My Dad and the Red Guitar

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Anyone who knows my family knows how much music has been intertwined into our little corner of the social quilt. Back in the ancient period classified as the 1970’s BCD (Before Compact Disks), the siblings and I would sit around the table listening to our favorite LP’s, singing and harmonize along with our favorite artists: Simon and Garfunkel, The Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and The Eagles, just to name a few. Debbie sang in the Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo choir. Brenda, Jeff, and, later, Rob learned to play guitar. Mary Beth and I were in grade school and high school band together, MB playing trombone and clarinet, and I played baritone horn (we both quit because we hated the high school band teacher; we thought he wasn’t very good at his job – hey, we were 16’ish and knew everything). Jeff, Rob and I are, or have been, in various bands for the last twenty years or so. So many memories of Mom learning to play piano. Debbie, Brenda, and Jeff still play the beast. Even I have tickled the keys at one time or another.

And then there is Dad. I would love to say that Dad was an orchestra conductor or a trombone player, or played the sax in a rock or swing band, but as far as I know, he didn’t. There is only one musical instrument that comes to mind when I think of my father – a red, hollow body, electric guitar. I don’t know what brand it was or if it was a collectors item; for all I know, it was an ordinary guitar. And I don’t remember ever seeing him play the thing, and don’t know if he ever did or could. It is not the playing of the instrument that brings it to mind, but more the departure of the thing that makes it so special. He sold it at the neighbors garage sale in or around 1973. I haven’t a clue how much money he got for it or what it was actually worth, I just remember that it was a pretty red guitar.

So why is that red guitar so important? I’ll explain.

Dad loved music too. He loved those groups we used to sing to, and when we would sing to those records, dad was there singing along, or more often just listening to the voices of his children. He would sing songs to us at bedtime when we were little kids. One favorite was “The Fox”, another was a pirate shanty called “The Keeper of the Eddiestone Light”. Dad was always curious about or bands, and was proud of his musician sons and daughters. But he never played. He never had time, what with raising six kids and all. I didn’t think much about the guitar at the time, but later it became a symbol of sacrifice, a concept you only really understand when you become an adult. I never asked him about the guitar or why he sold it, but it came to represent the choices we make in life, to give up one thing for something more important – family.

One the day of his passing, during the last fading hours of his life, Debbie, Mary Beth and I sat in Dad’s hospice room for some time, singing and harmonizing to songs from the first two Simon and Garfunkel albums. MB and I even included made up and joke lyrics – “fools said I you do not know, silence like a casserole (instead of cancer grows)”, “and words, like silent raindrops fell, GO TO HELL”. We laughed and cried. Dad was at that point a shell. Anyone who has been through the death watch of a loved one knows this final state; where most of the organs have stopped working, but the clock that controls the breathing reflex and the heart has not quite wound down. The man we knew as our father was already gone. But if some part of him was still there in those last moments of the man, Dad would have been thoroughly amused.

I love you Dad.

PS. In the song “Eddiestone Light”, there is a lyric about the mother sitting on a buoy. Well, when we were kids, we didn’t know there was a floaty thing called a buoy, so we could never understand why the mother would sit on a boy. Poor kid! He’ll drown!! What a horrible woman!!!