When I was seventeen, my mother got me a harmonica for Christmas. Blues Traveler was blowing up and I had been listening to them all the time, learning the lyrics, dancing to their rhythms. Christmas morning my mother gave me a harmonica. It was a gift. It was an apology. It was a peace offering. She was desperately trying to say she cared what I felt about music.
I wasn't ready to surrender. I'm still not.
Three and a half years earlier, I had been at a camp for gifted kids. I was in a class about leadership and risk taking, and toward the end we had a session where we shared our talents. The camp took place at Drury University. The class met in the chapel on campus. The chapel part is important. Remember I'm in a house of God.
I read poetry. Some people sang. One juggled. One played guitar. And here's where I long to linger. I think his name was Nathan. He brought an acoustic guitar and sang Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls. It was the first time I'd heard anything like that. This was 1992. I hadn't heard the Indigo Girls before. The strumming filled the chapel, echoed off the heavens, and I was closer to fine, for the first time in a long time. It touched my spirit and soothed me, gave me peace and gave me hope. I felt God's love. I felt excited to be alive.
I came home and told mom I wanted to learn guitar.
"You're too young to learn guitar."
"No I'm not. This boy was my age, and he was really good. He'd been playing for a long time."
"You can't play guitar. You play clarinet."
"Then I'll quit clarinet."
"You can't quit the clarinet. Look, if you don't like it then you can pick any other instrument that is in band or the piano. But you can't play guitar. It's not classical."
"There is such a thing as classical guitar. We can do it formally. I'll take lessons and everything. This is important. I have to play guitar."
"You can't play guitar. You are not playing the guitar. Do you know who plays guitars?"
She steamed for a beat before erupting. "Hobos! Hobos play guitar! No daughter of mine is playing the guitar!"
And she thought that was the end of it. I couldn't get around it. So, I went a different route. I'd claim what little part of it I could. I decided to dress like a hobo, if that's what she thought. I started wearing thrift store clothes, hand me downs from aunts and grandparents, anything ragged and used I could find. She didn't try to stop me. I don't think she realized at first what I was doing, and she had always prided herself on letting us pick our own clothes. I went from a gypsy style to a hippie one. Then I just started wearing torn up jeans, t-shirts, and old flannel. Then grunge hit and everyone dressed that way. My war disappeared in the camouflage of trend.
But it still bothered her. She wanted me to stop. My senior year, she bought me a harmonica, as if the Hook could make up for it.
When that didn't work, she started giving me new clothes for Christmas.
When I fell in love with a guitar player, she attacked that, too. But that's a different story.
This is my harmonica story. What I wouldn't give to hear the story of why my mother hates guitarists.