Eric Clapton and Wynonna. The Eagles and Tim McGraw. CCR & Cher. Growing up, my sister and I listened to classic rock with my dad and country with my mom (and sometimes we listened to the Disney soundtracks). Looking back at our old home videos, I can tell who is home with us based on the music in the background. If I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan, I know my dad is the one holding the camera while my sister and I crawl or roll over in the living room; if I hear Faith Hill, I know my mom is holding the camera. Growing up, music was always in our house, but never really on my radar. I would I would sing along with my mom in the car or jam out with my dad in the basement (he would play his guitar and my sister and I would make up notes on our Casio keyboard). Music was always playing in our house, somewhere in the background.
When my family and I moved to our new house, my parents invested in a stereo system that went throughout the house. We hooked up our radio and awesome CD player that could hold six CDs at once. We would play my dad’s classic rock music on our “cleaning spree” Saturdays and listen to “Cheeseburger in Paradise” while we swam in the pool outside. In December we would play all the Alabama Christmas albums and the soundtracks to The Grinch and A Christmas Carol. And I really liked our “family music,” but I always felt out of the loop with my little elementary and middle school friends. I hadn’t heard of Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi” until it was fading in popularity. Thanks to my parents, I could sing along to Blues Traveler and George Strait, but I didn’t know any Spice Girls songs. So, as a silly little girl, I just wanted the popular girls to like me and be my friend, and my parents’ tastes in music were not helping me in my quest for acceptance.
So, I spent the next few years jamming out to Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne. During this time, my parents bought my sister and me little guitars for Christmas (actually, if I’m remembering time correctly, it was one of the last Christmases we all spent together). There’s a picture of both us holding our little guitars with big smiles and slightly red noses (we were both getting over a cold that year). My sister and I were excited to play the guitar and become rock stars, but when my dad sat us down to teach us the basics, we weren’t all that excited about learning or practicing. My dad, being a wise and wonderful father, never pushed us to learn or practice (I think he wanted us to learn because we wanted to learn, not because he wanted us to learn). We were too young and unfocused. Then he died and we grew up real fast.
After Dad died, I didn’t like listening to our family’s Alabama Christmas albums or Dad’s music. Instead, I listened to Miley Cyrus (although she was Hannah Montana at the time) and the High School Musical soundtrack. I pretended to hate my mom’s country music until I convinced myself that I didn’t like it (now that I don’t live with my mom anymore, I find myself kind of missing my daily dose of Carrie Underwood). I was eleven years old and lived in the depressing adult world, so I listened to Disney-fied kids’ music. And it stayed like that until I was about thirteen years old and decided to quit dance classes.
I had been taking dance classes since I was three years old. I learned ballet, tap, lyrical and musical theater. I auditioned for the dance school’s competitive dance team and participated in dance competitions (we even got to go to Disney World!). But, I was not a very confident dancer, didn’t fit in with most of my teammates and didn’t have fun while dancing. By the time I was thirteen, my family had lost my father and gained a new stepfather and stepbrothers. Life kept changing and I was tired of being a ballerina. So I quit my dance classes, picked up my dad’s acoustic guitar and signed up for guitar lessons.
My teacher’s name was Vinny. He was soft-spoken and wore glasses and pull-over sweaters. During my first lesson, he taught me the proper way to hold my dad’s guitar (I was slightly too small for it, but Vinny said it was fine). He taught me the different strings and I picked up one of my dad’s guitar picks and shakily learned how to play Green Day’s “Time of Your Life.” Over the next three years, I learned to love music. I practiced scales until my fingers felt both raw and calloused. I finally figured out how to work my i-pod and asked for Itunes gift cards for Christmas. I gained the courage to open up my dad’s CD cases and download all his music to my i-pod. I learned that the “Saturday cleaning spree” songs were by a band called The Eagles. My guitar music sheets shifted from learning Taylor Swift songs to CCR songs. I grew out of my sparkly Limited Too clothes and bought skinny jeans and a pair of patched, high-top Converse. I rolled my eyes at what I called “candy-pop songs” on the radio. I finally liked the fact that I never “fit in,” priding myself on being a loner or floater (depending on how friendly I felt that day). I became a moody, teenage music snob.
By the time I was sixteen, I was an agnsty teenage girl who worked hard to hide her insecurities (it took me until adulthood to realize that EVERYONE has insecurities – I thought the world was just unfair and it was only me who was unhappy with myself). But, music was my source of confidence. It was my link to my dad. It was something that made me feel unique in a town of sameness. Then I made the fateful decision to play back-up guitar for a friend at sweet sixteen party. I was envious of this friend for a lot silly, teenage girl reasons and one very real reason: her dad was able to teach her how to play the guitar. Anyway, the song we played at the sweet sixteen went fine, except that afterwards everyone there came up to my friend to tell her what a great job she did. I was just the back-up guitarist and had been forgotten about. Had that same thing happened now, I wouldn’t have let it bother me so much, but back then it was more than my insecure sixteen-year-old self could take. Suddenly, the guitar, the thing that had been the link to my dad, was now a big, blinding reminder that he was not here to teach me. That anger continued to fester for a few months before I packed up my dad’s guitar, slid it under my bed and tried to forget about the guilt over never playing again.
Well, never playing again until last weekend when my fiancé had a sudden impulse to open up his forgotten guitar case. I watched as he picked up his electric guitar and looked through his old sheet music. Neither one of us have picked up a guitar in at least six years. We looked through the book of songs he used to play and talked about how much we both liked our guitar teachers. Then I opened my guitar case. My dad’s guitar still smelled the same way it used to, but it felt different in my arms. Now, I could place my right arm easily around the body of the guitar and strum the strings without overstretching my arm. I have finally grown into it.