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Marian Heath Mundy-Hooper Headshot

The Time I Was An Organ Donor

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I was thinking about the oddball gifts people give and receive, so I thought I should tell you about the time I was an organ donor. This is actually true. The recipient was grateful and we were compatible. And everything worked out, finally.

But to be totally truthful, it wasn't really my organ. It was only partly mine. I offered it up on behalf of another.

You would have had to know my first husband, rest his soul. He was a tinkerer and something of an electronics nut. He loved to put together stereo sound systems from kits. Heathkits, I think they were called. He was always upgrading them to be more "fi", as in "hi"- not Semper.

The house boomed, vibrated, quivered and squealed with the orchestras, marching bands and jazz combos imprisoned in metal boxes in our den, awaiting their release at the click of a switch. For months beforehand, the room would be strewn with enough wires and doodads to qualify as an eastern grid substation. Then, when he had finally assembled the ultimate, tippiest-top-quality amplifiers, pre-amps, woofers, tweeters, tuners, boomers and whatever else there is, the man would look around for a bigger challenge.

"You know," he said dreamily one day, "I've always wanted to build an organ."

"Yegods!" I replied. (It's a good thing I wasn't carrying a tray of glassware.) "What kind of organ?"

"You know, like they have in churches. Lots of keyboards and pedals, and all those different voices and sounds."

"Do you need an eye exam?" I asked. Have you mistaken our family room for a church? Where would all those pipes go? We have enough trouble with the wood stove."

"No, no, not a pipe organ, an electronic one. You get great sound from some of them."

"If we're talking organs," I suggested, "You might start with the human brain. You might remember that you never apprenticed with Master Geppetto and know absolutely nothing about woodworking, and equally nothing about an organ's innards, and, this is a detail, you don't play any instrument apart from the kazoo."

"I'll learn! I learn all that stuff!" he exulted, leaping up and grabbing a catalogue.

Well, it took awhile to wrap my head around this project, but as for crazy hobbies, I guess this would trump some of the ones favored by our politicians and world leaders. At least it didn't involve other women.

Over the following months, we became the parcel service guy's new best friend. I wondered if we should wear those little knotted string bracelets, or the kind with initials. Mine would say UPS.

A box a day keeps boredom away, if it's filled with mysterious components. More tangles of colorful wires, with diagrams that looked like the Paris Metro. Everything had to be carefully intertwined. "I feel as if I'm weaving a rug," my husband said.

Then a polished hardwood bench. A fan of black pedals. And what was that shower of black and white rods? Why, it's the Key of C! In a bag.

Slowly all the bits and pieces were fitted together. It took more than a year.

My job was to keep the kids and pets out of the way. Puppies shouldn't hear that kind of language, anyway.

Then a box the size of a small sofa arrived. It was the pre-made console, polished maple, and way bigger than I'd imagined. Too big for the den, it took up most of one end of the living room.

And sure enough, suitably organlike, sepulchral sounds issued forth. Perfect for a scary TV program. The device also produced a remarkable variety of other weird noises, ranging from kittens stuck in trees to elephants in labor.

The kids liked climbing up on the bench and fiddling with the two keyboards and pedals. One kid made up a tune exclusively for the pedals. Otherwise, their loss of interest was almost instantaneous.

The builder even took a few lessons. Row, Row Row Your Boat boomed bizarrely out over the neighborhood for awhile, until it didn't.

For our organeer, the experience was all very Zen. The importance was in the process, not so much in the result. Sadly, the elephant in labor gradually turned into a white elephant. Its creator had gone on to greater electronic triumphs and was now building television sets from kits. I wished he would build a Cuisinart, but no.

Then one day I was chatting with a hometown pal who said she'd met this Moravian missionary visiting the USA from Labrador who needed things for his church. The only music they had was a guy with a banjo.

Somehow I didn't think those old German hymns were written for the banjo, so I got in touch with the Rev. Forgettisname who practically wept with joy at the thought of a real electronic organ. Evidently Banjo Guy could play. How the Rev. F. would get the organ from our Weeville, NJ living room to Labrador was not my concern, but he would.

"Dear," I approached the ex-organ-enthusiast, "How would you like to do a good deed, make a nice man very happy, and take a tax deduction?"

So we became organ donors.

Nice to know some stories have happy endings, especially the part about the tax deduction.