Thinking back to when I was about nine years old. I would watch guitar players wishing I had a guitar. I thought if I asked my mom, I might have a chance of getting one.
As I watched The Green Valley Mountain Boys, a local TV show starring REM WALL and several others who worked at the Gibson factory down the street in Kalamazoo, I said, “Mom, mom, come here. Come see Billy. Isn’t he good?”
“He’s just a kid,” she said. “He can’t be much older than you.”
“See. That’s why I need a guitar. I’m behind already. Could I get one for Christmas?”
She paused, “It’s only January. It’s a long time until Christmas. But, I saw a guitar in the second-hand store. Stop in and see how much it is.”
I looked at the clock on the wall… 4:00 pm. I had 30 minutes to get there. I ran for the door, hopped on my bike, headed for the store. I pulled up in front, dropped my bike, and reached for the doorknob just as the lady approached with a key in her hand.
I stepped inside.
“We’re closing,” she said.
“Please, do you still have the guitar?”
“Yes, come on in. I’ll show it to you.”
I picked it up, cradling it in my arms like I had seen others do, and started to strum.
“It’s really out of tune,” the lady said.
I didn’t care. I kept strumming.
“Young man, young man.”
I looked up.
“If you want to play it, you’ll have to buy it. It’s $5.00”
I put it down and reached into my pocket and pulled out $2.75. “This is what I’ve got.”
“Well, you need $2.25 more. But this will hold it until you get the rest,” she said scrapping the coins into the drawer.
“What do you mean, hold it?”
“I won’t sell it to anyone else. Bring me the rest of the money and it’s yours.”
“Thank you,” I said running out the door. I didn’t think to give her my name.
“Mom, mom,” I said running in the backdoor. “Do you have $2.25? She put the guitar on hold. All I need is $2.25. Please, mom.”
“Well, I’ll give you $.50 on Saturday if you’ll do the dishes every night for the next 5 days.”
I looked at the floor shuffling my feet. I would still need $1.75. Tears began to form in my eyes.
“Go ask the neighbors if you can mow their yards or help with something else. You can earn the rest,” she said. “Check at school. Mr. Allen might have something you could do in the music room.”
I managed to get several jobs lined up. I worked hard to get the rest of the money. Mr. Allen, the music teacher, seemed so impressed that I would work to earn the money that he gave me a little extra. He even told me to bring the guitar to him and he’d help me. It took me four weeks to earn the rest of the money.
The day finally came. I didn’t ride my bike to school because I was going straight to the second-hand store to get my guitar.
I walked in and laid the money on the counter.
“Very good, I knew you’d come back with the money,” she said walking into the back room reappearing with my guitar.
She handed it to me. I brushed off the dust and cradled it in my arms. It was mine.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It didn’t come with a case.”
But, I didn’t really hear her. I didn’t even notice the long walk home. I had it. I had my guitar. I had borrowed a guitar music book from the library. It was on my bed waiting for us. The old upright piano in the dining room was in tune enough to tune the guitar like the book said, I thought.
I went straight to my room. I didn’t want to see any of my brothers or sisters. I wanted to be alone with my guitar. I sat on the bed with it in my lap and opened the music book to the first song. I placed my fingers on the strings as the book showed. I went from one fingering pattern to the next until my mother called bedtime. I had played through dinner and didn’t even notice.
“I look at your fingers,” she said as she walked into my room. “They’re bleeding.”
I stopped and looked down. “Mom, they’re not bleeding, they’re just red when I held the strings down.” I hadn’t even noticed the welts on my fingertips from the guitar strings.
I carried it to school the next day where it waited in my locker.
After school, I took it to Mr. Allen. I waited until he was finished with another student then walked up to him handing him my guitar.
“You got it, alright. Let me see it,” he said almost as excited as I had been. As he turned it every which way looking at it, his excitement seemed to fade finally saying, “You can learn the fingering on this guitar, but it’s not going to be good for much else. See this,” he said running his finger around the bottom side of the body of the guitar. “This crack can’t be fixed. It will never really sound very good. I should be able to tune, but it will be hard to play. Let me see your left hand. See your fingertips? That’s because it is made with the strings too high off the fretboard.”
Mr. Allen tuned it and showed me how to tune the first string then tune the other five by tuning the next string to the one you just tuned.
My walk home took a little longer than usual as I thought about my guitar. I wasn’t going to give up. I just couldn’t. Over the next few months, I continued to work as hard as I had the first day. I was going to learn how to play and that was that! I learned about seven chords and I had a good rhythm in my strumming. I took my guitar to YMCA summer camp and was able to play some campfire songs.
Christmas morning finally arrived. I stumbled out to the living room with the rest of the family. I hadn’t seen anything under the tree with my name on it. As I sat on the floor watching the other kids open presents my mom walked out with a brand new guitar case containing a new Gibson LG-1 Sunburst Acoustic Guitar. I was in heaven!
“I know you were disappointed that there wasn’t a present for you under the tree, but I couldn’t wrap this. Will this do?” she said handing the guitar case to me.
Don’t get stuck with an old clunker as I did. Find out how to get your Best-First-Guitar.
by Dena Warfield.
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