My First Guitar

When I received my first guitar, I finally found something that I could excel with.

I suppose that for the first decade of my conscious life, I merely observed other people do things that they truly enjoyed. My poor vision and depth perception made catching a football or baseball a terrifying ordeal, much to the annoyance of my older brother. My lack of enthusiasm for hunting and fishing puzzled my father. My inclination toward music, but lack of motivation to practice piano perplexed my mother, and frustrated my piano instructors-Yvonne Clinkscales and Pam Roberts. When I received my first guitar, I finally found something that I could excel with.

After two years of playing the broom, I signed up for guitar class at school which finally convinced my parents to buy me a guitar. My Dad told Mom to drive me to Mars Music in Homewood, AL, which was about the same as driving to Mars itself as far as I knew. 

“What kind of guitar are you looking for?” Mom asked as we sat in the stand still traffic on 280.

“Electric.” I said. This would be like asking a child what flavor ice cream they wanted and getting the response, “Red.”

I was completely unfamiliar with the details of guitars, but that didn’t matter. By some miracle, I had convinced my parents to purchase me a guitar and we were on our way to do just that. The people at Mars would know all about guitars.

We got to Mars Music despite the traffic. I had never been in a music store before, and I was mesmerized. As we walked through the door it was like walking into a concert through backstage. The lights were dim in the building save for spotlights on a floor to ceiling wall full of guitars. There was a new exciting smell of fog machines and rented sound equipment. I walked over to the guitar wall and just stared. Now I knew how my brother felt when we went to the sporting goods store and he would just stare at the hunting rifles. This was where I belonged, and I didn’t want to let this feeling go away.

I was still standing there when mom walked up behind me with a sales associate.

“So y’all are looking for a guitar?” He asked. 

“Electric.” I said, still looking at the wall of shiny guitars.

“Let me show you what I recommend for beginners.” He walked us over to the starter packs and point out the Squier Strat. We looked at it. 

“This is everything you need. Rock’n Roll in a box.” He said cheerfully. 

We dug the guitar out of the box and I gave it a couple awkward strums. It felt right in my hands. 

I still had to learn to play it, but having that guitar was a turning point in my life. It did wonders for my self esteem. Until my parents bought me a guitar, I had never really fit anything else I had tried. It took them going out of their way to help me find my way. After all these years, I still have that same guitar. I leave it out in the living room so my son can pick it up and play whenever he feels like it. It would be nice to see him learn how to play, but I’m ok if he doesn’t. I hope that I can find where he fits, even if it means taking him to someone who can steer him in the right direction.  

Bicycles

I will say that I do not recommend taking a bicycle on the railroad tracks.

You probably remember when you first learned to ride your bike. Maybe your Dad had been running behind you, holding on to the banana seat, and you looked back to see that he was standing twenty feet back with his hands on his hips grinning at you. You panic and then crash. This is repeated until you don’t crash, and that’s how a lot of people learn to ride their bike. Others never started out with training wheels, and were told to just go ride it. My Uncle Tony taught me to ride without training wheels at Gram’s house. It was a faded blue bike with gummy white rubber grips on the handle bars that left a tacky feeling on your hands. He was running behind me as I peddled, until he wasn’t, and I kept right on going. I’ve only met a couple adults who never learned to ride a bicycle. It’s difficult to imagine childhood without bicycles.

It seems like I wore out and outgrew bikes like I outgrew shoes. It probably didn’t help that we left our bikes laying in the yard to get rained on. My Dad would just shake his head when he saw this. When you got a brand new bicycle for Christmas it was easy to haul it up onto the porch and use the kickstand, but the new wore off pretty quickly after one good winter mud puddle. It never occurred to me to clean my bikes. The only maintenance I ever thought about was air in the tires and oil on the chain. Dad would catch the spent motor oil in an old kitchen pot with only one handle whenever we changed the oil in the family vehicles. After crawling out from underneath the truck or van, he would tell us to fetch our bikes. He flipped the bikes over and we would work the pedals as he poured the gritty black oil over the moving chain. You could feel the whole drive train working more smoothly as the lubrication was applied. This usually made a glorious oily mess as much of the oil splattered all over the rest of the bike. We didn’t mind though.

I had a bicycle with cement tires. It was already old when I got it as it refused to be worn out. Not many people I’ve talked to have heard of cement tires. There is a reason cement tires never caught on. Imagine riding on a pothole riddled road in a car without shocks at full speed. That almost gives you the same feeling as riding that bike.

Not content with standard issue, every boy in our neighborhood felt the need to modify his bicycle. The junkyard of worn out bikes at each house usually supplied us with adequate parts. Sometimes, probably most times, the modification did not make the bike any easier to ride or better. It was the feeling of seeing an idea come to life that gave us satisfaction. Adam Bryant put a go cart steering wheel on his BMX style bike. It was the hardest thing in the world to steer. Zach and I put bicycle tires on a scooter. It went a lot faster, but the bigger tires raised the platform to an uncomfortable height for anyone who actually wanted to reach down with a foot to scoot. Jared and Creed put roller blade wheels on a pair of two-by-four studs and pulled them behind their bikes. I’m not sure why, and when I talked to Creed the other day, he still wasn’t sure why. But they did it, and when they rolled up into our yard each with a makeshift trailer rattling behind them, their face shown with pride because of their ingenuity, and they wanted to share their success with us.

I will say that I do not recommend taking a bicycle on the railroad tracks.

We rode bikes everyday until one of us got a car, and our bikes sat out in the rain and rusted until one day a man that Dad knew came and picked them up for scrap metal. We didn’t realize it at the time but as I watched him drive away a chapter closed in my life.

To combat the sedentary nature of my desk job, I recently purchased a proper adult bicycle. I’ve ridden 225 miles since I started three months ago. The changing temperatures that you feel as you ride through the shade and the hollows of Alabama takes me back to being a child on a bicycle. Having a wreck on a bike as an adult however, is a completely different experience.

I’ve tried sporadically over the last year to teach Wesley how to ride his bicycle without training wheels. At times I’ve felt like a failure as a Dad because I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to devote to this task. Other times I felt like he almost had it, but he stopped short. A few days ago while I was at work, he got on his old smaller bike, and told his mom, “I’m going to practice riding my bike without training wheels.” Without any help on that particular day, he figured out how to ride his bicycle.

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The Tinker Suit

We stopped at Smith’s and got some of that orange peanut candy that tastes like rubber.

I was two years old when Brant Douglas Reynolds, my Mom’s dad, died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day in 1989. My memories of him are few and a little vague. I remember riding in the back of his 1968 Ford Ranger that rotted to the ground from neglect after his death. I remember him bringing me Oreo cookies. I remember going to the cow sale with him. We stopped at Smith’s and got some of that orange peanut candy that tastes like rubber. I remember going into his work shed and seeing all of his power tools.  I remember his blue tractor. And I remember being at his viewing after he died. “Dan Dan is asleep.” I said to Mom as she held me on her hip so that I could peer into his casket.

Years later as a teenager, I changed the strings on his 1972 Martin D-18. Gram had bought it new for him from Fretted Instruments with the income tax return that year. You’d have thought that you bought him a brand new pickup truck. I could tell that he cared for the guitar because he had looped the strings through the hole in the tuning peg twice before winding it, a step that I always skip because it takes longer and isn’t really necessary, but it looks nice. That extra step said something about the thoroughness of his personality, as I took those old strings off it was almost like he was talking to me. I think he’d be happy to know that I play guitar, but he’d be happier to know that I preach the same Gospel that he and the Apostle Peter preached.

I heard that he had a 1959 Les Paul in the 1960’s. The Holy Grail of guitars. He had to trade it for a car. I’d like to at least see a picture of that guitar. Perhaps it wasn’t a 1959, and it’s better to just remember it that way. I use this story to convince my wife to let me have multiple guitars, I hope it pays off one day.

I don’t know how well he played guitar, or sang. I  don’t remember. I vaguely remember him at church preaching and playing guitar. But you do a lot of sleeping at church when you’re two years old, so these memories are sort of dreamy. He was taken away early in my life and looking back I can see how his absence impacted me. I’m sure things would have been different if he were still alive today, I can’t say that they would be better. Or worse. But they’d be different. 

Rev. Roger Lewis, a close friend to “Tinker” as my grandfather was known, was traveling for Thanksgiving when he heard news of my Tinker’s death. He didn’t have a suit with him and felt terrible about going to the viewing in casual clothes. Til this day, he keeps a suit of dress clothes in his vehicle whenever he is going out of town overnight, just in case of an emergency. He calls it his Tinker Suit. I hope that it doesn’t get much use.