Roy Rogers is riding tonight

The first guitar I ever received was in 1964.
It was Christmas and I was five years old.
It was one of those Roy Rogers guitars made out of some unknown kind of wood with shitty nylon strings.
It came with a rope strap as well which gave me some pretty serious neck burns after wearing the guitar for more than 5 minutes and trying to act like Elvis Presley.
The guitar itself didn’t last very long though because supposedly they don’t like being stepped on or dropped.
I ended up doing one or the other. Ooops.
I destroyed the thing.
I‘m thinking it must have sounded like crap even though I didn‘t even play guitar back then.
It was six or seven years later that a song on the radio would ultimately change my pre-pubescent musical life.
I can remember the first time I heard, Vincent, by Don McLean and how I heard every single note he played on his guitar.
I was going to teach myself how to play that song no matter how hard I tried.
Problem was, I had no guitar.
The internet now has webpages of the actual tablature. Click here.
But Sears & Roebucks sold guitars at the time (a scary proposition, knowing what I know now) and had one for 30 bucks, and I loved everything about it . . .  well, from what I could see in the catalog anyway.
It looked just like the guitar that McLean actually played (in my mind) though it wasn’t even close.
Sometimes if you wish hard enough the universe co-operates.
And co-operate it did.
New England was covered in 8″ of snow the very next morning and I had no school.
I put on my snow boots, grabbed a shovel and entered the working world of shoveling driveways.
Jesus Krispies, it was hard work.
Shoveling driveways didn’t pay too well either, maybe four or five bucks per.
Looking back on it, I should have made more, for cripes sake.
Maybe the neighbors were just cheap bastards, I don’t know.
I shoveled all morning and went home at noon to eat lunch before heading back out for the afternoon.
By the time the sun was dripping into the lavender and salmon horizon, I trudged back home, physically and mentally beat.
It felt like I’d shoveled 500 driveways when in reality I probably shoveled 6.
I sat in the dining room and counted my money.

“27 bucks?”  I muttered.

I hung my head in disgust and sheer exhaustion.
My shoulders hurt.
And my feet were wet.
I hate wet feet.

“That’s great, Michael! How much is the guitar?” My mother asked.

“Thirty, I’m almost there,” I said, still pissed.

A few days later she took me to Sears & Roebucks and paid the balance I couldn’t afford.
The one thing I’ll always remember about my mother was her uncanny understanding of my intense love for music.
Little did she know she’d lit a fire that still glows, though not as brightly as when I was 13, but it’s still there burning inside me.
Her lasting gift to me, perhaps.
If you’re curious, I did learn Vincent, note by blessed note and can still play it to this day.
I went through two 45’s to learn it but it’s amazing how much it taught my ears.
Maybe it’s not so ironic why the starry, starry night sky reminds me so much of my mother.
And sorry about the mishap with my Roy Rogers guitar, Mom.
I really didn’t mean to do it . . .

*On a more personal note, while writing this story, I was trying hard to think of what brand the guitar was and as I listened to my Ipod Nano (thanks, M) ‘Harmony’ by Elton John came on.
Everything clicked.
The guitar I got was a ‘Harmony’.
Truth.
Roy Rogers is riding tonight . . .

4 Comments

  • I love these posts about your Mum..maybe it’s because it makes me think about mine…because I can hear you..because I know how much you miss her every single day?
    I always know when it’s within 5 -6 weeks of both our Mum’s birthdays, because I visit and find posts such as these….
    And they always make me smile
    :)
    Why is it that childhood memories are always the sweetest?

  • I love this story for so many reasons. Nothing better than Moms and guitars in my book. Great post M.
    kim

  • bought my first guitar at 14 with babysitting money… Oh, and the REASON i taught myself to play at 12? Vincent. Played it over and over until my fingers bled. First song i learned, and i still cry every single time i play it… wow… great story…

  • My first guitar was a Gibson, and I was in high school way back then.
    The strings were so tight that my fingers bled.
    And do you know what song I first play on my guitar?
    Vincent.
    It has a slow strum and easier chords at that.

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