Guitar Man

Black-and-white images of a young man line the walls. The photogenic young man is strong, a guitarist, a mechanic, a soldier, a laborer, a father of seven.

La Vergne, Tennessee—the inside of 87-year-old Stuart’s home is covered in faded photographs and country music albums.

Black-and-white images of a young man line the walls. The photogenic young man is strong, a guitarist, a mechanic, a soldier, a laborer, a father of seven.

His best girl is a living saint.

“When we met,” his wife says, tapping a picture frame. “I’s seventeen, Stuart was nineteen. We were babies.”

Stuart Woods is my good friend. I wasn’t far past twenty when I met him.

He was a silver-haired man living in a double-wide trailer off Musset Bayou Road—only steps from my house. I was a skinny young fool.

He used to smack my shoulders and say, “This here’s my BOY.”

I never got tired of hearing that.

His wife would serve us beer on coasters. Stuart would tell war stories. Then, he’d flatpick a red Gretsch guitar for my entertainment.

I would watch his quick fingers play “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” or “San Antonio Rose,” or “Peanut Vendor.”

I wanted to be Stuart.

Sometimes, I’d stay for supper. After a meal, we’d walk to Stuart’s garage. He’d light a cigarette, we’d talk about cars. The oil cans on his shelves were older than I was.

We’d sit on swivel stools—the kind in body shops—and make easy conversation.

And that’s what we’re doing now. Stuart is in his recliner, telling stories about a bygone era.

The Alzheimer’s makes him forgetful, the diabetes makes his feet numb. He just lost his driver’s license.

That hurt.

But nothing has changed his sunny disposition. He’s still Mister Happy. He still piddles on his Cadillac.

He hasn’t tasted beer in months, but he wants one today. So do I.

We sit together, holding longneck bottles. He retells his top-40 greatest memories. I could listen to him talk until the second coming of Roger Miller.

The more he speaks, the younger I get, and the younger he becomes. The lines on his face disappear.

His hoarse laugh takes me back to a time I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted to do with my life. And it reminds me that I never did figure it out.

I still wish I was Stuart. I wish I smiled as easily as he does. And I wish I played guitar like him.

“Haven’t played my damn GEE-tar in years,” he says. “Can’t make my fingers move no more.”

I tell him not to bother playing if he doesn’t feel up to it.

“Hell with that,” he says. “I’ma play for you, boy.”

Before long, he’s holding the dusty Country Gentleman Gretsch in his old hands. He plays. And even though his fingers don’t work, the music comes back to him.

When he’s done playing “Bye Bye Blues,” he inspects his fingertips.

“Aye God,” he says, laughing. “Feels like someone chopping my hands with an axe.”

His wife snaps our picture with an old-fashioned camera. We have our arms around each other. Then, Stuart hugs me. I feel his shaky muscles squeeze. Why does life move so fast.

He slaps my shoulders. His eyes are still bright.

“This here’s my boy,” he says.

I drove a long way just to hear him say that.

22 comments

  1. teachenglish67 - September 25, 2017 11:57 am

    As usual, another good one giving insight to those who aren’t familiar to the Southern way of living or philosophy, the depth of another’s soul, and the dusty roads which take one back in time. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. jennifersekella - September 25, 2017 12:12 pm

    You have an amazing way of transporting your reader right into the story so I could SEE his wife, and hear the picking of the guitar (& their fabulous patois), just – I felt like I’d been transported. But, even better, the respect you’ve felt and feel for them and your own self-reflection, made me feel like I was a welcome peeper into your story.

    Reply
  3. Carolyn Woods - September 25, 2017 12:54 pm

    I live in LaVergne and I would like to meet your friend.

    Reply
  4. Judy Miller - September 25, 2017 1:25 pm

    Beautiful!!

    Reply
  5. ponder304 - September 25, 2017 1:58 pm

    I love how you take me back in time, always bringing a smile to my mind and face……

    Reply
  6. Maria - September 25, 2017 2:02 pm

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  7. Harriet - September 25, 2017 2:19 pm

    What a blessing you were to Stuart as he has been a blessing to you! Thank you for another good ‘en.

    Reply
  8. jim jewell - September 25, 2017 2:20 pm

    Sean, since you are so close, i hope you stop in Lebanon. i grew up there. Sunset Restaurant came along about the time i hit puberty. It has won awards for the best “Meat and three” in Middle Tennessee. But better than the food is the people, all of them from the kitchen to the front door. There are about a million stories there if you have the chance to drop by. My father absolutely loved the coconut creme pie. And he told me many stories while we ate there.

    Reply
  9. Alice Cowart - September 25, 2017 2:31 pm

    What a treasure to be able to spend time with him. This touches me because my sweet father also has Alzheimer’s. He is still Mister Happy as well. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!

    Reply
  10. George - September 25, 2017 2:41 pm

    Tears again.

    Reply
  11. Jack Quanstrum - September 25, 2017 2:53 pm

    I understand Sean, I would to. Beautiful story with a true friendship. It’s good to hear a story like that. It is good for the soul. Peace be with you both. Shalom!

    Reply
  12. Linda Akers - September 25, 2017 3:31 pm

    Yes, why does time go too fast. Sad that’s it’s true. You are loved boy!

    Reply
  13. C johnson - September 25, 2017 3:45 pm

    Don’t stop writing these snippets of life. You have an amazing ability to look at ordinary people in everyday situations and highlight why each one is unique and special. Something we should all do.

    Reply
  14. Lynn Hedges - September 25, 2017 5:35 pm

    Miss both you and Stuart playing on Sundays mornings.

    Reply
  15. Patricia Byers - September 25, 2017 5:49 pm

    yes, you see the best in ordinary people, in ordinary days and places. AND have the uncanny ability to write it in a manner that takes us there with you. thank you for this gift.

    Reply
  16. Shirley Roth - September 25, 2017 6:27 pm

    Such a special happening that will become an even more special memory. Beautiful thing to know that you can recall and relive such a great time in later years. Each day I tell my grown married children and their children to ” go make a memory”, because one day that is all you’re gonna have. Hold to it!!! Thank you for sharing your life with us, for in it we also have memories. God Bless

    Reply
  17. Daryll Krivanos - September 25, 2017 11:36 pm

    Great post again Sean… Thank you! I was really hoping you’d post that photo however… I’m sure it’s priceless!

    Reply
  18. Sue Cronkite - September 25, 2017 11:55 pm

    Wonderful story!

    Reply
  19. Betsy Brown - September 26, 2017 2:08 pm

    If only everyone had your love and appreciation for the elderly all around us the world would be a beautiful place. If we all honored them as you maybe we would begin to honor ourselves as well and there would be less crime and hatred.

    Reply
  20. Marsha - September 27, 2017 11:41 pm

    Why does life move so fast? Sure appreciate you Sean. Love your tales of real people living real lives.

    Reply
  21. Melodie - September 28, 2017 5:38 pm

    The second coming of Roger Miller LOL!
    ♫ Bye-Bye Blues ♫ for sure, after reading this heart-warming story.
    Play on, Stuart, play on. ♥

    Reply
  22. Anne Trawick - October 2, 2017 11:05 pm

    A master of the zinger!

    Reply

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