Guitars and Living Rooms

The man was playing his guitar and singing Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay. He was terrible, but he was trying hard to make an impression. He wasn’t a singer. He was an actor. Uh, that’s a stretch. He wanted to be an actor. Maybe he wanted to be a singer too, or he was just acting.

We, his audience, had come in from playing volleyball on the front lawn and were sitting in my friend’s living room. She was hosting a house warming party having recently bought this small two bedroom, one bath 1950s home.

Some of the people at the party, including the terrible singer, were in town acting in the latest production at the local dinner theater, which my friend’s family owned and where I worked. These actors were an interesting bunch. I imagined them living in cramped little apartments in the sketchy parts of L.A. waiting for their big break. The fellow singing Dylan was probably trying to impress us local girls. Local being the foothills of Mount Helix in a small community called Casa De Oro about 15 miles east of San Diego.

After another poor rendition of Dylan the man took a break allowing someone else to play. It was Jim. Jim played Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and more. He was good and quickly took any ground the actor had gained in the eyes of the girls. All but me. I wasn’t impressed. Oh sure, the music was great, but the guitar player was just a little too cocky.

Jim and I knew each other through the friend who was having the party. I summed him up as the most arrogant and pompous human I had ever met. So he wasn’t going to impress me with his guitar playing and melodic voice. Oh no, not me.

Jim went through his repertoire and had everyone singing along. I sat back and watched the women move forward and the men retreat. He had his audience in the palm of his hand. Then he stopped and said he wanted to play a song that he had written. As I watched and listened, I saw a different man emerge. He wasn’t arrogant, but humble. He wasn’t playing to the crowd, but playing from his heart. Something told me that this human couldn’t be a total reprobate. I got a glimpse of something lovely buried deep within this man.

Well, he did it. He impressed me. I left the party that night and tucked that away for later reflection.

Living in Nashville you get access to all kinds of music in all kinds of places. After all, it is Music City. Last Saturday I attended a Performer’s Night. This is a mini concert hosted in a home to showcase new and up-and-coming talent. There’s something quite enjoyable about experiencing live music in someone’s living room. At this event they had guitars and pianos. There were microphones, monitors and speakers, and duets and back up singers, but it was still intimate.

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the guitar. I always have been, perhaps most females are. Jim told me once he learned to play the guitar so he could get the girls. When I’m at a concert I find myself focused on the guitar playing. I imagine and remember Jim playing. In the first year of my grief this would usually bring tears. More often now, it brings smiles.

Jim used to play and sing for his family. Whenever we were all together we would end up having our own concert. We developed our own parts to sing and had our own favorite songs. Songs began to be identified by whose favorite it was. Now when I hear any of these songs I sing along and imagine being in Jim’s parent’s living room with his brothers and sisters and me singing back up.

Jim would play at home, too. I loved it. Sometimes he’d stay up late playing and I would leave the bedroom door open so I could listen and fall asleep to his music.

He wrote many songs for me and about me. They were very sweet and romantic. I got kind of used to it. His sisters kept me in check though, reminding me how special it was to have someone write you songs. They were right. The first song Jim wrote for me was the song he played at that house warming party. I didn’t know at the time that I was his inspiration.

Funny thing is he did get the girl.

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This photo was taken in the studio when Jim recorded In the Morning.



A Porch in Tennessee

There is a porch in Tennessee that welcomes me regularly to sit and enjoy its friendly offerings. It wraps around its house on two sides and overlooks a green expanse bordered by tall trees. My chair is positioned at the corner, which allows for the widest view.

To the right is a meadow with one lone haystack in the middle set up with a target for archery. Past the meadow and the haystack, if you look carefully, you can see a path through the trees that leads to another expanse. As you move your eyes toward the left the meadow goes deeper. The road is just beyond the trees there, but you can’t see it. You can hear the cars sometimes and at night you might see a flicker of passing headlights through the foliage.

There is a group of trees at this point, not too far from the porch. Two of them hold a huge hammock that I have yet to enjoy. Further to the left in front of the house is where the long gravel driveway ends, after it has winded its way through more trees and over two narrow bridges.

porch time

Various types of planters filled with colorful flowers surround the porch as well as Tiki lanterns that hold small Coke bottles filled with burning oil to ward off mosquitoes. The patio chairs are grouped together where the two sides of the porch meet.

It is summer. It is hot and humid, and the mosquitoes still bite, but we don’t care. We like to gather here, tell stories, guess who’s singing on Pandora, drink wine, and eat cheese and crackers.

My memory has faded as to when I first came to the porch and its family. Jim and I had been in Tennessee for only a short while when our friends, who we were staying with, had introduced us to them. We were welcomed with warm hospitality. It turned out that all of us had moved here from California and we found that we had much in common. I appreciate that the porch family was able to know Jim. Though it was only for a short while.

They often invite our mutual friends and me over for ‘porch time.’ There we settle in to enjoy each other’s company. Inevitably someone will start complaining about the chosen music station and then we fight for control. Well, we don’t really fight we just throw out snarky comments and suggestions for new music. I will marvel once again at the lightening bugs and be teased about it – once again. Hoss, the family dog, a very large and old black Lab will wobble into the center of our circle and plop down. Someone will complain about his smell and another will compliment the softness of his coat.

Stories will be told like how the house with the porch was built, or how we all came to live in Tennessee. As hunting seasons are discussed I am learning a little more about guns and wild game. We’ll talk about the upcoming weekend or holidays. We’ll come up with reasons to get together when there is no official calendar event. We’ll cover any topic – boring to intriguing. No discussion is off limits, not religion or politics, or even Jim stories. They are especially gracious to me when I tell my Jim stories.

Part of my new normal includes the porch family, a family that knew a bit of my life with Jim, but increasingly knows me without him. They are helping me transition to the new normal. I am free to reminisce when I hear an old familiar song. I’m not ignored when I share some random thought. It’s okay if I’m quiet or I laugh or cry. I get to listen to new stories and watch family dynamics and antics. I’m able to make new memories.

Getting to the new normal will take time. Sometimes all you can do is just sit by and let it happen. Like I said I have my chair.