An Open Letter to My Grandma’s Harp – Nancy Davis Kho

nancy davis khoThere you sit, in the corner of my dining room, a 100 year old beauty in a state of Miss Haversham disrepair. Your sinuous curves, outlined to great advantage with thin scrolls of gold paint, contrast sharply with the strings that pop out in odd directions. You exude such a magnetic charm that children and adults alike are drawn to pluck your strings, to run their hands along your dusty angles, and finally to ask the question that you hypnotize them into uttering:

“Who plays the harp?”

And I have to answer, every single stupid time, “No one.”

Ok! I never learned to play you! Get over yourself! You’re not the only instrument in the world!

My paternal grandmother was what might be diplomatically be called “reserved,” stiffening her arms at her side when we hugged her and sending back our thank you notes with red-lined corrections. Once, when my brother complimented her cooking, she sighed, leaned heavily against the counter, and said as if in pain, “It’s only a casserole.” So when my father told me after her death that she left me her precious 1923 Irish harp, I was touched. She remembered me! And this is the harp she carted around to old folk’s homes to give concerts, when she herself was an old folk. “She knew how much you like music,” my dad said. “She wanted you to have it.”

Music as in going to concerts and downloading songs until the credit card is smoking, yes, I like that type of music. Music as in playing it myself? Not since that fateful ninth grade day when I broke my arm in a game of tag football and finally had my escape from Mrs. Hargrave’s piano lessons. Or as my brother refers to it, “That day you stopped playing piano, one month exactly after Mom and Dad bought you a brand new one.”

Do you see, Irish Harp, why I feel tormented by instruments? You’re like the best looking ex-boyfriend in the world. I want people to see you, and in the same moment I want them to know that I figured out you’re not my type.

What about the next generation, you ask? Well, you’re sitting in the dining room with us at night, you hear the talk. If you’re not Pointe shoes or a miraculously discovered missing 8th book in the Harry Potter series, the smaller set in the house aren’t interested either.

I have a cousin on Grandma’s side who was a musician as a young man, if combining synthesizer and drum tracks on a home-built Commodore computer counts as musicianship. His band name was “Pulsar” which struck just the right tone for 1977. When they cleared out Grandma’s house after her death, cousin Jimmy found a stash of Pulsar CDs and wondered aloud if Grandma had been bootlegging his music all along. Jimmy’s daughter has grown up to be a talented and fabulous jazz musician. Maybe you should go live with here? She slaps her cello around like she means business. She’s probably whip you right into shape.

Then again, your disappointed glare from the corner reminds me so much of Grandma. And as was the case with her, I’d miss you when you were gone. Never mind.




Nancy Davis Kho is a freelance writer in Oakland, California. When not whiling away the hours trying to recreate the halcyon years of MTV in the 1980s singlehandedly, using only YouTube and a search bar, she writes about the crossroads of music and midlife at Midlife Mixtape.



  1. This is quite lovely!

    I especially like the line about the ex-boyfriend. Take good care of it, a quality harp is a precious thing.

  2. SO happy to see you here, oh graceful, eloguent Nancy.

    That picture is just perfect.

    And the words here? Perfect balance of charm, quick wit, and smart assedness!!

  3. That must be a bitch to clean! Just sayin’….

  4. Hey, it’s NDK in the house! OK: you are the first harp owner I have ever known. Can you electrify it? Because that’d be bad-ass and then you’d have to join a band. I might even start up a mosh pit to slam around to your harppunk. Welcome to funnynotslutty. I know you’re funny, but congratulations on passing the extensive sluttiness background check. (I think I only passed because those with the evidence are living in Key West under assumed names.)

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