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The Power of Music

October 18, 2013
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 brothers.


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.




That's a beautiful story. Music and math are the universal languages!
By: PT Dilloway on October 18, 2013
It's not just grown men who were crying, because I did, too, when I read this heartwarming story. Beautiful.
By: Shelly on October 18, 2013
Wonderful story
By: cranky on October 18, 2013
What a great story! Reminds me of a conversation I struck up with a man named 'Petro' when my ship visited Corfu, Greece. He didn't speak a lick of English (what he said was all Greek to me...BA DUM BUM) and I didn't speak Greek. But, we got on famously for a couple hours. Of course, we were sitting at a bar, so that may have helped.
By: Al Penwasser on October 18, 2013
What a great story!
By: The Bug on October 18, 2013
truly a marvel. i am so glad they finally were reunited.
By: TexWisGirl on October 18, 2013
Stephen- what a marvelous memory-it brought tears to my eyes. You have such a wonderful gift of transporting us to memorable moments in time. Do you have photos of that soft sweet time with the three brothers playing their guitars?
By: Kathe W. on October 18, 2013
What a lovely lovely story. You always tell such nice stories :)
By: Hey Monkey Butt on October 18, 2013
Lovely--you made me cry, too!!
By: fishducky on October 18, 2013
Beauty from travail.
By: mimi on October 18, 2013
So beautiful of a memory I'm sure. Thank you for telling this wonderful story.
By: Bouncin Barb on October 18, 2013
That's an amazing story, overflowing with love. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on October 18, 2013
I love this story...and I'm blinking back the tears, too.
By: Pixel Peeper on October 18, 2013
That is a beautiful story. I too, was nearly in tears although it is such a happy story. Did your family take pictures and did the 3 brothers stay in touch?
By: Cheryl P. on October 18, 2013
That's beautiful. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on October 18, 2013
What an awesome story!
By: Scott Cody Park on October 18, 2013
Beautiful story. I'd cry too if I was separated from my brothers for 60 years.
By: red on October 18, 2013
Definitely touching and a fairy tale ending. I'd love to read more as the story unfolded in the months and years that followed.
By: Daniel LaFrance on October 18, 2013
What a beautiful, emotional story. To think so many years had passed by but the music was like yesterday. Music never dies, it just lives on and on. It would have been such a shame if they were to part without having any communication.
By: Rum Punch Drunk on October 18, 2013
The power of music indeed. Lovely story. You asked on my blog about "Pound The Alarm" saying shouldn't it be "Sound". Singer Nicki Minaj recently had a big hit with Pound The Alarm, and that's what I was referring too. :)
By: LL COOL JOE on October 18, 2013
That's sweet. And Ricky Delgado again saved the day.
By: Val on October 18, 2013
It's hard to imagine three brothers who don't speak the same language and can't talk to one another. We often forget how different the world was back then. I myself couldn't talk to my own grandmother. She spoke a mishmash of three languages, and I could never figure out what she was saying. But then, nobody in my family played music (until my son came along; we can figure out where THAT came from.)
By: tom sightings on October 19, 2013
What an uplifting story! Testimony to the power of music.
By: Bryan Jones on October 19, 2013
So fortunate that you have this wonderful memory,Stephen.I often wonder how much awkwad tension there would be in the room, if a bunch of s bloggers all got together, when we chat so easily in print. I don't play any instruments, I'll have to remember to bring a radio.
By: Kennt on October 19, 2013
That is an amazing story - the image of them finding a common language like music provides so quickly. How were they separated by such distances? Was it just the luck of the draw for who could take care of them?
By: Katy Anders on October 19, 2013
Well, if you were here, you'd see another grown man crying. What a moving story.
By: Mitchell Is Moving on October 20, 2013

By: jenny_o on October 20, 2013
What a great story! I'm glad they found a way to communicate. Did they ever see each other again? It's sad when children lose their parents and then lose their siblings too.
By: jenny_o on October 20, 2013
I just love this story Stephen.
By: John on October 21, 2013
What an amazing and beautiful story. Thank you for your telling of a wonderful family heirloom. It has to be such a treasured memory. And darn it you made me cry again. You asked yesterday about the black calla lilies. I had never seen one before but apparently they are hybridized to be the darkest red I have ever seen. They are quite gorgeous. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on October 23, 2013
What a lovely and tender story. You have such a way of bringing these men back to life. I'm fascinated by the fact that there was little difficulty in the written words of their ongoing communication but such problems with trying to converse verbally. Language and dialect is so interesting.
By: Hilary on October 24, 2013
i am just catching up here. i am so glad I took the time. thank you for sharing this moment, which i believe was truly sacred. i confess i am dabbing my eyes.
By: lime on November 3, 2013

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