A Red Guitar

This doesn’t really have much to do with NASCAR, but since it’s about family and so much of NASCAR is centered on family it fits in, methinks.

John Andretti was buried yesterday in his native Indianapolis. After his funeral, before proceeding to his final resting place the hearse carrying his remains took a solemn lap around his beloved home track Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500.

My father’s family moved to Indianapolis in 1921, when he was two years old. He grew up there. It wasn’t an easy life; his family was anything but well-off, and his mother died at an early age. Still, to him it was home. After marrying my mom in 1944 he moved out west in stages for employment purposes, going from Indiana to Illinois to New Mexico and finally California where I was born. When he retired in 1980, he along with my mother and yours truly moved from California to Indiana, specifically Greencastle which is some thirty miles west of Indianapolis. We often went there both while I lived in Indiana and during my visits there after I moved back to California. He showed me the neighborhood where he grew up, the schools he attended, and when my mother wasn’t in the car with us the locations of his favorite watering holes along with the houses where assorted girlfriends once lived. My Dad enjoyed life IYKWIMAITYD.

In my tender-headed … er, tender teen years I was quite convinced I was going to become a rock and roll star, thus was utterly consumed with playing guitar. My parents tolerated my fantasy perhaps too much, occasionally buying me an electric guitar despite the fact I was at the time far more adept at playing folk on my acoustic. The first professional quality electric guitar I had was a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. I detailed the story surrounding it a few years ago, so skipping ahead I eventually traded the guitar for a different one and have never forgiven myself for doing so, even though I now own one very much like it.

Flash forward to today, when on that seeming rarity for me known as a day off of work I was doing some light maintenance on a guitar – installing a new bridge (real tough – you pull the old one off its mounting pegs and put the new one on), adjusting the neck, etc. A luthier and/or skilled repairman I am not, but I am capable of doing the basics. Sidenote: the guitar in question is close to the same color the aforementioned Les Paul was when I was gifted it, which is one of the reasons I bought it a few months ago.

As I was setting the intonation (in English, making sure each string plays in tune up and down the entire neck), I suddenly found myself talking to my father as if he was there watching me. He was an engineer by trade, and a highly skilled one, thus making it somewhat curious that I am anything but mechanically inclined. It’s also worth nothing my father passed away nearly twenty-one years ago. Yet there I was, talking with him and assuring him yes, I know what I’m doing here Dad, as surely as if he was physically present. And it didn’t seem in the least bit odd.

As I finished setting up the guitar and set about playing it, I smiled at the thought of how my intended upcoming musical adventure is a mixture of country and blues, and how my father would get quite a chuckle out of the sight of his son Mr. Rock & Roll accompanying my musical partner (and most superb singer) when we first hit the stage together and break out “Crazy,” a Willie Nelson composition made famous by Patsy Cline.

As noted, my father has been in heaven for nearly twenty-one years. It still takes but brief reflection on him to bring on the faraway stare, the moistening eyes. Yet I smile, not only in anticipation of that coming day of great reunion promised by Our Lord but also at how such simple things as adjusting a guitar bring warm memories. Life continues. We may be but temporary assemblages of dust on this planet, yet we are immortal even as life itself is immortal. For we are life, and shall always be.