“This is Greg’s voice. I’m here. He’s not. Leave a message.” Beep.
“Hey it’s Josh. Are you up for a road trip? One of the offices needs some updating on their software so I’m heading out day after tomorrow, and I found a guitar shop close enough that it would be a plausible detour. Stop by later if you can.”
Greg came through the door and flopped on the couch. “So, we’re off on another guitar quest. Where’s the pin on the map this time?” he asked.
“Did you say Omaha, as in Nebraska? I wasn’t aware that they were in the digital age.”
“Well maybe it’s about time you visited your old stomping grounds to see for yourself. Besides, there’s a vintage guitar shop in a little town nearby that we should check out. I was reading a local paper online and I saw a ‘closing store’ ad. I guess the guy’s retiring after 30 years. He could have some sweet guitars!”
“Josh, if you didn’t travel for your work would you haunt these old places on your own? Never mind, yeah you would.”
“Yeah, well we both like to play, and appreciate the workmanship of the old timers. It’s not only about finding the holy grail of guitars. Think of it as appreciating history.”
Greg dumped his bag in the trunk, slammed the lid, and slid onto the passenger seat of the old Jaguar. “I don’t know how you manage to keep this thing running,” he said. “They’re usually in the shop more than they are on the road.”
“It’s my good Karma,” said Josh, with a grin.
“Karma, schmarma. Let’s get this bucket of bolts on the move.”
A few small towns later, they were on the usual subject during these trips – The Guitar Story.
“Josh, you don’t even know what it looked like. Too bad you don’t have a picture. And while I love all-things-guitar, and the trips, I sometimes wonder if your Grandpa was just story telling or if that guitar really was stolen from your Great Grandpa.”
“Yeah, I know, but my dad says he remembers hearing about it when he was a little kid. Great Grandpa loved that old Martin and it really was an uproar when it went missing.
I know I’d be fooling myself thinking I’d ever find it – talk about a needle in a haystack. Not to mention how I would even know if I did see it. But I figure hey, it doesn’t hurt to look. Maybe it never did leave the Midwest. Hang on, this might be our turnoff coming up.”
“You know, the towns out here do look pretty exciting what with the cows and chickens wandering around,” said Greg. Dare I ask which lively spot we’re headed for?”
“It’s called Beemer, and it says here town is a ½ mile down this road. Let’s go find a café, grab something to eat, and get acquainted!”
The café sign said breakfast all day. No need to look further. They were greeted with a “howdy boys” and then settled in. Marge, the waitress, was friendly enough and soon they had a 5-way conversation going with her and two locals. Josh told them they were looking for the guitar shop that was closing. “Whitey’s I think it’s called.”
“Yep it’s called Whitey’s,” said Chet, who was wearing overalls and a John Deere cap, “but he ain’t retiring. Old man Whitman’s been advertising that for years to get folks in there. It does bring people from out of town who like those old guitars. He’s got some that famous singers used to own.”
“I go in there sometimes,” said Roy. “Used to play one myself.” Roy had cowboy written all over him, right down to the duster hanging off his chair.
They got directions from the two, thanked them, and set out for Whitey’s.
It was a one-story brick building with a wooden porch. There was still a hitching post to tie up a horse, if that’s what you happened to ride in on. In the window was an Open sign and next to that was one of those Will Return signs, but it didn’t have the usual clock hands. The words “sometime later” were scrawled on it. The door stood open; the screen was shut against the flies. Josh went in, followed by Greg. “Hello, are you Mr. Whitman?”
“Good afternoon gentlemen! Old man Whitman they call me. Welcome to Whitey’s gui-tar emporium! You can call me Whitey. Got that name cause of my white hair. Even after the hair left the name still stuck. Come in and look around! I can tell you most anything you’d want to know about these fine pieces of work.”
And they were. Even the ones that needed repair were obviously well cared for back in the day. Whitey’s demeanor changed when talking about the instruments. He was almost reverent while showing them around. He encouraged them to play a few riffs. “Go ahead, feel free to play any one you want. I got all afternoon.”
Whitey’s dad opened the shop when he was a young man and the place was like a museum. Photos, posters, background instruments like drums and tambourines, along with old recordings crowded the large room. Josh and Greg were familiar with many of the guitar makes, and more than a few of the famous musicians that had owned them. They were like kids in a candy store, not wanting to miss anything.
“Actually, Josh here, is interested in old Martins.”
“Well I figured that, beings he strummed on a few. Whitey turned to Josh. “You do know how to play, son.”
“My Grandpa taught my dad, who taught me. But I guess my Great Grandpa started it. Whitey, I’m here looking for and old Martin, say 1860’s. I don’t see anything that old but I always ask anyway.”
Whitey’s eyes narrowed. “That old, eh? 1860’s?”
“Yeah. My Great Grandpa had one and it was stolen. My Grandpa used to tell me about it and my dad of course was closer to the event – that’s what it was to them, an event – and it’s kind of become a family story. I’ll probably tell it to my kids.”
“I do have some guitars that I keep in the back room. An old Martin is among them but I don’t know the age. I’ll go get her.” Whitey came back with a gem. The inlaid wood was beautiful and it was in great condition. “Go ahead, see how she plays,” urged Whitey.
Josh admired the guitar, turning it over in his hands, felt its weight and the sensual shape of the instrument. Whitey handed him a tuning fork and he began. Josh sat on a nearby barrel; the other two pulled up stools and waited. The melody was one he learned at a young age, which his Great Grandpa had written. He finished the song and looked at them. “All I can say is Wow.”
Whitey said, “I’ll second that but I’ll make it a double Wow. See these receipts I have clipped together? They’re from the sale of this guitar. 30 of them. I sold this guitar pretty much every year I’ve been here. After it left the store, the next day – sometimes the same day – the owner would return it. And each time the complaint was the same. The guitar couldn’t be played because a string would break with the first few chords. Didn’t matter the brand or type of string, and which one would break was anyone’s guess. You walk in here and your fingers move over those frets like a familiar dance. Seems like you two know each other.”
“Hold on,” said Greg. “ Are you saying that this is THE guitar? That somehow it ‘refused’ to be played for what, a hundred-some years until Josh comes along?!”
“I can only vouch for the last 30 years, my boy. You know, some things that happen just can’t be explained. It can be a small day-to-day thing that you don’t even notice unless you’re really paying attention, and then once in awhile you get hit with a big one. A little mystery in life is good…keeps us on our toes.”
Josh couldn’t convince Whitey to accept any money for the old guitar. He packed it well for the trip ahead and said with a smile, “Who knows, maybe I’ll just stop in next year for your retirement sale.”
“My dear boy,” replied Whitey, “those retirement sales were about finding the person that the Martin rightfully belonged to. Now that that’s done I really can retire!”
In the car Josh said, “I think I’m in shock. I can’t believe this! I was there and I cannot believe what just happened. Did we drive into the Twilight Zone or something?!”
“You heard the old man,” said Greg. Some things just can’t be explained, and that’s OK.”
Josh pulled out onto the road and gave a last look at Whitey’s through the rear view. The
Closed sign was in the window. The Will Return sign wasn’t.
Waiting for Justice
No one found me until years later. I had kept the secret well. Still I remember clearly the night they came for him.
We were partners and made beautiful guitar music together. His fingers on my strings were magical and the songs were more beautiful than the people had ever heard. He played guitar for himself and also for others, songs of joy, of sadness, of peace.
But the year was 1870 and powerful ranchers were acquiring every bit of land they could on which to run their cattle. They took the land whether it was available or not. Manuel Tranquilino Adobo was one of the small landowners who was visited many times by riders on horseback. The riders were linesmen, riding the fences of the large adjacent ranch, allegedly checking for broken wire and lost stock.
Many times these riders had accused Manuel of rustling Triple C cattle. He always proved them wrong, and showed them where their cattle had strayed. Manuel had no use for cattle. He had a vegetable garden and fruit trees on his plot of land. A nearby spring provided water. Manuel kept a flock of chickens for eggs and meat, and the rest of his food he hunted or found in the woods. He lived simply and peacefully. He knew he was an old man, not young and strong anymore, but he was still able to hunt his land, and tend his garden and chickens. Any spare time he used to play his guitar. He just wanted to live out his life on his land. His former boss had allowed him to work for the land, and Manuel had the deed to prove it.
That morning the riders came again, threatening and accusing Manuel of stealing their boss’s stock. He knew it was a ruse to try to scare him off the land and he wasn’t buying it. He knew the rancher had sent the riders to threaten him. It was the rancher’s brother who had allowed Manuel to work for the piece of land. The land was a corner forty acres, nothing that could not be spared. But now Manuel’s rancher friend was dead and the brother wanted Manuel’s forty just because it had been part of the original ranch. He wanted all of it.
The riders left Manuel with a warning “We’ll be back old man. Since you won’t do it the easy way, we’ll do it the hard way !” He could her their shouts of laughter as they galloped off.
Manuel felt uneasy as he watched the riders disappear on the dusty horizon. He knew they would be back, and he knew they would probably kill him to steal his land. So he took me to the rock shelter, and we played one last sad and beautiful song. Together we felt the peace of our music. Then he carefully wrapped me in the serape he always wore. He laid me tenderly in a hole he had dug. It was not very deep because it was hard to dig in the rock floor. Then he laid flat rocks over me and quietly said good-bye.
They came for him in the night, whooping hollering, and brandishing flaming pine knot torches. The old sheepherder’s shack that Manuel lived in was like a tinder box when they lit it and soon it was engulfed in flames. Manuel’s body lay in the blaze of firelight, and the last of his blood seeped into the welcoming earth as the fire consumed his home and possessions.
Years later, a young girl was exploring and saw what appeared to be a cave. I felt her climb up and step into the rock shelter. She held a stick in her hand, and began poking around the rocks and dirt. When she was satisfied that no snakes were lurking under the rocks or in the corners, she sat comfortably on the rocks, gazing out over what used to be pasture, but now was “green space” in the housing development where she lived with her family. The fences were gone, and the ashes of the old sheep shack had long since blown away. Manuel’s bones were just bits now, and well scattered. Houses were everywhere.
Picking up her stick again, she began poking at the rocks and dirt concealing my hiding place. Over the years, the wind had blown away much of the dirt, and a corner of the serape showed itself to the brave young girl. Carefully she lifted and set aside the rocks that had sheltered me for so long. Then she could see that the dirty serape was actually wrapped around something. She held her breath as she gingerly lifted a corner to expose what the serape held. A barely audible “Oh” escaped her lips when she saw me. I did not look my best, but I was not broken or even deeply scratched after my long rest in the rocks and dirt of the rock shelter. Quietly she assured me ”I’ll be back,” and I knew she would bring her family to the shelter and they would lift me out of my resting place. Then they would discover the scrap of paper on which Manuel had written this story and they would see the deed to his land.
Peter was walking down the path by the water when he heard the most beautiful guitar music he had ever heard in his life. The notes resonated in his heart and mind. He had to see the person who was playing the instrument with such passion. Peter rounded the bend to find an old man sitting on a rock strumming the guitar. As he approached the old man, the music stopped. Looking up at Peter the old man asked him how he liked the music. Peter told him he was captivated by the man’s playing and wanted him to continue. The old man told Peter that he would not play the guitar anymore. He told Peter that he was not long for this world and had hoped to find the right person to take the guitar and make beautiful music. This is a very special guitar the old man said. When I found it, I could not play. But when I touched it I could play the beautiful music you just heard. This guitar has special powers. Not only could I play it but my mind expanded more each time I played. Colors are more vivid, my mind became sharper and I remember things that had been long forgotten.
The old man told Peter that he wanted to pass down this wonderful instrument to him because he heard the music and could appreciate its significance. Peter told him that he was not musically inclined but that he would take the guitar and put it in a special place in remembrance of this day.
When the old man handed the guitar to Peter a strange sense of knowing came over him. He took the guitar home and hung it on the wall. He didn’t believe the old man’s story but decided to pick it up and give it a try. Peter was astonished when his fingers moved with confidence and he played beautiful music. While he was playing, he noticed that colors in the room were more vivid. He noticed that suddenly he was remembering everything he had learned in school. This surely was a special guitar. Each day Peter would play his guitar and each day he would remember more and more.
Then one day while he was playing he began to remember very unpleasant events in his life, memories that had apparently been buried long ago. These memories were very upsetting. Peter vowed to never play this guitar again, but he had become obsessed with the sound of the music that he could make. Each day he thought he would just play for a short while, before the bad memories had a chance to surface. But each day he couldn’t stop playing and the bad memories became more and more prominent. Now, even when he wasn’t playing, the darkest memories would haunt him. Colors became so intense he had to shield his eyes with sunglasses. The memories were consuming every moment of his life and he began having terrifying nightmares. Was this the reason the old man was getting rid of the guitar? Had this man begun to experience the same thing? It was becoming maddening. Peter knew he had to get rid of the guitar.
So he went back to the place where he had met the old man and began to play. Tears streamed down his face, his heart ached from the memories that were playing in his mind. No one came by to hear his music. No one came who might take this guitar from him. Peter feared that he would lose his mind. He was obsessed with playing the guitar, feeling his fingers strum out the beautiful music. But the memories were so very painful. He knew he had to get rid of it once and for all.
The next day he went to the same rock by the water. He put the guitar down on the ground next to the rock and walked away. Peter was hoping that the person who would find it would not be tormented with agonizing memories but he had come to the point where he just couldn’t worry about that. He walked around for hours trying to clear his head. Eventually he found himself at his house, happy to be home and rid of the guitar he sat down in his living room. Suddenly he noticed that hanging on the wall was the guitar. His heart started racing. He grabbed the guitar and a shovel and headed back to the same rock by the water. He dug a hole in the ground and carefully placed the guitar inside. Piling rocks on the gravesite, he fashioned a cross out of sticks and placed it at the head of the grave. Now no one would have to experience the horror that he had. Peter’s musical ability was buried that day as were the memories and the nightmares.
Several days later a young man was walking the path by the water when he spotted the mound of rocks and the cross. Curious, he removed the rocks and dug at the dirt with his hands. There was the guitar. He picked it up and took it home………………………………..Joel Mathews-Petri
Walking into a Hidden Time Capsule
We weren’t welcomed that night to handle the unusual item that was dug up in the field alongside the pathway, for we were told it might have a curse on it. Nevertheless, my extra senses told me that it wasn’t cursed, but was perhaps meant to stay buried for other reasons.
The small 1970’s electric guitar was still strung, white, but covered with the dust of years gone by underground. What an odd thing and certainly a cumbersome thing to have been buried deep enough to not be noticed until now. Our minds went wild in all directions as to the how and why of it coming to be located in the backyard piney forests of Colorado.
The cat had disappeared late that night after the guitar was found; they were awakened by its final death cry. Its owners were a little on edge at the party, sharing the unusual find's latest history. We all speculated on the possible journey the guitar’s owner may have been on, from the tragic loss of a young owner’s life, to an infamous legendary guitarist who knew he would never return to claim his past, which was rightfully buried! The stories whirled through the circle of eclectic people that were there, like the flames of a fire fueled by the laughter; it was contagious. We all interjected our moments of insight so beautifully it was like a symphony of insanity that was being unleashed.
Then I heard a deeper laughter in the ether being echoed as Gary plucked the strings and the rotted frets flew to the ground. We were all in hysterics by now and it dawned on me that perhaps the greater purpose of this burial had been fulfilled, which was to bring joy and laughter one more time to the life that exists here now. What a perfect time capsule to have been sent into the future!
And as the flying guitar was returned to its grave the next day out of reverence, we each had said thanks to whomever it was that had said hello, that strange and auspicious night.