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The guitar case over in the corner

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 10:48 a.m. CDT

There was an old, soft vinyl guitar case that sat over in the corner of my father-in-law’s house for as long as anyone could remember. It was covered with a telling amount of dust and cobwebs and the once vibrant brass hinges were now stained with tobacco residue.

Two feet away from the guitar case rested my father-in-law, Bruce, in a Hospice hospital bed. An 18-month battle against cancer was simply too much for even this Vietnam veteran to endure.

There were a multitude of pumps pushing oxygen and electronic medical boxes beeping; the sounds were leading up to the crescendo that was to be his final day here on Earth.

It was the Fourth of July, and everybody was weeping.

During a visit shortly after Bruce’s diagnosis last year, my curiosity about the guitar case got the better of me. Without his knowledge, I secretly took the acoustic guitar out of the case. I retreated to the back of his house where nobody could either find or hear me. I squatted down on the sun-faded steps of his wooden-planked deck and inspected the guitar carefully.

The strings were old and dramatically out of tune. The rosewood fingerboard revealed the stringed instrument had only rarely been played in any capacity. The spruce and mahogany were dull and caked in decades of neglect. A strange, ancient musk emanated from the sound hole.

I tried my best to spot tune the acoustic guitar and to my surprise the aged strings didn’t break. So I began playing as warm tears rolled down my cheeks, and gazed off into a nearby field.

I am incredibly bashful about my instrument playing, and very rarely does someone manage to sneak up on me while doing so.

That’s when my wife, Christine, along with Bruce, walked out onto the deck. They pulled up two chairs and sat down without saying a word. I figured the situation called for a little music, and so I played, embarrassed and encouraged.

I played nothing in particular, just melodies and softly strummed chords — just anything.

In that moment it didn’t really matter what was played.

We sat there for 10 minutes like that. Not even a word was whispered.

The funny thing is, up until now I practically forgot about that. Yet now in retrospect that memory is incredibly powerful, meaningful and beautiful.

People die.

Memories don’t.

The hardest part about all of this is my wife. I don’t like watching her cry without trying to solve the root of the problem. There is nothing I can do except to be there for her, to support her and to be her rock.

But alas, stoicism has never been one of my strong suits. I have done my best. I have tried my hardest.

In fact, because of that constant support for her, I have hardly had a chance to grieve properly myself — until this moment when I started writing about the old guitar case over in the corner.

The guitar case. I bet you thought I forgot all about that, but you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Bruce had little in the way of material possessions. When his three daughters went through and cleaned out everything in his house, it took them only two days.

Christine called me that day and asked if there was anything I wanted from her dad’s house. I told her to get me some memento that I could remember her father by for the rest of our lives.

When Christine came home that night she had the guitar with her. She said her dad would have wanted me to have it.

With a little bit of Lysol and lemon oil, along with a new set of strings, Bruce’s guitar was as good as new the next day.

And now, every time I play that guitar, and Christine hears me playing it, we will smile and be reminded of her father with every note, every chord and every song.

It won’t bring him back, but I like to think it’s a great way to keep his memory alive. Because even though people die, the memories never will.

To contact Will E. Sanders email him at wille@willesanders.com. His e-book “Exceptionally Curious Tales of a Particularly Eccentric Individual” is available on Barnes and Noble, Amazon and iTunes. To learn more about Will E. Sanders, to read past columns or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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