Jilda and I were doing the last couple of songs in our set Saturday night when two guys rumbled up outside on motorcycles and dismounted. I thought they’d head to a bar down the street, but they walked in to Berkeley Bob’s Coffee House. What was odd is that one of the riders was holding a guitar case. That’s something you don’t see everyday, I thought.
He gently placed the guitar by a table and stepped up to the barista to order a coffee for himself and his friend. After ordering, he leaned against the counter and listened. Jilda launched into our closing song and I followed along, but I kept looking at the biker… then a flicker of recognition slid across my mind and the story began falling into place.
The biker was my old friend Carl. We worked together at Ma Bell for several years before I became un-jobbed. He had put on a little weight, let his hair grow to his shoulders, and he now sported a beard, but there was no mistake. He smiled when he saw I recognized him.
Carl and I were close back then. We had breakfast together every morning and solved most of the world’s problems by 7:20 before hitting the data center floor running.
I thought of those good times as we hit the chorus of our final song, which gave it a lift.
When we finished, we thanked the crowd for coming to hear us. I turned and secured my guitar in the stand and stepped to the edge of the stage to hug my friend.
A lot of fond memories came to mind as we stood there taking stock of each other. But all those good memories were overshadowed by the memory of the last time I’d seen him three years ago.
It was at a funeral home in Birmingham. He’d just lost his only child Adam, who died tragically in an automobile accident at the age of 24. Carl had been divorced for years, and Adam was his world.
It’s in my nature to try and find words of comfort in these situations, but standing in a sea of flowers with my hands in the pockets of my suit, the words would not come. I had no point of reference so Jilda and I stood silently with him. When he did manage a few words, his naturally booming voice was not much more than a whisper. There are few times in my life I’ve seen that much pain.
I’d known Adam since he was in grade school. He became interested in guitar at age 12 and wanted to learn to play. Carl bought him an instrument, and would bring him to the data center after work. He was small for his age, and the first time I saw him wagging the guitar, which was almost as big as he was, it made me smile. I stayed over several evenings and taught Adam the basic chords and how the changes fit together.
He soaked up everything I taught him and was soon playing the songs of his generation. Hearing him play made both Carl and me happy.
On Saturday night, Carl stuck around and we talked. He pitched in and helped us load the sound equipment. When we finished, he stepped to the table, picked up Adam’s guitar, and brought it to me.
“I want you to have this. You can keep it, or give it to another kid who wants to learn to play,” he said. It was painful for him to see the guitar standing in the corner of his bedroom unplayed, and he felt that giving it to me would somehow complete the circle. He’d written a haunting poem entitled “Back Then,” and tucked it under the strings inside the case.
We hugged again as we said our goodbyes and promised to get together soon.
I’m not sure what I will do with the guitar, but you can bet it will be something that honors Adam’s memory.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Changes is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at email@example.com.