A Few of My Favorite Things

I was recently asked what my favorite possession is. Of all that I currently own I would have to say that my collection of books and all the guitars I’ve managed to accumulate, are among my favorite possessions. Let’s begin with my books. I have always loved to read. When I was small my mom always read to me. She taught me read before I even started school. I liked books, especially the ones with lots of pictures. Those were followed by thicker books with fewer picture and finally books with only words in them. I didn’t miss pictures all that much, I had a great imagination so as I read I was able to visualize and could actually see the book come to life in my mind. I read everything, from short stories to comic books to novels and sometimes even the newspaper. Whenever I would read the paper my dad would get upset because I never put it back together the right way.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year at Bishop Amat HS that I discovered the fine art of reading. It happened in my English class, taught by the amazing Mr. Miles who sported a ducktail and looked like a cross between a 50’s greaser and Buddy Holly. He was one of the best and definitely the coolest teacher I ever had. He will forever rank in the top five of teachers, professors and doctors, I have ever had the pleasure to have met. Mr. Miles taught me the importance of literature. He taught me that a novel is more than just an entertaining story. He taught me how to read between the lines because interwoven into the fabric of each story are life lessons designed to enlighten us and assist us on our life journey.

I began book collecting during my mid 20’s. At the time I was into some of the classics, Hemingway, Steinbeck, H.G. Wells and Jules Vernes.  I was also reading the likes of C.S Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, George Orwell, 1984, Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and a relatively new fiction writer by the name of Stephen King. About that time the book club I belonged to, began promoting King’s novel Carrie as their book of the month. I read the reviews, purchased it, read it and was immediately hooked on the twisted mind of Stephen King. His novel Carrie, was my introduction into purchasing first editions.

Other authors I began to collect include John Sanford, Michael Connelly, Dean Kontz and Jeffrey Deaver. Of course I don’t have every first edition but I have several. They’re probably not worth all that much, but I bought them for their literary value not how much I could make on them. I bought them simply so I could read and share them with friends and family. I plan on handing them down to my children when I pass. Although I do value my book collection, they are free to do whatever they want with them. They’ve got my blessing.

Besides my books I also love playing and collecting guitars. Currently I have 3 electric and 6 acoustic guitars. My collection includes a Martin D35, the one guitar that I longed for since 1974 and finally purchased in 2012. It is by far my most prized guitar. I also have a Martin Special Edition similar to a D18, a Guild large body, blonde 12 string acoustic, two Yamaha six string acoustics, a Sawa 12 string acoustic, and a Fender six string acoustic. I also have a no name, electric wanna-be Strat and a no name wanna-be Les Paul. Yeah, I’ve definitely got this guitar thing going on. Thank God my wife allows me to indulge my simple pleasure. I only wish I could play better and put those guitars to better use.

Although the D-35 is my most prized guitar, my most cherished guitar is the Yamaha 100 series my wife gave me for my 21st birthday back in 1972. A close friend of mine managed a musical equipment store up in Sierra Madre at the time and assisted her in picking it out. It has truly been and continues to be a great guitar. I’ve had that six string for 45 years now and it is still my go to guitar for everyday playing. It’s been a very good friend.

I will never forget how my love affair with guitars began. It was the summer of my fourteenth year and a few of my friends and I were in the backroom of Ernie Breceda’s house playing pool one evening and listening to music. I was sitting there waiting for my turn when the record stopped and Ernie went over to put on a new album. During the quiet between albums I thought I heard a guitar being played somewhere in the house. I asked Ernie about it and he said it was his dad. I had no idea he played guitar. It sounded pretty cool so I got up and went to investigate.

I found Mr. Breceda sitting alone in the living room playing an older acoustic guitar. He saw me standing at the doorway and motioned me to come in and sit down which I readily did. I must have listened to him play for over an hour. Between songs we talked and he asked me if I played. I told him no but that I would sure like to learn. He asked me if I was serious and I quickly nodded yes. He smiled, and starting that night he began to teach me. I didn’t own a guitar so he lent me the old acoustic he was playing so that I could practice at home. It was a dream come true. I spent many evenings that summer at Ernie’s learning the basics and every spent every spare moment at home practicing. It was definitely time consuming, but I was determined to learn.

Mr. Breceda was a good teacher. He was extremely patient and didn’t mind repeating things for me. I was the impatient one. I used to get so frustrated but not him. Yeah he was great! In time I was able to play bass lines to several popular songs and within a few months I had mastered three major chords E, D, and A and able to finally  play an entire hit song “Gloria” by Them and most of “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. It had one chord I was still working on. That damn B chord was a tough one! Still I was in heaven! I had joined the ranks of guitar players everywhere! Nearly a year later I was playing all of the major chords and some of the minor chords and working on bar chords. I was progressing nicely.

Around that time Mr. Breceda asked me if I would be interested in buying one of his guitars. At first I thought he was referring to the acoustic guitar I’d been using for the past year but to my surprise he was talking about a hollow body electric guitar that he had just refinished and rebuilt. It was hanging in his garage above his work bench. It was a no name guitar with two pick-ups, and a beautiful orangish- brown finish. The moment I saw it I knew I wanted it. He was asking $60 for it but said he would let me have it for $35. I told him I wanted it but that I needed some time to get the money together.

It took me almost three months to earn the money but by early August I was able to return the old acoustic guitar and picked up my new electric guitar. Along with the guitar Mr. Breceda also gave me a capo, an extra set of strings, a half dozen picks and a guitar strap. I was the happiest teen in town. I still needed a hard shell case and a small amplifier but because the guitar was a hollow body I was able to play it even without an amplifier. Still I wanted one so I began saving immediately.

I gotta tell you I was really proud of that guitar. It was my precious. I took extra special care of it. With no case I had to. I kept it on top of my dresser. I had a thick blanket folded over on top of the dresser that I laid my guitar on and used two beach towels to keep it covered. By the final week of August I had saved enough to get a guitar case from Woody and Lena’s Music Store in downtown Azusa but before I could buy the $15 case things took a turn for the worse and I no longer needed the case or the amplifier for that matter.

On Saturday morning of the Labor Day Weekend I was sitting at the table having breakfast with my parents. My dad was in his usual foul mood and was giving me a hard time. My mom who normally mediated these moments just sat there eating and didn’t say a word. My dad was having a field day picking on me. I sat there getting more and more pissed until I’d finally had enough. I got up from the table and stormed away. My dad was yelling at me to get back to the table and sit down, but I was having no more of that. I just kept on walking right out the back door and out of the yard.

I walked about a half mile up to our local hangout Memorial Park Recreation Center and stayed there all day. At 5 PM when the Rec closed I went with my cousin Dave and my friend Bob and hung out with them at a mutual friend’s house across the street from the park. We were having a blast but in the back of my mind I knew I had to go home sometime. I’d been gone since 10 AM but I was determined to show my parents that they couldn’t get away with treating me so badly. Boy was I wrong.

I finally headed home around 11:30PM. When I got there I found my dad sitting in the family room reading. I thought for sure that the minute he saw me he’d be on the warpath but he just sat there and continued to read. After a few moments he finally said, “You’d better go to your room, you’re moms out looking for you and she’s not very happy.” I was shocked! I was sure he’d be all over my case but strangely he was calm as could be and just continued reading. I was reminded of the movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers.’ “Who is this man and what has he done to my dad?” It was so unlike my dad, normally by then I’d be getting the belt.

Perplexed, I went straight to my room and shut my door. I got out of my clothes, turned out the light and jumped in bed. Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later I heard my mom’s car pull into the driveway. A few minutes later I heard her enter the house. I quickly rolled over and pretended to be asleep. She must have set a speed record in moving from the back door to my bedroom on the other side of the house that night because suddenly my door flew open and the overhead light flashed on. “I know you’re not asleep,” she screamed, “turn around and look at me!” I slowly turned over and saw her standing in the doorway looking angrier than I had ever seen her! She was steaming!

I don’t believe I’d ever seen my mom look that way before. She looked like a crazy woman. In her hand she had a three foot piece of one by two. I knew I was in big trouble I could imagine the welts that piece of wood was going to leave on me. She moved towards me a few feet then stopped, looked at me then looked over at my dresser where my new guitar rested beneath the two flimsy beach towels. She stared at it for a moment or two then looked back at me, then back towards the dresser.

Without a word she advanced towards the dresser, raised the stick and began to pummel my guitar. She must have hit it a dozen times or more. I was paralyzed, I couldn’t move or speak. When she stopped she turned and looked at me. I was in tears. “I knew that would hurt you more than if I hit you,” she said. She then turned out the light and shut the door behind her.

I’m not sure how long I sat there on the edge of my bed in the dark before I finally had the courage to get up, turn on the light and survey the damage. It may have been as little as a minute or two or as much as twenty or more, I have no idea, shock will do that to you. I remember pulling back the towels and screaming! That’s right I screamed like a girl! My guitar was ruined beyond repair! The guitar I had worked so hard for had been reduced to a pile of rubble. My mom had managed to inflict the worse possible pain without laying a single hand on me, a painful lesson that I have never forgotten and never will.

I went without a guitar for nearly 4 months. But then for Christmas my mom and dad gave me a new six string acoustic guitar with a hard shell case. I guess my mom was feeling a bit guilty. It was an okay guitar but it never really replace my first, custom hollow body electric, I loved that guitar. My only regret is that I didn’t save some of the pieces of that first guitar, the neck maybe or a piece of the body. I would definitely have it displayed in my man cave as a cruel reminder of my youth.

About 10 years ago I saw a Gretch guitar at the Guitar Store that reminded me of my first hollow body electric. I ended up buying it just for nostalgia sake. It isn’t a replacement but only a reminder of how my affection for guitars began.

Yes my guitars and my books are a few of my favorite things.

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