I didn't take much with me when I divorced my sleek Asian wife: a few tools, all the guns, the clothes off the front lawn, a few books, the only remaining motorcycle — and my guitar.
My guitar hadn't been out of its case in a decade. Like most everything else we owned, its case was liberally besprinkled with cat urine. Some had even made its way inside. The spruce wood body was terribly dry. When I broke out my guitar a few months later at my neo-bachelor apartment, cleaned it up, oiled it and loosened the strings for replacement, the tuning head cracked right through. Both sides.
This is not a guitar you'll ever see on "Antiques Roadshow." It's a Sears "Silvertone" acoustic, kinda dinged up. My mom bought it when she was in college. It's around 50 years old and in better shape than Mom, who's struggling with her health. It's the only guitar I've ever played. It used to be bigger — I could hardly reach around its belly when I learned to strum chords. I was nine years old back then. It went with me to Korea in 1983, to Oklahoma in '84, to Georgia in '86, and off to college in '87, then again in '92. By then, it had shrunk to its normal size.
I scarcely ever touched it, but I always kept it with me because I was gonna play it "someday." I knew the only secret I needed to know about guitars: you don't have to be all that good to have an excuse to sing, and I like to sing but I need an excuse. I'êm shy like that. So after a couple of diplomas and a couple of marriages, 'êsomeday'ê had rolled around — and I broke her clean through.
After futzing and angsting and wondering where to go, I was on a moving run when I drove past Guitarville up in Shoreline. It'ês been there, selling high-end axes and amps, since before my guitar was built. Since my broken guitar was riding shotgun and stinking up the truck cab (they are of an age, my guitar and my truck), I stopped in to the shop, parked my precarious load out front and took 'er in.
'êI dunno,'ê said Eddie. 'êMy luthier can fix the head, but it'll probably need a new one to do it. The neck's all pulled out of shape, and it's not adjustable. Might not be able to make it right for playing. 'êProbably cost quite a bit, either way.'ê It was like being asked to shoot my dog. I think Eddie may have noticed. I signed the slip and walked out very quietly. It was probably going to cost a bundle just to make it a static display.
The luthier called a few days later and said he'd do the best he could on it and I should phone in the morning. The next day, I picked up my old Sears & Roebuck guitar. The tuning head repair is visible but plenty strong, and the plunky nylon strings ride at just the right altitude. The neck is still ridiculously wide, but I have big hands. If it ever played better, I couldn't notice.
They charged me $81.60, including tax. The instrument is probably worth 20 bucks at a garage sale, but like any member of the family it strings me tight with dreams and memories, fear, hope, and joy. Apparently you can buy happiness at a pretty affordable rate around here.
After dinner one night, I pulled my guitar off one of our undifferentiated stuffpiles, and tuned her up. Found out I still remember a few chords, then doped out a couple more. I even stumbled through some songs, sucking very badly (even at the singing part) because I'm a beginner all over again. My fingers burned, partly from arthritis and nerve damage but mostly because of delicate fingertips.
I've been a beginner at most everything for most of my life. That hasn't squelched the enjoyment of any of it. For $81.60, I bought back time to improve, and maybe even learn to read notes this time. Pretty good bargain, I thought.