Ike wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. Joe had noticed this because, any time it was his turn to rinse and wash the coffee mugs after a practice session, there was always a syrup of undissolved sugar in the bottom of the kid’s mug. So, as he sat opposite Ike this evening, he suppressed a smile when he noticed that Ike hardly even cringed any more as he sipped on his mug between exercises.
Joe kinda suspected that the kid enjoyed the sort of “ritual” that Joe made of their practice sessions together – always the coffee, always the same chairs, and always starting their routine with Ike playing scales as Joe accompanied him with chords. Ike was getting so fluid with these exercises, and Joe had developed them in such a way that they actually seemed rather musical.
Joe found himself constantly amazed by Ike’s progress. The kid was obviously devoting much time and effort in the learning, but it seemed as though it may go deeper than that. It seemed as though the music was rapidly filling a “void” in Ike’s life – and the effects of the music seemed to be spilling over into Ike’s personality.
Ike replaced his coffee mug on the table and readied his hands on the guitar strings for the next exercise, but, as Joe started the count and the first chord or two, Ike merely put his right hand flat across the strings. His eyes moved from those strings to some place in the space between him and Joe.
“....know what happened today?” Ike said after a brief pause during which his eyes moved up from that space to meet Joe’s.
Joe by then had stopped playing too and wordlessly responded in that comfortable way friends do. “I’m listening” his eyes said.
Ike took his time, picked up his guitar and, in a way that was sort of hugging the guitar – lower bout on his lap, soundhole facing inward. Ike rested a closed hand on the upper bout, and with his thumb sort of strumming the day’s growth of beard, he inclined his head ‘til it rested beside the guitar’s neck. He was settling in to tell his story.
“You know I’ve had some difficult times with my Dad?” he started. “I mean.......y’know, being asked to leave his house and all. I mean, we get along well enough as we work together but it’s just not the same as before........before I screwed up. Well, earlier today I took my guitar with me when I went to visit the family. I wanted to show my younger brother and sister what I was learning."
"....y’know, they thought it was pretty cool.” He added with a satisfied grin.
“Well, anyway, we were in the family room and I was playing some of the songs you taught me. After a while Dad sorta.....well, he came out of his office and he.....he looked kinda surprised. I hadn’t told him I was learning to play -- like I said, we talk mostly business these days. Pretty soon he gets up and walks back to the office right in the middle of a song I’m playing. I gotta tell you, my heart kinda sunk right there – I mean, I thought he was interested and......” Ike said with the memory drawing one corner of his mouth down into a frown of disappointment.
But that look of hurt just as quickly dissolved into a smile as Ike continued “He came back out of his office, and he brought a couple of harmonicas with him......Jeez, I didn’t know he could play.....well, I guess I should say, I forgot that he ever played. I mean, I must have been a little kid when I last heard him pick up those harmonicas. Funny, I remember laying in bed as a kid.......he had this one that came in a cardboard case with a green mountain printed on it, called an “Echo Harp”....and I’d just lay there and keep my ear to the door. I’d never fall asleep until he quit. I loved that sound. And Dad wasn’t half bad now as I’m remembering. But I guess I forgot.”
He continued, “Dad asked me to start over on that Eagle’s tune you taught me? “Peaceful Easy Feelin’”?.....anyway, I started playing and Dad just joined right in –-- man, it sounded like we’d played like that forever! Y’know? I mean.........god.......music............”
Ike trailed off in reverie before continuing. “Anyway, we played for over an hour – it was cool. Dad would play old tunes like “Oh Susannah”, y’know, real simple stuff, but I was amazed! I could kinda follow along – the chords just seemed right and, I don’t know, I just knew the next chord most of the time. I could tell Dad was enjoying it just as much as me.”
Ike paused and leaned back in his chair a bit. He looked at his guitar standing there in his lap as though this object itself had administered the magic that he was remembering occurring with his Dad.
After the pause, and a sip of the coffee –-- this time Ike sourly looked at the coffee mug as if to say, “well...why did I just do that?!” --– but he continued, “Dad talked to me a while after we played. He told me he thought it was great that I’d taken up the guitar. He was really complimentary and stuff.” He paused again for a second or two, and then, ”He also said he’d really noticed a change in me. ......said he didn’t really know what it was, just that he noticed me more.....uh.....settled. Kinda focused. Then he asked me if I felt l had a better handle on my life.”
At this Ike shifted again, and looking Joe right in the eye, said. “This is the first time in my life – and I know, before you laugh, I’m not that old – but it’s the first time I’ve felt a.....I dunno....a compulsion ? to sink myself into something that, as it turns out, has been good for me. I mean, I can’t wait to practice, I love the sound, the feel, the sense of accomplishment. I love the practice sessions with you” he added with nary a trace of embarrassment. Thus emboldened he continued, “I feel like I really need to thank you for showing me this new world.”
Joe felt his face warm and reached for his coffee to fill what he was afraid was going to be a too large space. It wasn’t necessary.
Ike quickly went on, “Y’now dad offered me a chance to move back home. He said I had earned his trust again and, if I would like, my room is free to move back in.”
Ike leaned over his guitar, now back in his lap in playing position. “I told him no." he said.
But then went on, “ I mean, I told him thanks, and that it meant a lot, but I said that I think I’m learning to do OK on my own now. You know what he did?” Ike asked......and then answered himself, “He just smiled.”
Joe smiled too.
...to be continued...
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.