I remember one day on my way home from school I stopped at Woody and Lena’s Music Store to check out the guitars in the display window. I was standing there admiring an old Gibson when he rolled up beside me. He sat there a few minutes looking at the instruments then asked, “You play?”
His voice surprised me, it was soft, gentle, not at all like I imagined. I had expected it to be gruff and hoarse like a pirate.
“You play guitar?” he asked again.
“No,” I answered nervously, “but I’d like to learn.”
“Well then what’s stopping you? ” he said with a laugh, “All it takes is practice, lots of practice. Who knows, in time you might be the next Les Paul.”
I stood there looking at him, nodding like an idiot. I had no idea who the hell Les Paul was.
“I Don’t have a guitar to practice on.” I finally managed to say.
“Well now that does create a problem.” he said with a grin, “got to have the tools to do the job, but don’t you worry none, I imagine you’ll get that guitar soon enough.”
I stood there looking down at where his legs would have been and wanted so much to ask him how he’d lost them, but when I started to, what came out of my mouth instead was “Wh – where do you get all those pencils?”
God, how dumb! Where had that come from? He looked up at me like he was reading my mind. I was certain that he knew exactly what I had really wanted to ask, and would have told me if I hadn’t chickened out. Instead he simply smiled and said,
“Oh I get them from a private pencil supply store in Los Angeles.” Then with a twinkle in his eye he added, “They make them special for legless gents like myself.”
Again I was speechless and just stood there nodding dumbly. After a few moments of awkward silence he smiled, handed me a couple of pencils and rolled off towards the B of A.
“See you around son, hope you enjoy that guitar,” he called back to me, “and remember practice makes perfect.”
That summer I got my guitar and practiced every day until I could play it. Eventually I even found out who Les Paul was, but I never did find out how the vet lost his legs.
The sound of a car horn brought me back to the present. The light had changed and I proceeded north on Azusa towards the canyon. As I slowed to cross over the railroad tracks I flashed on the Feed and Grain Store from back in the day. It was an old wooden warehouse size building that looked more like an old barn than a store. I don’t really remember much about it except that it burned down in spectacular fashion back in the early sixties and caused quite a commotion. It burned all afternoon and created a circus-like atmosphere on the streets. It seemed like the whole city turned out to watch it burn. It was never rebuilt.
On I drove, past Community Garage, Johnny’s Towing, A to Z liquor and on towards the mountains. Near thirteenth St. I saw a couple of boys with fishing poles headed toward the river and was reminded of “Huck Finn Days” and the Rainbow Angling Club. Every summer kids of all ages would meet at Parks and schools across Azusa, and under the supervision Recreation Department, walk up to the angling club, complete with straw hats, bare feet and bamboo fishing poles for a day of fishing and fun.
A day or two before my cousin Dave and I would jump old Mrs. Simmon’s back fence and cut bamboo from her yard which was so dense with bamboo that you couldn’t see her house from the street. From there we’d go to my house and make our poles. We took nails from my dad’s work bench and use the vise and hammer to bend them into fishing hooks so we could catch the really big ones, but we never caught a thing, the nails kept falling off. What did we know about fishing.
To be Continued… July 6