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A Lesson in Open Tunings

December 31, 2010

Stringed instruments have always held a soft spot in my heart. I fumble at proficiency and, over time, they have revealed many secrets that give me great pleasure. This Christmas I discovered another and I’ll share it with you.

Just tune up and play your best ... That's all that really matters.

I’m still trying to recover, financially and medically, from the havoc that Lyme Disease and the collapse of the financial markets wreaked on my life. With help from friends, good doctors and (most importantly, my dear sister) I’m almost back in the game of life. But this year, my resources were not what they’d been in years gone by. I spent some meager funds on presents hand-made by a lady with Lyme Disease for my two daughters, re-gifted a treasured jazz CD to my son-in-law and made luscious cookies for everyone else. It felt like Christmas was out of tune.

Arriving at my sister’s house on Christmas Day, I was surrounded by the arms and sweet squeals of a dozen or more nieces, nephews and even grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

“It’s Uncle Cris! And he brought his guitar!” they chimed. Music to charm the anxious beasts.

A beautifully adorned pine stood proudly in my sister’s living room, surrounded by a sea of presents wrapped in gilded paper and fanciful ribbons. A table for 15 or 20 (depending on who showed up) was set in Victorian splendor overflowing with Yuletide fare.

My contribution to the festivities was a plate of cookies.

“A bit of a sour note,” I thought to myself.

Following the meal, the assembled family gathered round the tree. My sister looked dead at me and said, “You’ll need to sit down for this.”

“Oh, dear,” I whispered to her. “Please, no, I have nothing to give you …” But she stopped me with a finger to her lips.

I opened the rather large package with a mixture of tears and dread. Inside was a banjo. It was old, in disarray and virtually unplayable – yet it was a banjo. Something I’d always wanted but never acquired for myself. A banjo she’d bought years ago for her husband and which he’d never gotten around to learning. A banjo which had been secreted away in her cellar for 15 years and was now upon my lap, held with great care and abounding love.

With a sheepish grin, I got out my guitar. I played carols for them, orchestrated harmonies among my nieces and nephews and smiled at my sister throughout. When we’d finished the children smiled at me. Something important had happened, but I couldn’t get my arms around it.

That night I returned home as blizzard hit Maine and blew for the next two days. I spent that time before the fireplace disassembling, adjusting and then reassembling my banjo. A re-tensioning of the head, a slight neck adjustment, a new strings and a resetting of the bridged worked wonders. I tuned it to an open G.

I played. It sang.

And in that fleeting instant I knew what had happened at my sister’s house. I was the drummer boy. I had no gifts to bring and yet I’d brought the only gift that really mattered to them. As the Fox told the Little Prince, “That which is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I’m getting back in tune.

I wish for each of you a very Happy New Year, pa rum pum pum pum.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Bev Malona permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:23 pm

    Tres, tres bon!

  2. Bev Malona permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:24 pm

    Great story!

  3. Your Mom permalink
    December 31, 2010 5:33 pm

    Cris, I’ve just finished reading your entry. That is PROFOUND. We are all so proud of you and love you so much. Thanks for sharing with us. XOXOXO Mom

  4. December 31, 2010 8:45 pm

    Cris, this is the magic that makes Christmas and you are truly a part of it. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart!

  5. little sister permalink
    December 31, 2010 10:32 pm

    where your heart is, there your treasure will be found.xoxoxo

  6. asnevitt permalink
    December 31, 2010 11:21 pm

    such a beautiful story. thank you for sharing. it is filled with a spirit of light breaking through the darkness.

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