In The Unraveling

Thread that binds us

is impossibly strong;

we are more closely knit

than we can fathom

(even if we do try

to deny this often).

 

Seams sometimes split;

some places need

more mending and tender

care. In mending, time

has a strengthening way

of altering the original.

 

Sometimes in the unraveling

we find and follow

the thread that binds us;

it’s then we see how

strong we are and what

we have been together.

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Baritone Ukulele

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It’s time for me to tell this story–about the broken baritone ukelele, Buddy the Australian Shepherd and the artisan acoustic instrument shop on 2nd Street in Corvallis.

Just about one year ago, when I was wandering the streets of Corvallis looking for dogs to befriend, short of funds and a job, I found myself on 2nd Street. Since I had never before entered Troubador Music I decided to go in that day. The small container garden out front, mixed with the mysterious and thrilling wood and rosin smells coming from inside as I opened the door, immediately welcomed me.

Imagine a working violin shop: beautiful, well-loved instruments hung above the front counter at about head-height, a large open space which doubled as a showroom and intimate venue for evening concerts, musical sounds in the form of ‘plucks’ and ‘thumps’ coming from a back work room. That is Troubadour Music.

Since I was considering selling my hard-earned Blue Lion Mountain Dulcimer (I’d been playing Mountain Dulcimer for more than 20 years) I decided to ask about their consignment policy. Selling it would pay my living expenses for one month.

I had a lovely talk with Kent (the owner) and the kind sales associate; both gracious and helpful.

Then I had a sweet interaction with Buddy, the elderly Australian Shepherd lying on the floor at our feet. When I stood though, a catastrophe occurred. The baritone ukulele hanging above the counter met my up-coming head and bounced to the cement floor. Many emotions bounced across Kent’s face. He told me it was beyond repair due to the broken inner body. I couldn’t stop from calculating how long it was going to take me to pay for this instrument, especially since I was already having trouble paying for just my rent. Of course I was crying.

“Wait,” Kent said thoughtfully, “you were giving love to my dog when this happened. I don’t want you worry about this. In the bigger scheme of things, love is more important than money or this instrument.”We went on to talk for nearly an hour about potential jobs, including teaching English at the nearest Community College (where Kent sometimes teaches poetry).

I left that day exhausted by the event. I spent much of the following year thinking about this baritone ukulele but my energy was spent looking and trying work that suited me. I didn’t come any closer to paying for that instrument and it weighed heavily on me. My dulcimer hadn’t ended up selling, so I kept it at home with me and played it occasionally but found little joy in it since my chronic pain interfered with the playing.

My walks still took me past Troubadour Music and I frequently saw Kent and Buddy enjoying breaks outside together. Each time I’d cringe inside and remember the feeling of that ukelele hitting the concrete floor. Two weeks ago I formulated a plan: I’d leave my dulcimer as a gift for Kent. He’d be able to sell it eventually or use it himself. I set aside the perfect time and dropped it off. Tears came a little as I reminded the sales associate about that earlier baritone ukelele falling day. She told me that Kent wasn’t there, but that maybe I should reconsider. I didn’t need to pay for the broken instrument. But I was insistent and I left my name and phone number and a note explaining the gift.

Later the same day, Kent called to thank me. He invited my dog Pearl and I to visit he and Buddy at the shop any time. We have since met on the sidewalk near Toubadour Music and Pearl and Buddy instantly appreciated each other. Kent reached in his pocket, found two small treats, one for Buddy and one for Pearl. Before giving them to each dog, he kissed the treats (a trick known to increase the value of the food).

Now my walks down 2nd Street are more pleasant again. When I think of that baritone ukulele hitting the cement, I don’t feel like crying anymore.

Give It Up

Eicher Sisters 1972

Eicher Sisters 1972

In this picture, I am the smallest one, holding on to something in my left hand. It’s a scrap of paper that I wouldn’t let go of, so the photographer must have conceded and allowed me to keep it as he took the family photos. I’m not sure anyone in my family even remembers this, or notices it in the long-forgotten picture, but I think of this every time I look at it and then for many days afterward. I see a stubbornness in that little face of mine and wonder how many times my parents tried to get that paper from my hand before they finally gave up.

I can think of other examples in my young life that exemplify this characteristic trait of mine: holding on too tightly to my favorite blanket, which I finally threw in the garbage when it was ragged and in tatters, my favorite stuffed animal (which I kept until I reached the age of 35 when I finally buried it with my dear dog Zeb). My life has been one long lesson in letting things go because it seems so difficult for me. Maybe it’s difficult for everyone and they just don’t talk about it much.

Lately, I’ve had trouble letting go of stress and one thing that has brought me relief is slowly unloading the things I own by giving them away to people who will love them and use them. When my niece announced her engagement and showed us her engagement ring, I asked her if she would like to have the ring I inherited from my mom (her grandma) because it appeared to match nicely. It is a platinum band with diamonds running across it. She said yes! I didn’t think anything more about it for the past year. I felt happy because 1. my niece will have something of her grandma’s and 2. my mom’s ring would be treasured and worn every day.

Yesterday when I visited my sister, she asked me, “Do you know that ring you gave Emma is worth a lot of money?” My sister then told me she asked Emma to give the ring to her (as a joke). I explained that I really did like the ring a lot and that it is the only ring of our mom’s that I can wear since I’m allergic to gold so if Emma didn’t want it, I wouldn’t mind having it back because I wore it once in a while. Emma and her mom had taken it to be sized at the jeweler, who explained the value of the ring as he looked at it. The diamonds are big, the platinum is valuable; he said it is worth $35,000.

No wonder my sister wanted it. And I couldn’t help but immediately think of the relief my bank account would experience with that much security during this insecure time in my life. I drove home crying, which is what my sister said my niece did when she heard the value of the ring. It may be what my dad does when he finds out how much the ring is worth because I’m sure he could have used the money too. It took me all night to come to an agreement with myself about this whole experience.

I am so happy that Emma gets to wear this treasure from my mom, who believed that buying jewelry was a way of investing. We have politely scoffed at her for this after her death because she really knew how to take care of herself in this way–she spared no expense when it came to jewelry and clothing and this often caused extreme pain in her family relationships. My dad may have sold this ring, had he known how much it is worth. I may have sold it to make my monthly payments for living. My sister may have sold it too. Now that it is a permanent part of Emma’s life, it will not be sold and it is truly an inheritance from our mom, passed down a generation (after her death). I feel like letting go of this ring was the best thing to do (but I’m still dreaming of all the things I could pay for with the money).