Tuesday, October 19, 2010

This old guitar

I play the guitar. This might be news to my friends, but probably not too surprising. When I was 14 my Dad bought me cheap guitar, used, for Christmas. It was black. I played it until my fingers bled. I played it so much, every waking hour, I wore the wrapping off the strings. I learned everything John Denver wrote, then moved on to Neil Diamond, and then started writing my own very bad songs. I used to fall asleep playing that guitar, wake up with it in the bed, and play again. I could play both parts of Dueling Banjos. My boyfriend (now husband) could play all of Stairway to Heaven. He still can. I played into my twenties. Then I got busy working, paying bills, getting old.

I still had that same old guitar. It got old too. The varnish cracked. Bits fell off. Strings broke and were never replaced. I asked my husband to fix it for me, but it really wasn't worth it. He bought me a new one, all shiny and blond, like a trophy wife. I played it, we played together sometimes. He played it. It's a good, nice guitar.

Then for some reason known only to him, my Dad bought himself a guitar. Dad used to have a gorgeous Martin Archtop guitar and I picked on it when I was about 10. Learned my first song on that Martin. Proud Mary. It had only two chords. That's good, because that's all I knew. I have a tape of my Dad playing and singing that Martin and he sounds like Hank Williams. That's Senior, the really good one. At 70, he bought a new guitar so I could teach him how to finger pick. Dad had arthritis in his hands, but was determined. He had lung cancer, and I think this was on his bucket list. I never heard him play the new guitar, or sing "I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry" in a way that always made me cry.

Now I have Dad's guitar. I'm still very busy paying the bills, running here and there, but sometimes I have to pull out that guitar. It usually starts with a song on the radio that I used to play. Tonight it was "Mr. Bojangles" and Dad's guitar had to come out, get dusted slowly, like a gentle waking caress with a my hand, and it had to sing me another song. My fingers are getting a bit stiff, and I don't have the calluses anymore, but the fingers and the guitar still remember. After a tune-up, a few plinks to warm up, that opening riff for Mr. Bojangles was still there.

Dance, Mr. Bojangles, Dance.

And my old, broken guitar? I see it every day, in the corner of my bedroom. I know the music is still in there, even though it sits silent. I'll probably never play it again, but I don't have to. I can still hear Dad being so lonesome he could cry. The music lives in my heart.

This old guitar taught me to sing a love song
taught me how to laugh, and how to cry.
It introduced me to some friends of mine, and brightened up some days,
and helped me make it through some lonely nights.
What a friend to have on a cold and lonely night.
-This Old Guitar by John Denver

Thanks John. Thanks Dad.

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