Out of nowhere - perhaps a coyote may have broken wind a half-mile or so away -or perhaps a Slim-Jim wrapper rustling out of control in the 5 mph wind out by the highway - something huge heralding either imminent danger or potential dinner, happened right outside the trailer -and my two canine killers come to life in an explosion of electric invigorated life; joyful eager ear flapping, insistent frantic barking, and vigorous tail-thumping - like their switch got flipped from "off" straight to "puree". I stand amazed.
I wonder if that's what I look like when I've had too many Fireballs and I'm trying to get lucky?
I was busy in my childhood getting my PhD in "how shit works". I spent a lot of time with the radio and a lot of time in front of the bathroom mirror. If I wore Grandpas old Sunglasses, and put a handful of Brylcreem in my hair - I was Roy Orbison. If I put shoe polish on my hands and face along with the sunglasses - I was Ray Charles. If I put the shoe polish on my shirt and washed my face off, ditched the glasses and reloaded on Brylcreem - I got a whippin', but I was Johnny Cash. There were so many directions for a budding talent to go in.
Mom had a record player in a suitcase with a flip-top lid and Stereophonic sound - along with a massive collection of .45s that filled 3 apple boxes covering the entire back seat of a 1962 Fairlane. This car would today house a family of 8. Mom loved her Rock & Roll but she flat worshipped Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Dave Dudley, Johnny Horton, Lorretta Lynn, etc. - she was a country, country girl .
I started shining shoes in the bars and in front of the drugstore in Sidney when I was about 10. .A quarter a pop. I always got good tips and as soon as I got my first $30, I bought my own record player.
My next $30 (after I spent $7 at the Ben Franklin lunch counter on milkshakes for my best pals Jimmy Stark and Henry Scheinholz) all went to the jewelry store next to Western Auto. They sold guitars in a little corner, clear at the back of the store.
I put $5 down and every Saturday for the next 3 weeks I took my shoeshine money down and plunked it down on that guitar. The day I paid of that $30 I walked past those cases full of diamond rings like they were nothin'. Like I had something in my hands exponentially more valuable than paltry gems.
With Henry and Jimmy right beside me, me in the middle ,my instrument firmly in grasp, we were ruling the street that day. I was waving my future sucess, like it was Excalibur. Most of the locals knew me, and most had heard either the "drank turpentine" or the "head injury" rumors - no one really took my behavior as unusual, just a little sad.
We all 3 went our separate ways and headed home for supper later that afternoon. As I carried my new treasure in one hand and my shoe-shine box in the other, through our front door that evening' - I felt the confident self-assuredness of a man who knows he is on the cusp of greatness.
After picking at a too-large serving of tuna noodle casserole for 15 agonizingly long minutes, and after successfully dumping my mandatory serving of green beans behind the heat register (a whipping offense) without detection, so as to produce the required "clean" plate , I was released from the table to pursue my budding music career.
I sat on the sofa all that evening with my new guitar. At first in complete bliss, but within minutes - breathing hard through gritted teeth and growing more and more frustrated with each squawk and thud; the wisdom of my purchase beginning to come into question.
I knew what it was supposed to sound like and what I had didn't sound anything like that. All of a sudden that fretboard now seemed to be about 3 blocks wide.I tried pressing the strings down like Uncle Francis did but I wasn't having any luck at all. . I was squeezing so hard it nearly sliced my fingers in two but it still just made a thud. and made my left hand hurt like the dickens!!!. I tried turning the tuning pegs a few revolutions to see if that helped but it just made it worse.
I was beside myself with frustration. By the time Mom whistled up bedtime I was in tears and mad as a wet hen. I could'a bought 10 hot wheels and the whole Hot Wheels Starter Track Kit for $30. I wanted to burn that damn guitar.
I went to sleep that night rubbing the ends of my fingers and trying to calculate how many loafers I would
I couldn't go back uptown until Saturday so I was stuck with the guitar until at least then. Maybe I could get my money back
In the meantime a friend of my Mom's who was also a DJ at KSID - I don't even remember his name - was at our house visiting, a day or so later. He picked up my little guitar from the couch and - miracle of miracles - HE TUNED IT!!! Wow!!!! Completely different ballgame.
He played pretty well as I recall. Well enough for my developing brain to fire a fresh volley of "renewed-optimism" endorphins back and forth across it's synapses. Perhaps I could make this work after all.
For some odd reason, even as a child, even with mountains of evidence to the contrary, - I just assumed that I was at least as smart and usually quite a bit smarter than anybody on legs. I may have miscalculated my position.
I could wiggle my ass like Elvis. I did it in the living room all the time. I could sure as hell holler like little Richard. I did it every time I got the belt. This guitar was all I needed and we were off to the races.
All I had to do was figure out how to operate that damn guitar.The rest was gonna be easy....I just knew it.
We were always hand-to-mouth back then, and we ate a lot of macaroni and hot dogs. A couple days after her friend had renewed my fervor by tuning and actually playing my new guitar, She surprised me.
she came home from work in her white waitress uniform, big ketchup and hamburger grease splotches all over it, and hollered me out of my room. "JOHN ANTHONY!!!!! GET IN HERE....NOW!!!!"
I wasn't sure what I might have done wrong since morning. I couldn't remember anything real bad since the last time I got paddled.It took a couple swallowed breaths for me to decipher that the holler wasn't a "gonna whip your butt" holler - it was a "This is gonna be good" holler. Whenever she called me by my middle name it was a toss-up.
I strutted out, fearless. There was a large white Ben Franklin sack on the kitchen table. It was stapled shut with the employee 10% discount receipt (blue) attached to it, and when I looked up at her she just smiled past a big cloud of cigarette smoke, and pointed at it non-chalantly with her left hand - a lip-sticked Kool stuck between her detergent-reddened fingers. "Open it" she winked.
I thought it might have been a couple Classics Illustrated comics - she'd do that some times.
I tore open the sack and produced "Mel Bay" Vol's 1 & 2- Easy Guitar for Beginners. These books had pictures.They showed you where to put my fingers. This was HUGE!!!! I really could figure this out. I just knew it, and now, so did my Mom.
She didn't hound me at all about the guitar books - she'd just ask once in awhile. She'd lie and tell me things sounded "better" even when they didn't. She put up with the thuds and the squawks and the pops. Later she tolerated my drumsticks pounding on everything in sight. A few years later, when I was 14 and just starting to gig for money, she would drive me to my gigs with a local country band.
Mom sacrificed a lot, and fought through her own mountains of misery just to raise me. I've been blessed to do and see alot of things in the years since that old guitar from the jewelry store, just because of those sacrifices. It's been nothing short of wonderful, and I appreciate every minute of this life absolutely.
I am grateful beyond measure for all of it. That said: I'd give every bit of it back right now if, for just a minute, I could just hold my mother, Patsy Anne Call; and that old Stella guitar - just one more time. Kiss her warm wrinkled cheek and tell her Thank You - sing her to sleep one more time.
"Don't take any wooden nickels"