Happy Fat Tuesday ya'all! Hope yours was as happy as mine. Starting tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, the Lent season is upon us. Now everyone does something a little different for this period of time that will end on Easter. Many people use this time to pause and reflect on their faith. You've probably heard of people trying to give up one thing or another because of Lent. Phooey! Before I figured out what it was *really* all about, I'd been guilty of that sort of Lenten-limp too. One year, I really thought that my incredibly honed sarcastic bitterness would be a noble sacrifice. The next year I swore off being cynical. The very next year, still having crawled no closer to enlightenment, I decided to go for the spiritual double-dip and give up both bitterness and cynicism - at the same time! In the six excruciatingly LONG weeks of silence that followed ... I had time to rethink my whole outlook on the faith. I had time to do service projects for people who really needed help. I even had time to put others first, and it changed my life.
So at our last writers' group meeting, a friend asked what I was doing for Lent this year. I had a hard time answering because I hadn't worked out the details for myself yet. It takes a little lead in to explain it, and this is the first time that I've ever told anyone ahead of time, about what Lent means to me. Because you asked Katie, here it is.
About eight years ago now, one of my brothers died. I'm the oldest of six and Jeff was the third. We were close and did a lot of things together growing up. He was a wild one with fire engine red hair. He was almost always in some sort of trouble. He liked sports and excelled at football and track. He eventually got a scholarship and played football at University of Kansas (when they were really, really bad). He finally found a very good woman in the Houston area and married her. They had four children. She was still pregnant with the fourth when he died.
During High School, we had a band. I think everyone did back then. It was Jeff and I, a neighbor named Dave, and a drummer named Weeds (for reasons I can't possibly fathom). Our band played mostly for petty cash, beer, girls and fun. The biggest crowd we ever played to was about sixty people and we brought the house down with a mix of covers that featured some old Deep Purple tunes. I still remember the songs we played that evening. They were mostly three chord wonders, but a few were more complicated. It was a lot of fun.
Later, when Jeff moved to Houston, I'd travel from central Oklahoma down to Houston as often as I could. He had a job that paid pretty good money and gave him the run of a very big, but mostly empty warehouse where they fixed vending machines by day and stored candy and capsules of toys for the route men. Jeff saved up and bought a beautiful Ibanez guitar and a couple of new pedals. After closing time, we'd bring out of guitars and amps and play whatever we wanted just as loud as we wanted. I remember one night after a Ronnie James Dio concert we sat in that garage for hours until we had figured out "Holy Diver" and "Rainbow in the Dark". After Jeff got a route of his own, we'd still get together and play even though that meant going all the way to Atlanta, Georgia, to do it. That was how I remembered playing guitar. It was a lot of fun. When Jeff died, I put the old Fender Stratocaster case into the closet and haven't been able to pick it up since.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine named Walt, said that he'd heard from some buddies at work that I played guitar. He said that he had bought a DVD and was learning how to play. He wondered if I would come over and play sometime. I told him no right away. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about Jeff. I came to realize how much Jeff's death effected me. It's effected my faith in a way that I've not been able to really overcome. When Walt asked again, I thought that maybe instead of giving up something for Lent, maybe I should be doing something for Lent. Maybe this will help work though things and reconnect me to the faith. That's what I'm hoping anyway. So I said yes.
When I reached for the Strat, I just couldn't do it. So in order to make this happen, I dug my old acoustic out of the closet. It's a 1961 Silvertone.
You're probably thinking that there's nothing special about these old guitars that they sold through Sears, but there really is. They have a soul of their own. Guys like Muddy Waters, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup and even Jimi Hendrix once played an old Silvertone guitar. They were inexpensive, but well built. They have a twangy, bluesy sound. The neck is super comfortable in the hand and they just ring when you run your hand across the strings. Silvertone sold them from 1915 until 1972. I know there are just tons of better guitars out there, but I've always liked this one and its feaux-Western looking case with the printed cowboys and Indians vignettes all over. I know mine is a '61 because the guy I bought it from (back when Jimmy Carter was President) had left in the case an instruction booklet that came with the guitar when his parents bought it for him. He'd penciled in the date March 25, 1961, on the cover. The guitar always had a problem with the low E tuning peg. It was bent when I bought it. So I ordered a set of replacement tuning pegs on eBay and got them installed. Of course the strings were dead after all these years, so I went to the store to buy a new set today. I used to love my old Ernie Ball strings, but the guy at the store said that the DRs were very popular now. I just had to get a pack of red and white OU picks also. I'll string it up tomorrow after our writers group meeting and see how it sounds. More on that later.