One of my guitars is a glorified piece of garbage, but it has a story behind it.

It was built in a Jersey City factory, in the 1920s, whereupon it was shipped to an Atlanta music store. Probably during that same year, it was bought by a man who was visiting Atlanta from Britain. He took it to England, and that was that.

Almost ninety years later, I bought it from a kid who was visiting Florida from Devonshire, England. He played this old American guitar for me and I fell in love.

It was a crummy old thing. Falling apart. And really, if I’m being honest, it was a piece of junk. But I have a soft spot for old junk.

I’ve been playing a guitar for most of my life, and after all these years I can truly say that I still suck at it. I have to hold my mouth right just to play certain chords.

But the real reason I wanted this guitar was because when I was a kid, my father bought me one just like it. Same brand, same shape, same size, and model. My father got it at a garage sale. He gave it to me one summer day and seemed to simply expect me to learn how to play it.

He was always doing things like this. Years later, when I was nine, he did the same thing with a piano. He gave me one and told me to teach myself. It took me almost a lifetime to learn to play—this is not a joke—“Happy Birthday.” Because this is not as easy of a song as you might think.

When the tune gets to the happy-birthday-dear-So-And-So part, the chord doesn’t work with the melody.

So I never quite figured it out. Which would often make me look like a complete dipstick at, for instance, birthday parties. Because during the apex of the big song, when people would sing the birthday-person’s name, the idiot at the piano would just stop playing and say, “Wait! Let’s all try that again!”

Anyway, as a kid I would carry the guitar my father gave me wherever I went. There was a rope attached to the neck. I’d sling it over my shoulder and go with the wind.

I have old Polaroid pictures of me sitting beside my uncle, who was playing his Martin. And there I am, holding my trusty guitar, wearing a diaper.

It’s not clear why I am wearing a diaper since I am almost five years old in the photo. Whenever I ask my mother about this diaper business, her only answer is to pat my hand and say, “Everyone is different, sweetie.”

It is concerning to see photos of a kindergarten-age kid still requiring the aid of a loincloth meant to catch poop. But then, I was a late bloomer. A late bloomer in everything. Always have been. I have never done ANYTHING ahead of schedule.

One good example of this would be: Peeing the bed.

I was a notorious bed-wetter. I would sleep so soundly that when I would awake, my rubber sheets would be saturated, and my mother would already be getting the shower ready.

My mother was desperate to break me of this habit, she tried everything on me. Even painful clothespins.

News of this spread like wildfire on the playground. Soon, when my friends would see me coming, they would start singing “I’ve Got A River Of Life Flowing Out Of Me.”

The way I actually stopped wetting the bed was because of a clever plan my father devised. His plan involved an alarm clock beside my bed that went off twice during the night. Once at midnight; once at 3 in the morning.

The deal was that I HAD to crawl out of bed to go pee—and here was the important part—even if I didn’t have to pee.

So I would stumble into the bathroom at 12 A.M. and 3 A.M every night. Mostly, I would just stand before the toilet, whistling “Happy Birthday.” And it worked. I never wet the bed again after that. And to this day, I still find myself wandering into the bathroom at 12 A.M. and 3 A.M.

I cannot believe I just told you that.

But I say all this to prove my point, which is that sometimes it’s good to be reminded of your past. And this cheap guitar brings that back to me.

So when I play it at my shows, or on the porch, this hundred-year-old thing reminds me of history. It reminds me of my ancestors. And the instrument I once slung over my childhood back. Back when I felt hopeful about things. A time when I was old enough to do long division, but also still wearing diapers.

I’ll never forget the night when the kid from the U.K. sold me the guitar. He was counting the cash when he said, “I can’t believe you wanted this duff guitar. Why do you want it?”

“No reason,” I said. “It just reminds me of someone I once knew.”

Then the kid said, “So play something for me.”

He handed me the instrument. I picked the strings. Holding my mouth just right.

The kid said, “Hey, I recognize that tune. What song is that?”

The song was “I’ve Got A River Of Life Flowing Out Of Me.”

16 comments

  1. Steve - November 14, 2019 8:13 am

    Some things can never be replaced. Like your Grandfather’s pocketknife. The black iron skillet your mother used her entire life. The metal lunchbox your Dad took to his blue-collar job every day. Every one reading this is thinking of that one item that applies to them. I hope you still have the original item. Or at least, like Sean, it comes very close.

    Reply
  2. Marilyn Ward Vance - November 14, 2019 9:34 am

    Like the tools your parents used when they worked in the Cotton Mill in the 40s and 50s?

    Reply
  3. Meredith Smith - November 14, 2019 11:29 am

    So what happened to the other guitar ~ the one your dad gave you?

    Reply
  4. turtlekid - November 14, 2019 1:40 pm

    sharing painful memories is cathartic. You are doing everything right now Sean Paul.

    Reply
  5. Dave Wilson - November 14, 2019 1:47 pm

    This one is as good as all and they all make me laugh!!! Keep up the great writing!

    Reply
  6. Shelton A. - November 14, 2019 2:26 pm

    Remember, you’re just different! LOL!! Great story…glad you found your same guitar that you had as a child. Memories are a good thing…I could have skipped the bed ‘incidents’-glad your dad was creative.

    Reply
  7. Purplenannyo@yahoo.com - November 14, 2019 2:47 pm

    Your words made me smile big & drop a few tears this morning. Mine was my yellow dump truck that actually dumped. I was Queen of the world riding back & forth in our driveway.

    Reply
  8. jack - November 14, 2019 2:50 pm

    I’m just glad mama didn’t try the clothespin thing. OUCH!
    From cool North Carolina
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  9. Ala Red Clay Girl - November 14, 2019 2:53 pm

    We all need “things” that remind us of someone special to help keep the memories alive. Thanks for a funny reminder of this.

    Reply
  10. Linda Moon - November 14, 2019 4:39 pm

    I better not tell you about the bed-wetter from way back in childhood. So, I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you to listen to the music and lyrics to THIS OLD GUITAR sung by Emmylou Harris and Neil Young. It speaks to me, and maybe they will for you, too. Your glorified guitar spoke to me, and I’m glad you told both stories: the old guitar and necessary night-time wanderings. Keep remembering that someone. Those memories keep the Life River flowing, Sean!

    Reply
  11. Larry Hataway - November 14, 2019 6:30 pm

    I understand about the guitar completely. I am still searching for an arch top acoustic my dad had in the Forties and Fifties that an older cousin destroyed in a fit of rage because he couldn’t sound like Chuck Berry. My dad never got another guitar and never said an unkind word to his nephew but the nephew never apologized to him either. My dad is gone now but I would like to find one as close to it as I can. One day who knows I might give it to him.

    Reply
  12. Mike McKnight - November 14, 2019 8:25 pm

    Enjoyed your story. My brother was a bedwetter. Granddaddy bought the first electric blankets we ever saw. Got two of them at Sears. When we spent the night with PaPa, he told us if we wet the bed that blanket would electrocute us. Solved the problem.

    Reply
  13. Harriet - November 14, 2019 11:33 pm

    Good information….

    Reply
  14. Chaz Cone - November 17, 2019 4:32 pm

    Coincidentally, I just published my guitar story you might like: https://t-rexsoftware.com/chazcone/gibsonstory.png. Hope you do. And, I promise, the next time you’re within two hours of Atlanta, I’m coming to the gig and shaking your hand. I’m a big fan.

    Reply
  15. Wayne M Smith - December 10, 2019 7:45 am

    My 1972 Yamaha fg 360 has been my friend that I have spent countless hours with. It’s brought me a circle of some mighty fine folks. All guitars have a history

    Reply
  16. aucat76 - January 21, 2020 3:59 pm

    “Holding my mouth just right” Perfect. . ❤️

    Reply

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