If you’re a college student (especially from Clemson), and you’ve just dropped by this blog, let me be clear. I am not old enough to be your mother. If I had married right out of high school and then had a baby, a year later (and only in that order), my child would be 14 now. I don’t need to be humored because of my “advanced age”, because I’m actually about the same age as the graduate students (or their average age, as there’s quite a range of them). And at least one of the Clemson professors knew me when I was little, so I’m actually closer to your age bracket than his.
If you’ve been through my workplace, you will notice that my co-workers call everybody “sweetie” and “baby”, while I either call you “sir”, “ma’am”, or I address you by name (I think I know about 100 of your names). That’s because they’re old enough to be your parent (and therefore, they think of you as kids), while I only use pet names for children under the age of 10 (whom I consider to be kids), my best friends, and my baby brother (who’s 22). I call him “buddy” and “squirt”, but he’s the only one that receives that distinct honor.
A student came through the cafe, this afternoon, carrying a guitar case. Since some other college guitarists have dropped some guitar picks on our floor, recently, I’ve been hoping to offer them to another guitarist who could use them. He was happy to take the donation and stick them in his wallet. Of course, this is why we find them on the floor, because guys always seem to carry them in their wallets, and they fall out when they’re getting their money out. I mentioned this to the student, and then told him that I kept mine in a pocket of my music book.
“Oh, you play an instrument?” he asked me. Hang on, how many instruments use guitar picks, I wondered? Yes, I play guitar… and piano. I didn’t mention the violin, since I haven’t played it since high school. Then I said that I played well enough to “play around the campfire”. I thought that implied some skill, without being too puffed up about it. The response was, “It’s never too late to learn to play and pick up a new skill!”, spoken in a bright and cheery voice. I think I repeated a variation of my campfire comment, slightly more emphatic about it. “That’s great, learn some scales, try some new things!”, he tells me.
I think I stood there, gaping after him. Or maybe I just thought about gaping. I felt like he’d just patted me on the back, encouraging “grandma” to get out and take up a hobby. I still can’t quite figure out if my intelligence, my age, or my guitar skills got insulted. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the funny side of it, right away, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to tell that kid a few things. : ) Wait, did I just defeat the point of my thesis, by calling him a kid? Hmmm… at least I didn’t call him “sweetie”…
The first time I picked up a guitar, I was 18 years old. That means I’ve been playing for about 14 years now. I spent my teen years collecting Bible camp songs, hoping to learn to play them, someday. Originally, I borrowed my older brother’s guitar (which I don’t think he knows how to play, still), but then my dad brought one home from Indonesia for me. It’s just a Yamaha, but it’s done good by me, all these years. I bought a book of chords, which I still have, and worked my way through my song book, starting with the chords G and C (playing “The Old Rugged Cross”, very slowly). In recent years, I still get tripped up by F#m, if I haven’t practiced enough. That should tell any really good guitarist what my actual skill level is.
Playing that guitar… like with a bicycle, you never forget how, no matter how little you do it. I don’t play very often, but it always comes back to me. My guitar-playing calluses come and go, as I play only a couple of times every year. I rarely wear nail polish and keep my nails short, because sure enough, if they get long, then I’ll want to play. Then I have to cut them back off again, and you can’t have long nails on one hand and short on the other. Alright, I know I can, but I don’t want to, ok?
I can pinpoint when I started playing my guitar because I have some wonderful memories of my cousin and I playing our guitars together (we learned together, for a time) for my grandpa, when he had cancer. Which means we had been playing long enough to be decent, by early 2000. There’s a song called “Only You”, which maybe you’ve sung at Bible Camp, and it has an optional chorus that goes with it called “It’s Amazing”. Grandpa interrupted our singing to ask us what “a-may-HAY-zing” was, because that’s how we always made it sound, when we sang it. I still have trouble singing that song without thinking about my wonderful grandpa.
My guitar strap… I don’t remember where I got it from, but it’s quite decorative, and I was proud to have such a colorful one. Not long after I got it, the cord that ties it to the guitar broke, but I was determined to keep that beautiful strap on my Yamaha. So, I bought some black shoelaces, braided them together, and tied that strap back on. And it’s never broken since.
When I was in Australia, I hadn’t touched a guitar in months, but when some friends and I had a conference at the beach, the guys brought their guitars. I couldn’t resist borrowing one, and at first, though I had forgotten how to play, until he explained that it was a classical guitar, with a wider neck. That was HARD to play! Then we switched guitars, and I was home free.
Once I was back in the States, at my first Seabrook conference, I didn’t bring my guitar, and we didn’t have a campfire. It was the first time in years that I hadn’t brought my guitar with me. I wasn’t sure I could or should or would play, when I got there. I hadn’t practiced, hadn’t played in months. In November, it happened again, but we DID have a campfire and it was very cold outside. I borrowed my friend’s guitar, shivered in my seat, while my friend held the flashlight so I could see my music, and I played cold turkey. And yes, since I wasn’t close enough to the fire to be really warm, you can take that description both ways. I was SO cold, and oh, my poor fingers hurt… but they knew what to do.
At the moment, my guitar case is collecting dust bunnies once more, but as May gets closer, I think I’d better get it out and practice some, so my fingers can adjust. I will never be able to play by ear, or play scales, and I may always have my issues with F#m, but I know what my guitar skills are for. They’re to be used when a group of fellow Christians and I gather around a campfire and want to praise the Lord. Then, with the occasional accompaniment (they do still request sons that I don’t have music for or can’t play, yet), we can sing our hearts out.
So, the next time a student seemingly “insults” my intelligence, age, or guitar skills, I’ll still have my inner chuckle over it. But I’ll probably still want to straighten them out (do you ever stop wanting to straighten out those that are younger than you?)… and resist, valiantly. It’s probably the fault of my work shirt, anyway. Guaranteed to add 10 years to the wearer, I promise you.