Friday, August 3, 2012

Hoarder Historian

...a series of posts in which a baby boomer, in the process of cleaning out the file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves in his basement, discovers memories hidden in long-forgotten artifacts, and waxes, if not eloquent...

Nick Manoloff's Spanish Guitar Method, Book No. 1...$1.00...copyright 1935, M. M. Cole Publishing Company, Chicago

I think I was probably about 8 years, maybe 6.  My Aunt Selma gave me the old Kalamazoo guitar (which I was to learn later - much, much later - was an early Gibson), and my mother arranged for me to take guitar lessons.  My teacher was Mr. Vesey, a man with little patience, and less sense of humor.  I didn't remember his name - but my cousin Lissa did, and she always laughed when she said it.  She took lessons from Mr. Vesey about 6 weeks later, after I quit.  She stuck with it, until, as a young teenager she taught me some of what she had learned at camp (Talking Blues, and the E, A and D chords, so that I could play Gloria).  I was 15, and I got serious about folk guitar.  Lissa died in February 2010, just 56 years old.

Nick Manoloff's book, according to page 1, is "recommended by THESE GREAT ARTISTS," whose headshots (14 of them) are lined up vertically to the left and the right of the cursively labeled picture of Nick Manoloff himself, wearing a tuxedo and playing his classical guitar in the center of the page.  I just scanned those pictures and names surrounding Nick, and I don't even vaguely recognize a single one.  How could I?  This was published 17 years before I was born.  I'll bet Mr. Vesey knew them.

As I flip through the book, my eye lands on page 31, labeled at the top "The Natural Scale in the First Position."  There's a pencil note just under the title - "Play up & back," and a humorless bracketing of groups of three to nine notes, each bracket labeled with a penciled date, beginning with the first string - April 15 - and proceeding through the sixth string - May 12.

Lissa died of brain cancer.  It was diagnosed almost 10 years earlier as some chronic disease, and the symptoms were treated.  By the time her husband insisted on taking her to a specialist, 8 years later, the tumors had infiltrated her entire brain.  She was a Nurse Practitioner, an artist, and a wonderful mother of two kids (now both successful adults - and both medical professionals).  She had an incredible, sudden, cackling laugh, as abrupt to stop as it was to start.  I learned more guitar from her in one afternoon when I was 15 than I did from Mr. Vesey in a month and a half.  Although she spent most of her life in New Jersey, and I have lived mostly in Virginia and Minnesota, we talked.  Every time we talked, it was as if we were both still living in the brownstone on East 91st Street in Brooklyn...or unscrewing the light bulbs while waiting for her parents to come home.

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