I have a guitar that I don’t know how to play. It’s a spectacular instrument––a Martin Dreadnaught, likely one of the models from the 80s that managed to escape the doldrums of that particular decade that Martin went through, though I haven’t found out exactly which year, yet. I occasionally take it out of its case, plucking a few strings and strumming out the three or four chords that I know before resting it gently back amongst green felt and silence.
The guitar was my grandfather’s, and when he passed two years ago, he left it and an older one like to my brother and I, knowing so much the attachment to the instruments that he and I had fostered growing up. My grandfather was a fan of all things country, particularly bluegrass, and would often fill our family gatherings with the warm sounds of the guitar and the deep, soothing baritone of his voice. If ever there was a man who sounded like Johnny Cash when he sang, it was him.
His life was lived primarily on the Chesapeake Bay. Growing up, weekend trips to his marina in Middle River, Maryland would invariably result in spending the day cruising down one of the many back rivers on the Bay, looking with admiration at riverside homes and enjoying what always seemed to be the perfect day; or trawling for rockfish on one of the countless fishing expeditions we went on. The day would end back at the marina, where in the shadow of the massive oaks we would grill steaks or fish––sometimes fresh caught––occasionally making a stop at a crab house for steamed blue crabs, the cool breeze coming off the water keeping us comfortable. After I moved to Salisbury for school, these trips became less frequent, but every time I was passing over the Bay Bridge on my way home, I always felt that I could look down and say “hello.” Despite the fact that his boat is no longer to be found on those waters and my increasingly rare trips to the Eastern Shore, I still can’t help but give a quiet “Hi, Pop-Pop” as I pass overhead.
The summer before he died, he joined my family and I for our annual trip to the Outer Banks. Visibly thinner than usual and unable to walk for long distances due to his increasingly weakened state brought on by both the congestive heart failure he suffered from (the result of decades of smoking) and the Type 2 Diabetes caused by the candy consumption triggered by giving up cigarettes nearly ten years previous. He grumbled and groaned the entire time, clearly unable to remain comfortable––particularly after an incident involving my father stepping on his foot while lifting him up after being knocked down by a wave––but bore it all with the kind of amiability with which he approached everything.
Later that year I was back in Salisbury for my second year of graduate school. I was invited to come home to celebrate his birthday with the family, but because of the pressure I was under due to taking three courses and teaching two, I declined the invitation. What I didn’t know was that this would likely have been my last opportunity to see him.
Last October marked the second anniversary of his passing, and as time goes on, I find myself thinking more and more about him. I miss his undying devotion to the Bay, and the way that he was never to be found without a new book in his possession. I miss the way that he always seemed to see the best in people, and could quickly and easily make friends with anybody that he came across. I miss the way he taught me how to be a good person. I’m sorry that the woman I love never got to meet him, and that he never got to meet her. I think they would have liked each other.
I look forward to the day that I finally have the opportunity to sit on the Bay again. I think I’ll have a Michelob (his favorite beer), and perhaps listen to some Johnny Cash. Maybe I’ll even take my guitar.