That lonesome valley (Part 1 of a 2 part series)

NOTE:  This story is a “prequel” to the previous, 5 part story  ”Highway 61.”

As the title indicates this is part 1 of a 2 part series. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

To Cheryl—her “real” father was just a picture in the china cabinet that sat in the parlor —the fanciest room in the house. It was also the room that was used the least—2 or 3 times a year when there was a family gathering. When she was a little girl Cheryl enjoyed the gatherings—uncle Dean—a semi-professional musician—would play guitar. Sometimes he’d bring along another musician friend—everybody would sing and usually drink a bit too much. As she got older she felt less comfortable with these gatherings but her love for her uncle was always constant

Uncle Dean was the only actual father Cheryl had ever known. Really it was very simple—Dean and his brother—Cheryl’s dad—were at the battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Dean survived. Cheryl’s dad did not.

Cheryl was still a baby when Dean returned to the states. Without any hesitation or second thoughts he assumed his brother’s responsibilities in Cheryl’s life—that was just the sort of guy Dean was.  Jenny, Cheryl’s mother, rarely had to ask for anything while Cheryl was growing up. Dean somehow always knew what was needed and it was provided. Other than living in a separate household, Dean was a full-time father to Cheryl.

When she was about 8 an elderly aunt of Cheryl’s passed away. Dean was asked to play at the funeral—that was the first time she heard her uncle sing his favorite hymn—“You gotta walk that lonesome valley.” After the funeral she asked her uncle if he would ever die. On that particular occasion Dean hugged her and said,

“Yes sweetheart—someday many years from now when you’re all grown up and have kids of your own.” He assured her it was a very long way away and for her not to worry about it. Cheryl knew uncle Dean would never tell her anything that wasn’t true so she didn’t.

That was the first of many conversations Cheryl and Dean had about life and people and “The Creator” (as he would say) and one’s place and purpose in the world. From time to time Cheryl would again ask her uncle when he was going to die and he always said, It was still a very long way away but, as she entered her teen years he would add, “It’s not up to me Cheryl—it’s up to the Creator.”

When Cheryl asked to take guitar lessons at age 12 Dean was the logical choice. For that matter neither he nor Cheryl would have it any other way.

After a few weeks of awkwardness learning the basic chords, Cheryl turned out to be anatural. Even Dean, who had taught guitar to hundreds of kids and adults, was amazed.

Once she learned the appropriate chords, she loved to play her uncle’s favorite songs. Each year at his birthday party she would play “You got to walk that lonesome

valley” –each   year her playing improved dramatically. Whenever she played it Dean would remind her of the truth of the song’s lyrics. We all have to find our own path in this life. Don’t look to others to tell you what that path is—your success and your happiness becomes contingent on someone else. And he would always say her playing that song for him was the most precious gift she could possibly give.

By age 13 she was playing chord progressions most players 10 years more experienced had trouble with. On Friday and Saturday nights she played club and dance dates with her uncle if they were close enough Cheryl could be home by midnight.

In February of 1964 Cheryl turned 14. For her birthday Dean gave her a C.F. Martin D-15 Mahogany Dreadnaught.  Iit was as though she had been handed the keys to heaven. Quickly changing the strings to Dean Markley Goldphos—her favorites—she spent the rest of that afternoon and evening with a garage band she had started a few months before called, “The Spoiled Brats Blues Factory.” In fact they played very little blues. They mostly coverd the latest British invasion songs.  Originally they called themselves “Afterbirth,” but everybody’s parents objected.

Uncle Dean was the only adult in her family that didn’t say anything. He was also the only adult Cheryl knew that made positive comments about the music kids Cheryl’s age  were listening to. He recognized the creative talent of artists like Lennon & McCartney and Bob Dylan. Outwardly Dean seemed like the rest of the family but from an early age Cheryl knew, in some very important ways, Dean was different from everybody else around her.

End of part one of a 2 part series.

FacebookTwitterDeliciousGoogle GmailGoogle ReaderDiggShare

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge