Guitar girl

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I have no immediate plans to retire in the next five or so years – especially as I am soon starting a brand new venture (more on that later).


However, when I think about retiring, I immediately wonder, “What will I do?” I’m a restless sort. My grandchildren are between three hours and 3,000 miles from my door, so I can’t grab a playdate every week.

As I think I have mentioned here before, I have no hobbies. I parted company years ago with sports endeavors, so tennis, pickle ball, golf or anything that has a ball involved is out. I don’t knit, crochet or cross-stitch because I am terrible at it. I have been deemed a lost cause when it comes to learning to play bridge. I can’t paint, draw or throw pots. Photography and cooking “interest” me, but I haven’t shown any staying power in those areas.

I would love to learn another language, but I had no talent for it in college and am certain I still don’t. Conversational Spanish almost sent me home to West Tennessee. Thank goodness I could get that last “foreign language” credit with a speech class. (Makes no sense, I know, but I’m grateful.)

At a visit to my Seattle family’s home, an interesting memory came back to me. Olivia’s guitar was sitting in the corner. It was late and most everyone was in bed, so I picked it up. My fingers went to G, then C, then D, and my mind was transported back to 1967 or so and my attempt to learn to play the guitar.

What I really loved to do as a young pre-teen and teen was sing. I had taken piano lessons with Mrs. Turner, God Bless Her, for years until both she and my mother threw in the towel. It seems that if you don’t have true musical talent for the piano, you have to do something called “practice.” It just wasn’t in my plans.

A year or so later, however, I set out to convince my mother that my real musical talent was with the guitar. I had visions of being the next Mary (of Peter, Paul and …), with my long dark hair parted down the middle, and my expert fingers strumming the guitar while I belted out songs of angst, anguish and unrequited love.

I didn’t tell my mother that unrequited love was already playing a part in my desire to learn guitar. It was a delicate process, scamming my mother, because she was savvy, smart and knew me too well. “Who do we even know who could give you guitar lessons?” she argued, as she looked through the Sears catalog at the price of guitars. It was close to my birthday, and I had made sure my list was short with GUITAR written on every other line.

“Steve Miller plays guitar,” I told her. “I heard at church that he can give lessons …”

The reason my mother didn’t see through my ruse of just wanting Steve Miller to come to my house twice a week was that Steve was six or seven years older than my 13-year-old self. He was one of the five Miller boys who went to church with us. Great family with great boys, and Steve was the oldest. I had such a serious crush on Steve that having to practice guitar to see him smile at me was a price I was willing to pay.

Besides, Steve didn’t make me do boring things on the guitar like Mrs. Turner did with scales on the piano. He taught me a song the first day: “Jack Was a Lonely Cowboy.” Three chords: G, C, D. Then he taught me “Down in the Valley,” which made my Papaw think I was a prodigy.

Steve could only be my teacher for a short time. I can’t remember the number of lessons we had before he went back to college after the summer. By the time he left, however, we had added more chords, and he had taught me to play “House of the Rising Sun.” He told me I was a great student and to keep it up.

I played “Jack” in the school talent show that fall and won second place, but I never looked for another teacher after Steve. I kept the guitar and even took it to college with me, where it sat, gathering dust, in the corner. No one ever asked me to play.

But, who knows … maybe when I do decide to retire, the guitar will call to me.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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