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My Ancestors Behind Me

October 5, 2015

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
― Linda Hogan

One night we were visiting my aunt and uncle. I went to my cousin’s room – she was around 19 and I was 10 – while the grown ups played cards. My cousin was hip [this was 1966] so we were listening to Wilson Picket and the Rolling Stones. I learned the moves for the hitchhiker, the jerk and the shimmy. She extolled the virtues of the beat we started thumping in time on the bed talking about how cool drummers were. When we heard the grown ups were ending the card game we went out to meet them and my cousin [Lori] announced that I had a request to make. [This was after much coaching from her]. I told my parents that I wanted to play music and be a drummer.

DSCF8913Next day my dad brought home a guitar, an old Harmony arch top and played a few songs on it. Then he wrote out the chord windows for C, G, and F on a scrap of paper and said to go learn them. Dutifully I did but it took several months of determined squawking and buzzing before anything resembling a chord was heard from my hands. This was probably the way my dad learned guitar and he just passed it on to me.

Two years before this he had brought home a guitar and sang to me for a couple of hours: wartime songs like The First Time Is The Worst Time [you’ll get used to it], old time songs like Wabash Cannonball, or yodeling songs like Hobo Bill’s Last Ride. I had been enchanted and could have listened all night. I seem to remember one family party as well with my dad leading the singing with a guitar that had turned up. It was a big family and they loved to sing together.

Dad had big wide fingertips with no nails on the left hand at least for the index, middle and ring fingers. In fact they were stumps, the result of an accident at a factory.

DSCF8912At the end of every term I get my private students to play for each other in a circle. There are many reasons for doing this, but one of them is to share the craziness of being a guitar player. To play the guitar well requires an investment of time and effort, and my private students do this happily because they too are infected with this peculiar insanity. To play a piece of music well takes much work, so much work that I don’t like to say. My private students know this and they too don’t mind.

Just a few years ago I found out about my father’s accident from an older cousin who was there when dad got home from the hospital. Turns out he worked a punch press that sliced metal. On that particular Monday morning they had acquired a machine that would pull your hands back so you didn’t need to make so much effort yourself. I have thought about this quite a bit trying to figure out what might have transpired. I figure that the foreman coached dad to use this, encouraging him bit by bit to let the machine pull his hands back. Finally, after much prodding dad tried and the machine hadn’t been calibrated correctly and…

My mother had told me that the doctor’s had wanted to amputate the fingers lower down at the second [middle] joint and that dad would not let them do this no matter what the “risk”. He was after all a guitar player, infected with the same craziness as my private students and couldn’t imagine not playing again. It was a long time healing, ten years at least, but he did play again and sometimes shared the songs of his time with friends and family.

So, I play the guitar, trying to get better but at this stage every improvement takes hundreds of hours work. Like Paul Simon said: Still Crazy After All These Years.

Some village children planned to steal Nasrudin’s slippers so they called to him, and pointed to a tree: ‘We think nobody could climb that tree.’
Smiling Nasrudin said,  ‘Any one of you could and I’ll show you.’ Then he removed his slippers, tucked them into his belt and began to climb.
‘Nasrudin’ they cried, ‘you don’t need your slippers to climb a tree.’
The Mullah, chuckled as he looked down, ‘One must always be prepared, there might even be a road up here.’

From → Reflections

One Comment
  1. I plan to write more about the ancestor thing and ancestors…

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