Like the moon we’ll shine
Many a time.
Like the sun?
The wide awake dreams we dream late at night…the dreams that hold the promise of changing our lives… come with a little warning label. “Spend this dream tonight. Only tonight will you have the courage it takes to make this dream a reality.” And you know what the label means.
The light of morning, so often the dispeller of the fears that night’s darkness brings, is also that douse of water on the infant flame of a life changing decision.
“What was I THINKING!?”---the motto of morning.
It was in that understanding that this late night phone call was made.
“Jim? I want to learn to play the guitar. Where do I go to get a guitar, and what kind of guitar should I get? Should I get a nylon string or a steel string? Y’know I think most of the music I listen to is on steel string. Is that harder to play? Do you pick yours up any more? Should I take lessons? Where would I take them? You didn’t take lessons when you played did you?”
“Sara?….is that…..wha…what time IS it??! Guitar? Sara?”
“It’s 1:45, and yes guitar. I want to learn to play guitar.”
Sara knew from experience that if she didn’t “strike while the iron is hot”, if she didn’t commit to doing something about this new dream—playing the guitar—while she still had this night’s courage bolstering her, she would be taken back over by tomorrow’s sameness again....perhaps never to escape it.
“Who is that? Is everything OK?” Jim’s wife Julia asks from her side of the bed.
Jim puts his hand over the mouthpiece and nods to her and mouths “Sara”. Julia rolls back away as Jim props himself up on a doubled over pillow and resumes the phone conversation. “Sis, slow down. What brought this up now?”
Sara answers “I was walking home tonight past that bar and grill on Jeff, you know the “Set Sail”? Anyway, I had kinda noticed a few weeks ago that if I walked home that way on the weekend that there’s this guy who plays a guitar at that bar. You can see him through the window.”
“You mean you ate there after work?” Jim asks.
“No, actually it’s kinda weird but by the time I walk past there the bar is already closed. It’s like this guy is playing for an audience that’s not there. I admit, I’ve been kinda loitering outside while he plays. He plays really nice music—lots of the stuff you used to play—and it’s kinda nostalgic y’know? But it’s more than that. I mean, his playing really… I don’t know…”
“So you want to play guitar because you saw some guy through a window who…” Jim starts to ask.
“Jim. Let me finish. Do you remember the family vacations up in Canada on Uncle Bill’s island? I have such strong memories of the two of us little kids standing on the dock, being left behind to fish from shore while Dad took the older boys bass fishing in the boat. I can almost hear the sound and smell the fumes of that old pull-start outboard as they’d pull away, off to adventure. In my mind that’s a picture of how I’ve learned to live my life. I have lived my life standing of the dock with my stupid bamboo pole, little red bobber out in the water, WAITING for whatever comes my way—and usually it’s just the little bluegills. Meanwhile, I watch others putter away in their boats FISHING. I mean they’re going out there after the fish. Somehow I taught myself to wait for life to happen TO me.
Anyway, when I first saw this guy playing the guitar my first reaction was JEALOUSY! I mean, I thought, “What a lucky guy to be able to play an instrument—to be able to make music!” That’s so typical of me. I was that powerless little kid on the dock. He was leaving me in his wake. He just used a guitar instead of an old mahogany motorboat.
Suddenly it occurred to me. Nobody is stopping ME from getting in the boat—or from getting my own boat. I have lived my whole life as though it were a game and all the rules were written on the back of the game box. Here’s this guy who’s not playing the same game. It’s as if he’s come to a game of his own making and he’s taunting me by saying “Sure you can have the shoe, the top hat, the thimble, even the racecar. I’ve got my own gamepiece”—and he shows me his guitar. Well I think it’s time I got my own boat—made up my own game, and part of that is going to be playing the guitar. So yes, I want to learn to play the guitar. Will you help me find a guitar and get started?”
“Jim, are you listening?”
Yes. Jim is listening
And so Jim hangs up the phone after he assures Sara that he will help her find a guitar and get started playing. He lays his head back against his pillow and stares at the ceiling…and stares…and stares. He rolls over and looks at the red numbers glowing beside the bed. 2:16AM. He rolls over…then back again. 2:24AM. He straightens the sheets and takes a deep breath…and lets it out…and tries some relaxation tricks…2:32AM.
Jim gives in.
Quietly flipping the sheet back and slipping out of the bed without a sound, Jim makes his way down the hallway to the den. He opens a closet door and pulls the string switch to the single lightbulb, illuminating the closet stuffed with the disused stuff accumulated over the years of family life. He shoves some old golf clubs aside, slides coat hangers along their bar, and clears just enough room to reach back…back…to the very back of the closet. Grabbing the top with both hands to free it from the rubble that ensnares it, Jim finally extracts a guitar case.
Jim clicks on the desk light as he passes it on the way to the window seat across the room. And there on the window seat he lays it. He just looks at the case for a long time.
Why? Why did something once so much a part of his life…so much a part of his hopes and dreams, become something to be extracted from the family landfill?
Click. Click. Click. Snap. Click. The latches now loosened, the lid now lifted…
Hello old friend
Where in the world have I been?
You used to spend hours in my lap and
Then what I now call "life" happened.
Out comes the guitar and Jim inspects his old friend. Haven’t changed a bit. Then he strums the strings…ugh! They feel like rusty old “Black Diamonds”. Thankfully, in the case compartment Jim finds two sets of Martin lights and his old winder and sets about changing the strings.
Then he eases back into the window seat, back against the side frame and his right leg propped upon the seat…
…and he begins to play. The opening G run of “Sweet Baby James”. Appropriate.
God this sounds good. Why did I ever…
He begins to get lost in the memory of the tunes he’s playing but his reverie is interrupted.
He looks up to see Julia…his lovely Julia, standing in the doorway, two cups of coffee in one hand…fiddle and bow in the other.
“Mind company? Can I sit in?” she asks from the doorway.
“Of course!” he says as he jumps up to help with the coffee.
And there they sit, framed by the big bay window, each on their own side of the window seat and facing each other.
She played fiddle favorites, “Cluck Old Hen”, “Red Haired Boy”, “St Anne’s Reel”. Jim kept time. Then he’d play “the Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Please Come To Boston” and “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” and “I Shall Be Released” while she’d add sweet little fills.
“Why did we stop doing this?” One of them asked.
Why do we?
Responsibility is a bold thief. It hammers down your front door and takes what it needs. Ah…but we usually survive him. What seems to get us in the end is the thieves that sneak in the windows and back doors. The TV. The things that, in the buying, turn about to own us. The second…well, you know...
They were playing “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. Any fool can do it…” as the sunrise peeked through the panes of the window behind them.
Then Jim went to make a call. He was going to have to work fast if he wanted to make this work…
John Bauman is a very talented Potter from Warsaw, Indiana. He sells his pottery at some of the best known art shows around the country. But his creative talent runs deep and John also writes songs and stories such as this one to channel his creative energy.
John is a frequent and well loved contributor to Acoustic Guitar Magazine's "Guitar Talk" Forum, and this story was created and posted by John piecemeal over a period of months on that forum. It has been reproduced here in its entirety for all to enjoy.
Hopefully, he will be so inclined to share other stories with us in the future.