Thursday, June 29, 2006
Visions of childhood
I must strain hard to define what my young eyes saw in my infantile days. The inside of the house on Rosewood Terrace; I only remember patches of wallpaper, the beautiful dark trim wood inside that I now know as gumwood. The tall ceilings, and dad using a ladder to trim the upper stretches of the Christmas tree. There was a stack of firewood along side the garage, and to me it was a stagecoach. I would sit on top up front, and a team of imaginary horses would dash me off to distant places that opened up to my senses. The inside of the small garage, with the smell of old wood, cobwebs, dad's tools hanging here and there, and on the inside wood framework makeshift shelves. Everything seemed terribly old, the tools, flashlight, oil cans. Tobacco tins holding nails and such. I seemed to be witnessing the ushering out of an era. Watching the rag man come down the street with horse and wagon, the delivery of milk to the box built into the side of the house, and walking to the Italian deli down the street. Even outside the door, the aroma of the hanging cheeses and meats would arrest your senses, as I gazed round the counters with their huge jars of olives, and cans of olive oil.
I know I walked to school, but I don't recall the route, or the first school at all. By the time I hit the second grade, we moved from the city proper of Rochester, NY, to Irondequoit, less than three miles I guess. We moved in the middle of the school year, and they could not fit me into the closest school to us. The next school was not that much farther, but It sure seemed like it when you are six years old! There was the issue of crossing the busy Empire Blvd. to get home, and my grandfather would be waiting there sometimes, and help me with the crossing. He spoke no English, and I very little Italian, but somehow, we managed to live with each other for years. He smoked those Italian crooked cigars, which burned with a silvery ash, and gargled with a shot of whiskey, each night before bed. He loved to garden in the warm weather, and had managed to bring a few fig trees from Italy, which he wrapped in burlap each year, and buried to protect them from our harsh NY winters.
My neighborhood was at the top of a big hill which lead down to Irondequoit Bay. It was heaven tramping through those little woods leading down, and surrounding the bay. There was so much to see and hear; the turtles, sunning themselves on logs, dragonfly, flitting and hovering around the water, the red wing blackbirds, perched in the tall reeds of the bay, finding paths and learning their secrets. There was an indescribable allure to those wood and water lands, that has been re-enforced and continually instilled throughout my life.
About the same time I was living in Irondequoit, my uncle Jimmy bought a plot of land right on Lake Ontario, several miles east of Rochester. At the time, this was only farm lands and orchards. There were no expressways, and the drive there took forever (especially to an impatient little rug rat wanting to get his feet in the lake) He started building what turned out to be quite a magnificent cottage. When the shell of the dwelling was up, we started spending the weekends there, while the construction continued. It was sorta roughing it for a while, but I was in my glory, with lots of room to run, and one of the Great Lakes lapping at our doorstep. It was outdoors heaven.
To try to convey proper perspective on how simpler the times were 50 years ago, I was allowed to take the bus downtown by my self at age 8-12. The trip included a swim or other activities at the YMCA, and a stroll down Main St. window shopping, a soda at the Five & Dime store, lots of people watching. And then there was the music stores. I was beyond fascinated by all the instruments, and overwhelmingly disappointed when the clerks would not let me touch anything!
I was drawn to the showier things like drums, the hardware gleaming, the cymbals so shimmerry, the big bass fiddle (which I took up) but as I was young, so was the newest musical craze, rock n roll. The guitar invoked feelings and emotions that words will not convey properly, so lets just say, I lived, dreamed, and craved a guitar. Nothing, I mean nothing had any significance close to the compelling drive to play. At 10 years old, I celebrated my communion, and a little party and some gifts ensued. Someone had given me a twenty-dollar bill; all in one piece! I'll bet a dollar to a doughnut, that my mother had intension of putting the $ 20.00 in savings or something to steer me in that direction, but I must have ducked, and weaved, and even my ten year old resources led me to a used guitar for $ 20.00. Oh the joy. Of course, the mere procurement of the instrument only gave way to the self evidence that I had no idea what to do with it, and in fact handled it upside-down for some time! I had no direction, no instruction whatsoever on even tuning it. I was devastated when the high E string broke ( a common calamity, I learned later) That put me at my father's mercy to take me to procure a replacement string. Only the Lord knows how much I appealed to him, but eventually, we went to an appliance store that sold guitar strings, and I got my first glimpse of a paper envelope with Black Diamond printed on the front, and the shiny steel string revealed under the flap. The next hurdle was putting the string on and tuning it. Of course, not knowing how to allow for some slack and a few turns around the gear post, when I cinched the string up and started to tune it, it broke with a resounding pop, and half of the thing slapped me in the face! My disappointment knew no boundaries, and mortified, I realized that I had to notify dad of the developments.
I struggled along for the first two years, with no real knowledge, only hit and miss, when I procured a book from somewhere. I don't really intend to say that I remember, but after that, I seemed to inhale the knowledge, and the secrets were presented as more self evident. I still had no formal training, but once in a while, I would "stumble" across something that would take me to the next level. The biggest revelation was having a basic chord book depicting the fingerings for chords. One day, I must have made the realization that the chords A, B, C, D, E, and G, had distinctive fingerings. They were all formed at the end of the neck, or the first three frets. I was curious as to how I could play those fingerings farther up the neck scale, with any logical conclusion. I discovered that by fingering the same chords using fingers that would keep my first or index finger free to "trail" behind the others, and sliding up the neck, I was forming the same chords anywhere I wanted to, and the same fingerings produced different chords depending on which fret I started out on. That realization, put me into outer space! In one day, it seemed,. I found paths never explored before, and I was playing something meaningful.