Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Around 1969 or 1970, a locally famous musician (whose name I was never told) commissioned a locally famous guitar-maker named Frankie Richard to make a new Martin-style guitar for him to use on a television show on which he would be appearing. 

It was a beauty, and Frankie put a lot of care into making it, so the sound quality was rich and full. When the man came to pick up the guitar - for which he was prepared to pay the exorbitant sum of $300 (a lot to pay for a guitar in those days and in that area), he looked it all over and noticed what he considered to be a small flaw in the wood that made up the top of the guitar (which would be facing the camera). He refused to pay the money and left Frankie's shop. 

Frankie wanted to recoup his costs for at least the wood he used and when he heard that my dad was looking for a guitar to give to his son, he slashed the price to "at cost" and sold it to his friend for fifty dollars.

Fifty dollars. 

My brother loved that guitar. He played it, wrote songs with it, took it on ministry trips to sing with me and my other brother as a trio - built all kinds of memories with it over the next seven years or so. 

He frequently left it standing by the door of my room - and when he wasn't there, I'd pick it up and play it (instead of the old Barrington my dad had said I could use to learn on because both the boys had learned on it - the one where the frets were about 1/4 inch from the strings: ouch!) I had learned to play when I was about 10 or thereabouts, and to pick when I was about 12 or 13. My style was vastly influenced by my brother's and by the music he listened to: John Denver, James Taylor. 

Sometimes he would catch me playing it and he would get upset with me - rightly so, of course - but the attraction of the instrument and how easy it was to play (compared to "mine") always brought me back to it. 

Fast forward to 1976. Our trio, which we called the Three Grains of Wheat, was scheduled to go and sing at a church in the Maritimes with the New Christian Singers on the upcoming weekend. It was a Thursday, I think. I was rushing around trying to get some chores done, and I opened my bedroom door quickly to go get something . My brother's guitar was leaning against some of my clothes I had hung on hooks that were by the door. The clothes overlapped the door jamb, and when the door opened, the clothes pulled away from the wall, and the guitar started to fall.

You know those moments that seem to happen in slow motion but all too quickly too? that was one of them. I tried to catch the instrument ... but I wasn't quick enough. 

It fell forward ... and hit the floor. Cra-wannnnnngggg! (I'll never forget that sound. It seemed to last forever.)

I gasped, horrified at what I saw happening before my eyes.

The neck of the guitar cracked at its weakest point, a jagged crack back to front at the top of the neck, tilting the head forward and making the guitar useless. 

I felt sick to my stomach. The guilt was overwhelming! I knew I had to tell my brother what had happened, and that it had been my fault because I'd been playing the guitar and I had leaned it against those clothes by the door!  

I told my dad what happened. (I'm not exactly sure why he was home, but it might have been his vacation). He was disappointed but he never said it, nor did he punish me; he could see the guilt of what I had done was punishment enough. He turned his attention to the next pressing question. His son was without a guitar and he had a commitment to play and sing ... in just days. 

In desperation he called Frankie and told him what happened (without going into details, bless him!) He asked him if he had another guitar of the same style already made. Miraculously, Frankie did... and Dad busied himself with arrangements to pay for it. He never told me how much he paid for the replacement. I'm sure it was at least a hundred dollars. 

Meanwhile, I prepared myself to face my brother when he got home from work. My face was tear-streaked and puffy; I had been crying a lot because I was so afraid of his reaction. When he got home, I took him aside and said, "I've got something I need to tell you." He saw the look on my face, the red-rimmed eyes and the puffy cheeks and knew it wasn't good. In tears and sobs, I told him what I had done and I apologized profusely for it. I told him that Dad was going to get him a new one - but that it could never replace the one I'd broken.

His face was a study, a mixture of shock, sadness, fear, and then relief mixed with ... with something else I couldn't figure out. He watched me closely as I struggled for the words to say to him, waited wordlessly for me to finish. Then quietly, he said, "I want to see it."

Feeling miserable, I took him up the stairs and showed him the guitar. He picked it up and looked carefully at the cracked wood, and stroked the loose strings. I knew he was saying goodbye to his friend.  He laid it carefully down and turned to me. This was when he was going to "let me have it." I braced myself. 

His voice was gentle. "It was an accident, Judy. I forgive you."  The tears again started to trickle down my cheeks ... but he wasn't finished. "Why don't we take the guitar to Dad and see if he can do something with it to fix it. If he can, well, I'll have a new guitar anyway - so if he can fix this one, you can have it." 

I blinked, hard, and just stared at him. 

"I'm serious. If Dad can fix it - and he probably can find a way (you know Dad; he can fix anything) - it's yours." 

I burst into tears and hugged him tight. 

He hugged me back. "I love you, Sis,"  he said in my ear.

We were almost ready to go on the weekend two days later, when Dad appeared with the guitar. Flushed with embarrassed pride, he showed it to us. He had glued the crack, held it closed in a vice while the glue dried, and bolted a metal plate in place on both sides to keep the head from slipping in case the glue didn't do the trick. My brother took it from him, ran his fingers over the strings, tuned them, (it sounded wonderful!) and handed the guitar to me. 

It has been in my possession ever since, a constant reminder of the Grace of God - and the power of true forgiveness. 

I have cradled it often in my arms - it has brought me solace and joy, started conversations and cemented friendships. I named it ... Baby.

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