The Christmas Guitar

Yesterday was Boxing Day in Canada. The holiday comes from the old English church tradition of opening the poor boxes and distributing the money to the needy. As often is the case, my morning starts off with reflection on Christmas Day – a sort of post-mortem if you wish. A highlight reel of the day flashes across my mind and I think of not only the moments of joy, but, more often than enough, the lack of Hallmark moments and people missing from my table.  Like a coach on a losing team, I try to understand what I could have done better, or differently to bring a spark. I’ve never managed to get is just right…the postcard happy family sharing joy on Christmas Day. Estrangements, adult children pulled in several directions, grandchildren torn between being with Grandma and missing their mom all make their presence known. It’s not that it is traumatic…there is no wanton drunkenness, fights, or arguments. It’s more like an abundance of apathy, a distinct lack of excitement or enthusiasm. Trying to be a cheer leader on a disinterested team takes its toll. I dread the time leading up to the holiday, and am immensely relieved when it is over. It was no different this year until my husband’s son arrived in the afternoon. It was just the three of us, my son having gone off to return his daughter to her mother. 

My 32-year-old man-child stepson is autistic and needs to be coached in participating in social events like Christmas. If left to his own devices, he might not realize that Christmas Day has come and gone. So we mentioned that he might want to do some Christmas shopping and left it in his hands. He would either remember to do so, or would not. Either way, it truly did not matter as long as he graced our table that day.

My step-son arrived with a gift bag for me and a rather large package for his father, crudely wrapped and suspiciously looking like a guitar. He exclaimed that his present to his dad was going to be the best present! He opened his presents from us and I opened my present from him (a sweet combination of cat ornaments and a frame) but he insisted that his dad’s present be opened last. My step-son expressed such joy in every present he opened and, because of his autistic nature, very genuine. (He could not fake it if he tried). My heart was happy, but it was about to reach happy in epic proportions. He expressed remorse that he couldn’t find a big enough box to better disguise his gift as my husband carefully undid the wrappings. Even though it did, indeed, look like a guitar, neither one us truly believed it could be. But there it was…a beautiful acoustic guitar, clearly pre-loved. It exhibited all the accoutrements of age…scratches, decorative bits broken off, decals, was devoid of strings, and with a name scratched into the surface in cursive writing – not an autograph of anyone famous (as my step-son thought it might), but rather that of someone who prized his ownership of this clearly loved possession.  

I don’t know who beamed more – my step-son or his dad. He looked at his dad and said “I finally get to give you a guitar” and the penny dropped. You see, my husband has collected some fine guitars over the years. Most he purchased himself, but a few were gifts…one was given to him by his eldest son, and another by his youngest daughter – both Christmas presents. My step-son knew, by virtue of his financial situation, that he would never be able to give his father the gift of a guitar…until this Christmas Day. He was so very proud of himself, and rightly so. Autism is often depicted as someone with a lack of feeling. My step-son puts paid to that idea – he is one of the most intuitive and thoughtful persons I have ever met.

My husband had a set of strings at the ready and immediately went about restringing it with his son looking on. (As I worked on preparing dinner, it crossed my mind that the stringing and tuning of a guitar has all the resonance of a cat being throttled).  I whipped the potatoes and pondered on the provenance of this particular guitar. I wished that whomever had donated it to the thrift shop could know the difference it made in two people’s life that day. One in the giving and one in the receiving. 

Before long my husband was cranking out his newest song he’s been practicing by the Foo Fighters and my step-son was lining up the music video on YouTube for his dad to play along. The song was “Everlong” and the lyric “If everything could ever feel this real forever” was extremely poignant.  

No matter what Christmas Day brings, there are always a few memorable gems to hold onto and this one I will hold onto forever.  It may not look as shiny or have the name of Gibson or Fender on its headstock but is the finest and most treasured guitar in my husbands collection.  

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