seat. I could never sing without Grandpa, she thought. She looked at the mandolin lying among the flowers. It had helped Grandpa while he tended sheep. Maybe it would help her now.

She rose slowly and walked over to the casket. Her hands trembled as she lifted the mandolin from its bed of flowers. Several people in the crowd nodded encouragement. Amanda cleared her throat, placed her fingers on the strings, and began: “Come, come, ye Saints, …”

The song went beautifully until she came to the last verse. Tears welled up in her eyes, and her voice started to quaver.

Bishop Madsen stepped quickly to Amanda’s side, beckoning the congregation to join in. Instantly the little log church was filled with music.

And should we die before our journey’s through,

Happy day! all is well!

We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;

With the just we shall dwell! …

Amanda sat down, still holding the mandolin. Mother put her arm around Amanda’s shoulder and said, “Grandpa’s mandolin can become as much a part of you as it was a part of him. Take good care of it.”

Amanda smiled. It was already a great comfort to her.

Illustrated by Dick Brown