Man, did I enjoy that. Y’know Jim and Julia really ought to play somewhere where others can hear them…”
“Huh?……Oh…Yeah. They sounded…nice.”
“I really miss having someone to play with. It’s probably been college since I’ve had someone to play with on a regular basis. I really miss it.”
“Did you remember to pick up coffee and milk for the morning?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah….I got ‘em. They stopped carrying the decaf we’ve been getting. …..That guitar Jim got Sara was really sweet……sounded great and played so easily….”
“Jeez! He paid $900 for it! I mean, it’s not like Sara’s going to make a living playing the thing. She doesn’t know the first chord.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like she can’t afford it….I mean, she works all the time. I think it’ll be good for her to have a diversion. Her job has got to be pretty stressful. Besides, I think making music makes the rest of life better….richer…”
“Don’t forget…tomorrow we’ve got to split . Kyle’s got a game and Anne’s got a practice at Lincoln Elementary. If you’ll go to the game I can pick up Anne after practice.”
And so the conversation went as Mark and his wife, Beth, drove home with a trailer holding “Beautiful Dreamer” in tow.
Mark pulled up in front of their house and let Beth out and then set about the task of backing the boat into the port he’d built for it beside the garage. By the time he got in the house Beth had already retrieved the kids from Milt and Suzy’s next door.
When Mark and Beth had bought this house in this older neighborhood, it was because it was what they could afford. Most of the neighbors were older folks whose kids had long since grown and left. In no time at all it was as if the neighborhood had “adopted” Mark and Beth. Their kids were born into a neighborhood full of grandmas and grandpas and Milt and Suzy were some of the kid’s favorites.
When Mark was refinishing the “Beautiful Dreamer” Milt was an almost constant companion, lending a hand with sandpaper and a bottle opener. Milt was an almost bottomless well of humorous stories and a couple of beers were enough to make the well flow. Milt wasn’t how Mark had envisioned growing old…..he was so much better.
So many evenings Mark would come home from work to find Beth and Suzy in the kitchen working together on the latest harvest from the garden or recent trip to the farmer’s market. In the basement, Milt could be found having gone ahead and sanded an area on the old boat, or having drilled out some old brass and replaced it with new. “This is my family” Mark often thought to himself, as he’d pick up a tool and, without a word, join right in beside Milt.
The boat was now put away, but the day’s events played over and over in Mark’s mind. That new guitar…..those few new songs he saw Jim play and he wanted to try….the memory of watching his friends respond to his playing.
And that was what was on his mind as he made his way back to the extra bedroom he fixed up for a music room. He anxiously picked up his guitar and…
…so…why the empty? Why the hollow? Why the isolation?
One chord played….and barely played out…and there he sat.
It was as if his eyes and ears were suddenly open to seeing and hearing his world and him in it.
Outside his window he noticed Milt and Suzy’s house and their one, single, kitchen light on. Mark new that if he could take a peek in their kitchen window he’d almost certainly find Suzy at the kitchen table working on her latest project, a family album, while Milt would probably be writing letters.
Milt had written these letters as long as Mark had known him. He wrote mostly to family and friends. Milt’s prose was quirky, full of wit and humor, but if you were ever the recipient of one of Milt’s letters you’d also come away from reading it knowing that Milt had really had you on his mind when he wrote it... and he had taken the time to know you.
Few people knew it (Suzy had let it slip to Beth one day in an “over the sink” conversation) but Milt also had an ongoing list of people to whom he wrote what Suzy called his “Balm in Gilead ” letters, saying, “I don’t know how he finds these people, but he’s always finding people who do thankless jobs and…well…finding some creative way of thanking them”.
Now Mark’s mind’s eye returned as if to look back at his own house. At one end, the kitchen light burning, the kid’s rooms with their own lamps glowing through drawn curtains, and there, in the back of the house he saw his own “music room” light.
In the dim light of his music room he closed his eyes and just listened. He heard his world as if suddenly dropped into someone else’s life…
and what he heard...were the walls. He heard angry walls. He heard them so distinctly that he even opened his eyes in surprise.
Then, with eyes open, all he heard was the sound of gameboy beep over staccato video music. He heard “boy band” music from another room, and from the kitchen—family room area he heard Beth in the kitchen, family room TV on loud enough to be heard across the open counters that divided the rooms.
But when he closed his eyes again? ….walls.
Suddenly the guitar was not its usual comfort. He looked down at it…lost
The isolation he began to feel made his chest feel hollow.
Who knows why we do some of the things we do? Sometimes we just do them and, without expectation of outcome, walk down a different hall and open the door we’ve never opened before.
Mark slowly and deliberately undid the strap from around his shoulder. He unbuttoned the strap from its buttons on the guitar, rolled it up and placed it where he always did in the top section of the case. Then he gently pushed the guitar into the velvety cushion of its case. “Click…click…click…click…snap” the case was closed and carefully placed in the corner by the music stand.
Then Mark walked out of the music room, past Anne’s room, past Kyle’s room, through the family room and into the kitchen.
Without a word, Mark dug the old stainless kettle from its bottom shelf home in the old pie safe in the corner of the kitchen.
Still silent, but now catching the attention of Beth, who said nothing but cast a sideways glance his way, Mark gathered the butter from the fridge, the oil from the cabinet, and from a large sack in the top of the pie safe, he took a few cups of popcorn.
In a few short minutes of shaking and banging and popping and steaming, the house began to take on that warm homey smell.
Still not a word said, but almost as if choreographed, Kyle popped his head out of his bedroom door on the left side of the hall….and Anne mirrored his action from her room on the right side of the hall. They looked quizzically at each other and then, still silent, made their way down the hall toward the kitchen.
It was like some kind of cartoon picture that Mark saw in his head----the kids drifting in on “smell waves” of hot butter and popped corn. He could no longer hide his growing smile as, just a quickly as the cartoon picture appeared, so came the thought………”Pied Popper”.
As Mark poured melted butter into the big brown paper sack containing a night’s worth of popcorn, he began to hum. He was humming the tune to the silly oldie “Pied Piper”.
It didn’t take telepathy to understand how that tune got in Mark’s mind and, as if on cue, Beth, followed closely by the kids, started singing “…come on babe, follow me, I’m the Pied Popper, trust in me, I’m the Pied Popper, and I’ll show you where it’s at…”. All tuneless, smiling and loud…
The family sang…
…the walls became silent.
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.