Monday, December 19, 2005

Do You Think She Will Buy It?

When I was 15, I wanted to play the guitar. It may be the first such decision I made on my own. It wasn’t because everyone I knew was doing it. They weren’t. Actually, I really didn’t know if anyone was or wasn’t. I really didn’t know anyone that well. I was a nerd and a loner. Besides playing the guitar was cool. Guitar lessons were not. I guess I felt I needed to be making music, not just dancing to it. I had decided—childish logic I now realize—that I was too old to learn the piano. I had had a short romance with the flute in fourth grade, but had gotten very sick and never gone back to it; so the guitar seemed the inevitable next love of my life.

My mother was the archetype “slow adopter.” If I wanted something for Christmas, I knew to ask for it sometime in June. Otherwise in her mind, it was an impulsive thing. When I’d mention new technology her response often was, “Oh just one more thing to dust or one more thing to break.” We never did have an automatic dishwasher. She always said she had three, and then she named my brothers and me. It was the downside and the upside of having a parent who was a child during the Great American Depression. She made it clear that we could do fine without plenty of things. On the other hand, she had a way of making sure we knew what things were worth. So when the idea of guitar lessons came up I knew the acquisition of the instrument itself might be the deal breaker.

Dinnertime conversation each night was a debate over whether the acquisition of a guitar was a good investment or throwing good money after bad. Mom reminded me of the flute in my closet. I reminded her of the fact that I got it when I was barely 9 years old—at her request—and that I quit the band on doctor’s orders. One down. Score 0 to 0. No progress on the guitar or the lessons, at least that’s what I thought.

But stealth-fighter mom also had a way of using her slow-adopter status to test my personal investment—or was it to give herself time to think? There was more to my mother than one could read on the surface. Later that week she came home from my aunt’s house with an ancient, Adele classical guitar, probably worth all of $5.00 at a flea market sale.

“Your Aunt Mary sent you this,” she said. “It was your cousin, Paul’s guitar. He played for a few months. It’s been in her attic for 20-some years.” Her point was clear. “Play it for a while, and then we’ll see about a new one.”

Anyone who’s not first born knows what it’s like to suffer the sins of all of the children who’ve come before them. Maybe first borns do too, but I can’t believe they suffer as much. Whatever any previous child did in the past, I had to prove twice over that I would never do it. As a kid it seems awfully unfair. As a parent, it’s learning from previous mistakes.

Still I was determined to learn to play. I had songs I had to write. I went to my first lesson, feeling self-conscious for this small classical guitar that looked as if it had never been loved. I thought the case would hide it. I didn’t realize the cardboard case just underlined what was inside it. On the other hand, no one was actually looking at me or the guitar case. I really was wound up over nothing.

Guitar player walking. I made the walk up, up, up. The studio was above the hardware store—32 steps up a narrow corridor like an Amsterdam apartment. It was late in August. The corridor had no air conditioning. So with each step the temperature rose as my body got higher. My face had broke out in the “strawberry birthmarks” of heat prostrastion. I read the door that said “Evelyn Brue Guitar School” on the frosted glass panel like in a 50s black and white movie, and pushed it open. Cool air dropped upon me and I swear music from heaven began playing. I was in a display room of beautiful electric and acoustic guitars. My hands wanted to touch everyone of them, even though I didn’t know the first thing about playing them.

Evelyn came out, introduced herself, and the lessons began. Soon enough I was working on that classic “Malaguena.” It was progressing. Evelyn seemed pleased with how things were going. One day she excused herself for a moment and brought back a beautiful full-boxed, top-drawer Gibson guitar.

“Try this out,” she said. “I want you to play the song you wrote in the recital on this guitar. So you can take it home to practice on.” I was blown away.

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” she said. “And maybe after your mom sees you practicing, she might decide to buy it for you for Christmas.” Evelyn smiled conspiratorially. This was October. It was well past time for that. Oh God, I thought this woman doesn’t know my mother. I’m in the middle of a mess now.

What could I do? I took the guitar home and practiced every night.

Each week, I dreaded the question. Evelyn would ask, “Do you think your mother will buy it?”

I’d look at the floor and quietly answer in the negative. I couldn’t explain why the idea was impossible. She just didn’t know my mother.

Time passed and Christmas came. My brothers arrived from Wyoming and South Carolina with their families. Typical pre-Christmas events came and went. In keeping with tradition, we opened presents from our sibling and one from parents on Christmas Eve, saving the rest for Christmas morning.

The one gift from our parents that year was not in a box but an over-sized greeting card envelope. Inside the greeting card was a bank book for a savings account that my mother had kept, individual accounts for each of us, until she could get mine even with my brothers. Apparently this was the year that happened. But with my bank book was a note that read,

“This account is yours minus the cost of the guitar that has also been yours since last October.”

Was I surprised? Yeah you could say so. I had tears in my eyes to think that beautiful instrument really was mine. It was the first time in my life I cried with joy. The sounds that that guitar could make. I knew I would hardly be able to sleep that night. No one else in the room seemed to understand why I was so moved. In some ways, I suppose no one still does.

Some folks even think that I was tricked. That’s just because they didn’t know my mom. I was tricked with love.

She had a way of making sure we knew what things were worth. She gave me music. She knew what she was doing. I'll never forget how stunned I was that someone would do that for me.

Yeah, I still have that guitar.

—me strauss Letting me be


mojo shivers said...

That is possibly the best Christmas Gift story I have ever heard in my life. I'm talking "Gift of the Magi" good.

I'm usually not a sucker for Christmas Season stories not really being a big fan of the holiday, but this story really touched me, Liz.

Thanks for that.

ME Strauss said...

Wow Patrick, thank you. It was a pretty big deal for me I have to say. I touched you, huh. That's something.

mergrl said...

what an absoltuely beautiful memory, I have tears in my eyes, just wonderful. hank you so much for sharing that.

She gave me music
and a wonderful gift that is, I love that you still have the guitar, do you still play?

I hope you have a wonderful morning! (hugs)

mergrl said...

its early, can't type yet :0)

hank=thank LOL

ME Strauss said...

Hello sweet one,
Where are you?
It's so good to hear from you.
Sometimes I take it out and touch it, put I don't hardly play. But I should write a story about where the song is I wrote.

ME Strauss said...

I can't type in a comment box either. I think of them as foreign language school. LOL :)

Cheryl said...

I like your mum!


I can just imagine the conversations between her and your teacher. What a collusion! Sounds like they both adored you.

P.S. I've never had a dishwasher, either ;-)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Cheryl
It must have been some conversation for sure. My mother never said a word during the entire time. I'm sure my father knew nothing about it. Just Evelyn who kept asking and asking.

Amish said...

Great Christmas story! Thanks. I'd like to link to it on if that's ok...

ME Strauss said...

Thank you Amish,
Thank would be a compliment.
Please be my guest.
My mother is smiling and nodding her head right now. I'm sure of it.

fineartist said...

Liz, tears blurred my vision as I read what your mother had written to you in that note.

Your mother was pure quality.

I look forward to reading the song post.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Lori,
Thank you. It's really amazing that some story I tell could move you so. Thank you.

sandra said...

a) I'm adding that to my internal list of "things to remember when I'm a parent"

b) I'm so glad you still have the guitar. I was an orch dork in elementary school and sold my viola in a fit of "I want to be COOL" just before high school.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Sandra,
Happy Holidays!
Thank you for thinking my mom was cool. Sorry about your viola.
I'll remember it next time I talk to my guitar.

mojo shivers said...

Speaking of touching posts, somebody I hold very near and dear wrote another touching post.

Swing by whenever you can.

ME Strauss said...

Iwas planning on it.

Betty said...

That really is a great story, better than what most preachers come up with for the Xmas eve service. It also dredged up a memory for me, of my obsession at age 9 with getting a bugle. I'm going to have to consider writing a post about that. It sounds to me as if you were a much cooler kid than I (guitar vs. bugle).

ME Strauss said...

Hey, Betty,
I think that a real bugle is a very cool thing. A single rotary valve bugle takes skill to play and some gumption to take on.
You're a hero to me.

zilla said...

You made me cry.

ME Strauss said...

Oh Zilla,
I hope it was a good cry, not a bad cry.