A dinky little ringtone woke me from a fitful sleep. It was 9am on a Saturday morning, which I grumpily realized as I reached for my cell phone. I noticed the number was from my parents, so I reluctantly answered, ready to give a lecture on not calling me before noon on the weekends. Especially since my roommate was out of town and I had a quiet morning to myself for once. Especially since there’d been an office party that ran late the night before and I really needed this quiet morning to myself.
I winced. It was Daddy, loudly using his favorite nickname for me (pronounced “Tee-tee”.) He also sounded very bright and chipper. Which is extremely annoying when you are not feeling bright and chipper.
“Hi, Daddy.” I mumbled.
“Listen, I think I found your Martin.”
My eyes blinked rapidly as I tried to wake up a bit more to process this sentence. My Martin? My 1985 Martin Shenandoah D-28 acoustic guitar?
“What? No way.”
“Yep – I went down to Don’s Pawn (Daddy likes to drawl out the “Don’s” to fit with “Pawn”) and if memory serves, this is the exact same guitar.”
My heart beat a bit more quickly. “If memory serves.” That’s rich, considering Daddy is blessed/cursed with a photographic memory.
“How can you tell? Did you memorize the serial number?”
“Heck naw. But it’s got the end pin that I like to put on the right side of the heel of the guitar and not many people use that position. And when I looked up the serial number it’s definitely the right make, model and year.”
My mind clicked through the probability of this guitar being the exact same guitar I had in high school in Jacksonville in 1985. The same one I’d pawned for rent money in Miami in 1991. Now it was 1998 and I was renting someone’s futon in New York City. Damn, it was still too early for this.
“So, Titi, do you want me to get it?”
“I can buy it offa Don for a great price – you know he’ll give me the friends and family deal – and then you can pay me back and take it with you after your next visit.”
“You really think this is my Martin?”
“All I can tell you is I really think so.”
We chatted more about what price he thought he could get it for and then I gave him the go ahead and thanked him for letting me know.
“Yeah, I know it’s a little early for a call today, but thought you’d be interested.”
Awww, he read my mind. Which melted my still-waking-up lil ol’ heart.
After hanging up, I sat in a daze on the futon thinking about my old guitar. Now, I’ve always been a spoiled girl when it comes to guitars. Daddy is a bit obsessive about them and a natural born wheeler and dealer who usually managed to have a small arsenal of high quality (mostly) American made guitars of various vintages – especially among the trifecta of guitar manufacturers: Gibson, Guild and Martin. I was about 15 or 16 when he’d brought home a really nice one. And it was new! It was in the original hardcover case and smelled like a lumberyard when you opened it up (ahhh, that new guitar smell). Daddy usually got older guitars, which I loved also. But there was something about this Martin. It had a pale blonde top, little herringbone pattern around the edges. And the sound just flowed effortlessly out from my fingers. Not that it was my guitar. It was Daddy’s. I already had a 70’s Guild that I loved, too. but for some reason I kept gravitating towards this particular Martin.
Apparently Daddy noticed. After opening the case many a time to find it gone and in my room, he decided to let me trade my Guild for the newcomer. I was overjoyed! It just felt comfortable playing her and I wasn’t interested in any other guitars after that. She was my comrade in arms for talent shows and folk festivals and restaurant gigs. I even played her onstage in Miami while performing the role of Peggy in Godspell.
But it was in Miami that everything changed. That I changed. It was after college and I’d moved to the closest metropolis. Before long, I was experiencing the heady rush of landing a few professional acting gigs, then the crushing low of getting no acting jobs at all after that. I was 22 and flailing around blindly in this new world. I started living with a boy who did lots of acid, thought we were too ‘spiritually elevated’ to pay bills or have jobs, and convinced me my family was too controlling. I had to reject them to really stand on my own, he’d say, never mentioning I’d be trading their authority for his. In a last ditch effort to hang on to our apartment – and in a way, let go of my past – I pawned my dear companion for $300 in a dingy roadside pawn shop.
I know it broke Daddy’s heart when he heard about it. It was amazing he ever heard about it at all – because of how little I called. Still, he couldn’t bear for me to be guitar-less. Not his little girl. So he sent along an Alvarez with my brother on a rare visit. I was so glad to have it! It was a nice guitar. But it wasn’t my Martin.
We got kicked out of the apartment anyway – and the boy led me on a gypsy tour of couches all over South Florida. Before long I’d had run-ins with drugs, guns, and the law until he finally broke up with me. I was penniless, humiliated and literally starving. I called my family and was home within 36 hours – with nothing but some clothes and the Alvarez. But nevermore would I see my beloved Martin. I had been a traitor to her – given her up when the going got tough. I didn’t deserve her anyway.
All this came crashing back to me as I sat, still waking up, in the tenement in the Garment District. Here I was on someone’s couch again. But this time I was paying my way and had just gotten a job that would let me get my own place in the West Village soon after. I was striking out on my own for the second time in my life. Much older than 22. At least a little bit wiser. I was gonna make it after all. And now my Martin had came back to me. I know it’s possible she’s not the exact same one. But I don’t care. Because I’m never letting her go again. I’ve bled too much of my soul into her. And there are some things that are worth hanging onto for dear, sweet life.
I turned off my cell phone and went back to sleep, smiling.
I showed this to Daddy to make sure I’d gotten my historical details right (remember his photographic memory). I feel compelled to share his reply – not only because it makes some corrections and fills in some gaps. But it gives a glimpse into a major influence of mine. Don’t be fooled by the folksy style – he’s highly educated and intelligent, taught history in high school and college. Jacksonville’s Mark Twain. For those of yall outside of the South, please remember that a drawl does not determine the content of someone’s mind or soul:
Titi. that’s very good. very sad in some ways, but very comfy at the end. the ends like when one has climbed back down the beanstalk, made it outta mordor or pulled some sacred sword outta a stone. the guitar is sorta a symbol, kinda mystic talisman item. i am still 96% sure it’s the oooooriginal axe. and, like a good tale, if it ain’t dat way, it oughta be. i don’t think you need more details. but, apparently it traved from the new, used and stolen guitars place on bird and redd road to knoxville, tennessee, played C&W and somehow got back to Jax and into an old friends shop just 20min. before i walked in. don hadn’t even moved it off the counter or outta the case. and, i just happened by and he sez, “look, i just bought a nice MARTIN.” and, dawggone it, i saw the par-tic-you-lar special pewter, small, strape pin mounted in just the egg-zak way that i do ’em, and even before seein’ dat i’d told don, “i tink dis wuz mine!” now, it wuz the “bug splat” GIBSON J45 that i kept findin’ in my case instead of the martin. i think you could mention that you are proficient on guitar and how when you tried out as vocalist for TROUBLEDOLLS, they said you didn’t need to play anything, and you told ’em “oh, hell no. i got my own damn guitar right here in the case!” and proceded to play the “dawgshit” outta it, amazin’ those guys, and therby landin’ a blow for female pickers everywhere! love, daddy