First Love, Paper-Thin
The first time I fell in love, I sat cross-legged immersed in a stack of books. Maybe it was love…maybe peace, freedom, or simple contentedness. Yet, is not love the sum of these, and much, much more?
In one of my hometown’s many libraries, I found safe harbor. Each week when I visited, worlds waited for me to open and dive in. Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, biographies and autobiographies of the lives of legends, as well as fables and myths detailing the journeys of the heroes and transforming the mind of the boy walking beside them, sharing in their tests and trials.
Page after page, row upon row, I weaved in and out of the stacks, fingering the plastic jacket covers while browsing titles. I soaked in the vanilla of the aging paper and studied the cover art and illustrations that fired my imagination. Even the artistry in the typography caught my attention. Although at the time I didn’t know typography. The typefaces were just varied, beautiful ink scratches, when assembled and decoded, formed roads to new people and places.
The Entire World for the Price of Nothing
I just looked at all of the rows of volumes, inspired, awed and at times, intimidated. I was surrounded by the beauty of stories, real and otherwise. There must have been thousands, maybe even a million, in this once place alone.
My young brain could not comprehend yet anything existing outside my own limited experience. Other places with as much or more paper journeys was a thought unthinkable, too big for a semi-shy kid who was convinced he wouldn’t amount to much and had even less to call his own. Yet, it seemed an embarrassment of riches to have so much variety and all within an arm’s reach, all for the price of nothing.
The Muse of Melody Calls to New Shores
As I grew older, my attention stretched to playing sports and music. I’d spend an inordinate amount of time buying and spinning records, pouring over lyrics, exploring new rhythms, recreating album art in my own hand drawings, listening to phrasing, studying progressions, scales and modes in the hopes I could transform my slower, uneducated fingers into mirroring the flood pouring from my speakers.
I’ll never forget when my mother took me to a local music store, owned by a father of a kid with whom I played football, and rented my first gear: a cheap Strat and a Randall tube amp. Yes, I said rented…played and paid note for note by the month. I worked in a local bar starting at age twelve washing dishes Friday and Saturday nights through the small hours; it wasn’t long until I saved enough money to buy my own gear.
I bonded with friends in the band thing, changed rigs, and gigged. We enjoyed our share of wins in many battle of the bands. Win or lose, it didn’t matter. It never does when you’re young and the thrill of doing what you do is enough.
As I graduated from high school and the bar, I sold the electric gear to shed the load for the road to a new life in Texas. I wouldn’t really pick it back up until I inherited my stepdad’s Cherry Sunburst ’67 Gibson J-45.
A naturally gifted artist, he made records in the mid-60’s before volunteering for Vietnam. Double-take unnecessary, I said volunteer. My stepdad was selfless and a patriot who served proudly his country, community and family.
During Army service, he won the guitar in a card game before being sent stateside for injuries sustained on the battlefield. He taught me my first chords on the acoustic that I considered a work of art.
While better made, exotic and more expensive models exist, there are none for me. I enjoy the warm sounds and memories echoing across time and tempo when I slide from fret to fret, still.
Although I dabbled elsewhere, I always returned to my first love. Rather than undergradding in something sensible, I dove into War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Bible, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Yeats, Frost, E.E. Cummings, and Hemingway. I journeyed from the Classical period through the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Modernism with pleasure. Like many English majors, I spent hours weekly writing 30+ page papers of analysis and criticism, as well as stories of my own for classes I barely remember.
I have no regrets. The Muse of Melody called me home, to my Wordverse, and I gladly returned.
Leaving a Legacy
While the push of progress has rendered nearly obsolete the library experience of my youth, I still take my family to browse the stacks so they can feel time-tested, sweat-wrought work on thin wood, breathe aging vanilla, touch eloquence, and explore worlds waiting for them with a simple lift of a cover, all at the cost of nothing.