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      Left-Handed Melodies
      (for M. V. O'Rourke, an Old Ragtime Man)

      From the early 1900's he had earned part of his living from music, but during the Depression of the 1930's my Grandpa O'Rourke was forced to disband his dance orchestra. In those hard times, hardly anyone in the smallish cities like Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile, Dothan, Pensacola, and Fort Walton could afford to hire a local orchestra for parties. So the bookings dried up. To support his family, Grandpa worked as a machinist on a cargo ship that sailed up and down the Gulf Coast. While working at one of the metal-turning lathes in that sea-going machine shop, he severely injured his right hand.
      Because he was a ragtime man,
      He never gave up music.

      His right-hand thumb and ring finger
      Were frozen stiff,
      The interval between them,
      A perfect sixth:
      C and A,
      D and B,
      E and C.
      No more jaunty right-hand melodies for him.
      The treble was all sorts of jarring,
      Almost Chinese chords.

      Sure, he could bow a fiddle famously,
      And he could make his eight-string banjo
      Strum a whole house down,

      But first he was a ragtime man,
      And so he played piano upside down --
      Left-handed melodies
      In the slightly somber bass.

      And even after Elvis was the King,
      Grandpa O wrote and played in ragtime:
      "The Elaborate Waltz,"
      "The Syncopated Waltz,"
      "The Broad Street Rag," and

      "The Rag That's Upside Down."

      I think I know
      What that rag is about.

      -- Warren F. O'Rourke, 2004