My dad owned an old Gibson acoustic guitar. He had it as far back as I can remember. I used to lay it on my lap, when I was like four, and slide my fingernails on the strings. I always liked the way it sounded, sliding up the neck. I realize now that's where my bottleneck guitar playing started.
He used to sing old cowboy songs. "Streets of Laredo". "Red River
Valley". Stuff like that. He also played some pretty mean boogie woogie piano. My older sisters had a vocal trio. I grew up surrounded by live music.
After we moved from the Blanco Basin to Albuquerque, I don't remember seeing that old Gibson any more. So I think he must have left it there, or sold it. Or something. He'd had a concussion when I was six... got thrown off a horse and banged the back of his head on a river rock. The concussion prohibited his corpus collosum (which is responsible for the communication between the two sides of the brain), from functioning properly. So his rational brain and his intuitive brain miscommunicated with each other. He learned to adapt. Somewhat. But it made for some pretty wacky decisions.
He was a big man, and a brilliant man, with an ego to match, and nobody argued with him. Especially my mom, or the children. And any relatives or in-laws who dared question his judgment seemed to just disappear from our lives. The exception to that was my paternal grandmother. She insisted he was not the same person he had been before the concussion. She'd say "I wish you'd known your father before". And then her voice would kinda trail off. And she'd repeat it.
In a way, we lost our father when I was six. But he's still alive today. So that's been kind of a weird situation. I mean, the relationship has continued through the years. In some ways, it's been very positive. But to a certain extent... we lost our mother too. Even though she's also alive and well. She continued to cook and clean, etc. But all the emotional support that she had to give went to him. There was none left for the children. So each child went spinning off kilter in their own way. Each of them very smart, very competent... and totally screwed up. Meanwhile the family finances went sliding down a long and slippery slope. And everyone pretended that things were just fine. La di da. Yet we all knew intuitively, or at least I did, that something was totally askew. There was no harm intended by anyone. It's just that, without a doubt and absolutely, in the world as it actually is... shit happens.
My grandmother lived in Albuquerque In a wonderful old adobe style house near the University of New Mexico, on a quiet street shaded by huge sycamores and cottonwoods. Originally from Alabama, she always said she was old as Methuselah. I believe she might have been.
She got up around 4 a.m. each day, made a pot of coffee, lit the first of innumerable Lucky Strikes, and read the newspaper. She loathed Republicans more than could ever be adequately expressed. And although I never heard her blatantly express it, she also believed religion was for morons. She had divorced my grandfather after their three children were grown. He subsequently married his secretary and lived with her in an apartment the rest of his life. My grandmother never remarried, nor had another known boyfriend. Although she did seem to have a certain fondness for the gardener.
Granny (as she was known not only to her grandchildren, but the entire world as far as I knew), often had the radio on. She'd listen while doing crossword puzzles, the omnipresent Lucky burning in the ashtray. She was also an avid sports fan.
When I was in eighth grade we'd rented a house that was pretty close to hers. It was the third house we'd rented since we moved back to Albuquerque in as many years. Each one smaller than the next. At the time, my mother was working as the secretary to the pastor of the First Methodist Church. My dad was unemployed. He was doing the cooking. We were eating mostly Jello and Bisquick.
I used to ride my bicycle (a blue Sting Ray I bought from Tom Chase for five bucks, no questions asked) over to Granny's house on Sundays to watch the National Basketball Association game of the week. It's there I learned about the Bill Russell Celtics, and the Jerry West Lakers, and the Wilt Chamberlain Sixers, and the Big O from Cincinnati. Granny was more of a baseball fan, but she had the portable black and white television set up in the far corner of her large living room, and she'd have cookies and such for me. I'd sit in one of her overstuffed chairs and watch the game.
Granny wasn't the type of person who hovered over or around you. She went about her business, and you'd go about yours. When you'd walk into her house, you were immediately greeted by a thick, low hanging cloud of tobacco smoke. She kept the temperature at about 80 degrees. She always said she had icicles in her veins. I didn't mind. To me, that's just the way some semblance of sanity felt.
My parents got me a Harmony electric guitar and a small amp that Christmas. That was sweet, because they didn't have much money. I learned to play a semi-lame version of "Pipeline" and then put it down. Not long after that it was stolen when thieves broke in. About the same time the sheriff repossessed the car, which was a beat up old Opel Kadett. After which we which we moved to Denver in the dead of night in a green Chrysler New Yorker, which came from somewhere or other, leaving the two oldest siblings in Albuquerque to fend for themselves. Did I mention a lot of this didn't make any sense? But alas, I digress.
The next Saturday, I went with Wendell to see a house concert by John Fullbright, an Oklahoma singer/songwriter/musician in his early twenties. Who looks like he's maybe eighteen. I'd done this little song circle thing with him at Wendell's, so I knew he was good. But that night... well, he was amazing. The musicianship, the stage presence... and lyrical insights that seemed just way out of proportion to his youth. He did two long sets, and the packed house stayed mesmerized. Just a stunningly good performance.
Wendell and I drove back to Stroud. And we're kinda lookin' at each other, goin' did you just witness what I did? It was as if you saw Dylan when he was twenty. Not that he sounded anything like Dylan. But he was that good. And we're babbling on like a couple of school girls. And then we start getting depressed. And we figure the only real option we have is to sell all our gear on E-Bay. Or maybe just shoot ourselves. Or both.
We ran over a dead deer that was in the middle of the lane. No apparent damage done.
So we stop at a convenience mart and get some beer. And we commence to drinking it when we get to Wendell's house. And we find a little herbal supplement layin' around. So we indulge in a bit of that. Pretty soon we're feelin' better about the whole thing. Quite a bit better, actually.
The next morning I wake up with a start. Literally. I pop out of bed, which is not my style. I've got a house concert that night at D'Jeanne (DJ) Newberry Duncan's house in Cushing. Some of the same audience from the night before are gonna be there. I'm nervous about it.
I make a pot of coffee. When Wendell comes stumbling out of his room, I express my trepidation. He's like, hey, man, don't worry about it. You're a journeyman. You're like the old blues cat who comes through town. You'll do fine.
That night the audience is very appreciative. They tip well, and buy some CD's. A good time is had by all. DJ gives me some leftover ribs and trail mix for the road.
The next morning I'm off to Lincoln, Nebraska.