Why Ukulele?

Did I sense Uke staring at me from afar, longing to make beautiful music together? Was it love at first sight? Not exactly.

I stumbled upon this incredible instrument by chance a few years ago by a rather obnoxious neighbor. Let’s call him Fred for anonymity’s sake. You know the type. He’s the guy who routinely takes his evening walk around the neighborhood to “casually” stumble upon someone as they are mowing their lawn or fiddling in their garden only to brag about their latest expensive toy or how wonderful they are.

Well, one summer night as I was digging out the dandelions that invaded my lawn, Fred walked up. I should have known he was close by as the dandelions suddenly quivered with fear, unearthed themselves and ran away to hide under a nearby rose bush. Anyway, he caught me. So, I begrudgingly listened to his latest “I’m so great” story. He kept going on and on about his luxury Hawaiian vacation and then mentioned how he had purchased a ukulele – an expensive one, of course, which got me thinking.

I recently had a conversation with my frail, elderly mother about how she missed the music that used to fill the house when my father was alive. My father was an accomplished, award-winning harmonica player who came from an extensive family of nine brothers and sisters who all played an instrument. They would regularly all get together at each other’s houses to jam. However, since my father’s passing, the jam sessions gradually became less and less as his siblings too passed away and eventually stopped entirely. She missed those times so much and spoke of them often. So, I decided I would fill the house with music again. But how?

I would teach myself ukulele. Not because of Fred. True. He put the idea into my head, but it just made sense. I wanted an instrument that would not break the bank, portable and easy and fun to play. The ukulele fit perfectly.

Before I knew it, I played and sang my first song for my mother, “Amazing Grace,” her favorite hymn, but my heart sunk as I saw tears well up in her eyes. “Oh no,” I thought. “What have I done?!” Here I wanted to bring the joy of music back into her life and only made her miss my father even more.

I asked my mother why she was crying and if I upset her. She raised her wrinkled hand to her face, wiped the tears from her eyes and said they were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy! The music she longed for once again filled her home.

I learned more and more songs, and every night after supper my mother and I would sit and sing the songs my father and his brothers and sisters used to play as I accompanied us on the ukulele.

My mother passed away in November 2016 at ninety. Not only was she my mother, but my best friend. Her passing broke me. I didn’t know how I would cope living without her, and I never left the house except to do the essential grocery shopping. I spent the last 10 years caring for her and now all I had left was this tremendous void in my life, but I knew she would want me to continue living my life to the fullest and not keep drowning myself in a pool of sorrow.

One day, I was out buying groceries and saw a flyer on a bulletin board as I was leaving the store. It was advertising a ukulele club where people gathered to play and sing songs. It was hard, but I pulled myself together and headed out to play and meet new people. You’ll never guess what the first song was we played that evening. Amazing Grace.

Tears welled up in my eyes as we played – not so much tears of sadness, but tears of hope! I felt my mother’s overwhelming presence and knew that she would be with me always and, no matter where I was playing my ukulele, she would be there listening to the music she loved. I would see her again some day.

Over time, I honed my skills on the ukulele and began writing songs and performing them at various venues. You see. Not only did the ukulele bring the joy of music back into my mother’s life in her last year, but it brought me out of the depths of despair and into a fresh life.

Who knew how a rather reluctant encounter with Fred that summer night would introduce me to an instrument that literally changed my life? Well, they say that God works in mysterious ways, through the most unlikely of people and, in my case, a little Hawaiian instrument – the ukulele.