T. S. Elliot (A.K.A. The Worrier )
Sitting atop the Butler's table.
When I was around eight, my sister decided it was time I decided on an instrument to play and land on it, instead of constantly sneaking her guitar out of her room, and to the third floor of the barn to practice on.
Much to my mother and sister's surprise, I chose the trumpet.
A Little Worse For The Wear
My father was the only one who immediately understood. Being children of older parents, my sister and I had attended more funerals in our young lives than most would before turning forty. At one in particular, my mother, sister and I sat in varnished pews, under enormous, ornately carved arches, sun casting all hues of the rainbow through the stained glass windows, while the priest finished his sermon. After blessing the draped casket, a soft, clear voice resonated throughout the church with the beginnings of Ave Maria. I was stunned as a tear dripped from my eye. I glanced over to find my mother and sister fishing through their purses for tissues. My sister answered the confused look on my face by stating, " It's the music."
Later I attended more than a few military funerals with my father. He would stand at attention in his uniform during the twenty-one gun salute. Then slowly, always perfectly off in the distance, Taps would begin to play, and tears would always flow from maintained, respectful expressions.
I had planned on entering the military. I wanted to be the one who played Taps. It was such an emotionally fitting send-off and I wanted to be part of it. If one learned the trumpet, the bugle came naturally ( it's true ).
My mother and sister had been positive I would select the banjo because my grandfather had taught me cords before he left us for that great Bluegrass Band in the sky. He had learned from his mother.
As a toddler, my grandfather would sit amongst wooden bushel baskets of ironing, while his mother stood at the fabric-covered, wooden ironing board. Nearby, a simple pine table held the electric hot plate that served to heat the cast iron 'laundry press.'
When the iron became too cold, no longer providing the knife-like edges demanded of it, she'd place the iron on the hot plate, and reach behind the dining room door for her banjo. She would sit on the old braided rug with my grandfather, and it was here the content of her perfectly played notes not only shaped his mind and temperment, but his soul.
Alone, that banjo was a thing of beauty. When the sun streamed through the windows catching its highly varnished black finish and sterling silver hardware, it was music for the eyes. There would be a flash of silver, as pinks and light blues reflected from the mother-of-pearl insets giving it a heavenly appearance before a single note was played.
George MacComber Gifford
His mother would sing bluegrass songs for him, teaching him the words as well as the cords necessary to play them. Often it was late in the day, and in the midst of a musical interlude they would miss the shuffle of heavy work boots on the sidewalk outside. They wouldn't hear the soft closure of the pantry door, never feel the presence of my grandfather's father until a pure, clear tenor issued forth from the kitchen, joining in the song of the moment. Work boots left behind in the pantry, he'd pad into the dining room in heavy work socks, and cuddle up to his wife and son on the braided rug to sing until dinner time. It would be the music that floated from their home the neighbors would recall most fondly.
It was on that same braided rug my grandfather had begun to teach me to play that gorgeous banjo.
Later in life I took up the banjo again. I worked an overtime shift to buy my first. It looked nothing like my grandfather's, but the sounds it made were just as fine.
The Old Kent
Even much later, after arthritis began to cripple my fingers so badly I could no longer push hard enough on the neck of the banjo to maintain a cord, I bought the old Kent. It had a higher lift on the strings which I thought might help.
Last week while watching the news, I heard a strong, clear note from a banjo string. Remembering my banjos were in the downstairs hallway, I quickly dismissed a haunting and went down to investigate. On the way down the stairs another deliberate note followed the first.
What I found was Elliot, sitting directly to the left of the old Kent, staring intently, and while I rounded the banister at the bottom of the stairs, he lifted his paw and strummed another note. I was too enchanted to run and get the camera. It wasn't until his claws began breaking strings that were snapping and hitting him in the face did he stop playing music. You may notice in the above photo there is only one string left. Strings can be replaced. A cat's - or a child's for that matter - interest in music cannot be replaced, once discouraged.
I have since learned to play this.
It Is Played With A Bow
It was made by a man who lived across the street from me a few years back. His little factory had specialized in handmade dulcimers, as well as various other similar instruments for years. When his wife died, he sold his factory. Huge semi's came and loaded all the machinery onto flatbeds and headed out to some place in Indiana. What they left behind was sold at a tag sale. I bought this for five dollars. It is signed and dated on the inside.
I do recall leaving the case open for one reason or another at one time, only to return and find a string snapped. I chaulked it up to age, but now, I think it may have had something to do with a certain orange musician who simply cannot resist the lure of musical strings...