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Archive for July 4th, 2005

A Lovely Holiday, and the Story of My Guitar

Monday, July 4th, 2005

I had a lovely 4th of July/Independence Day holiday. I slept in a bit, had good food, was alone at home (my favorite thing in the world these days) for several hours, did housework, knit on the porch in the hammock.

Music Party
Then Brian came home (he had to work part of a day) and we went to a music party. It was lovely. While I was there they played a song I used to play on guitar. I was pretty sure I could still play it, at least the basics. But we hang out with steel-string-guitar players and I learned on a “gut” nylon stringed guitar. Well, that is the kind I’ve owned since probably Christmas 1972. I tried to play someone else’s steel stringed guitar, but the strings are so close together I could not get my fingers to the right spots!

Family PortraitMy Guitar and its Story
As a kid, about 11 years old, I wanted to play guitar in the worst way. It was Karen’s fault.

My cousin, Karen (who reads this blog but lives in Texas, hours and hours away) had lived in St. Louis for a year or maybe two. Mom drove my brother and I down one Easter weekend to see them, because that was the closest they had ever lived to us (they were in California before that) and we knew it might not last.

When I was visiting Karen, she showed me two chords and taught me a folksong I can’t even remember now, maybe “Down in the Valley.” And I was in love! All I wanted was a guitar. They were not cheap, and my parents were not sure I would stay interested (I was very much into singing but this was a new thing). I can see why they were worried.

My father told me he would buy me a very basic guitar and if I proved I actually was playing it, he would buy me a good one in a year. So off we went to Century Discount (or was it S&H Green Trading Stamps?) and got me a 3/4 sized guitar with steel strings and plywood top. For $14 USD. That was waaay cheap even then. The strings were probably a good 1/4″ (6mm) from the fretboard, uncomfortable to say the least!

I took group lessons at community education that summer. I learned chords and I learned songs… I played for hours, until the steel strings dug into my fingers so badly that I could not play because of the pain.

A year later my father bought me a “real” guitar, as promised. Now, I had only some input on this. I remember he ordered it over the phone, talking to the local music store. I was very sure I wanted nylon strings. For one thing, folk music was very big and I was sure that folksingers such as Peter Paul and Mary would be playing nylon strings. For another, I was really tired of those steel strings digging into my fingers when I practiced, and nylon sounded softer!

For years after that, I played guitar with my church youth group. There were three of us who played guitar at the front of the room, all at the same time. We all had nylon strings, if I remember right. I played nonstop during high school, pretty regularly during college. Then I stopped. The guitar continued to be my most precious belonging (Dad died not long after he bought me the guitar) but I stopped playing. I had a life with so many challenges that I dropped a lot of pastimes in order to stay afloat emotionally, or that is how it seems now. But I loved my guitar.

Waking Up, Creatively
I only started being creative again just before my divorce, around 1990 or so. I started with polymer clay and did that obsessively for maybe 10 years before I tried anything else! After that came soft-block printing/Mail Art and then feltmaking/knitting socks. And that is only my visual arts (not performing arts, which I also stopped during my difficult marriage and started again afterward).

In the years before I “woke up,” I did a lot of sewing, I was very good and had 3 sewing machines. I also did a little bit of housepainting/decorating but only those domestic sorts of creative outlets.

My first performing art since high school, was to dance a bit, modern and jazz at first. Then I performed in Pippin, a musical at Riverwalk Theatre. Then came Brian, and the music we do together now (including learning to play bass and a bit of ukulele). Finally I picked up the mideastern dance, just after Brian and I got married.

The Reunion with My Loved One
But the guitar! I love her. (I’m surprised I never named her, really, I’ve always named cars.) Tonight I played her for 20 minutes and she still feels the same, still smells the same. I’m not as good as I once was, but it was a wonderful reunion. I think I’d still rather play ukulele or bass than guitar these days… but it felt good to touch that beautiful piece of wood today.

Tuesday Plans – Ann Arbor?
I need to get to sleep because I have a very-early-morning dentist appointment Tuesday. Big Yuck!

If I feel OK at night from my dental experience (I expect I will), I’m planning to go to Borders Books, Arborland/Ann Arbor, Michigan, tomorrow night. It’s about 7pm to 11pm (not everyone stays late but I usually do). I’d love to see some of you there! Say hi if you heard of it here.

Photo here is of me and my family, probably just before the time my father bought me my first guitar. Notice I’m wearing turquoise?