Hidden Stories

She arrived yesterday in a nondescript, brown cardboard box, 30 x 16 inches, following an overnight trip from Colorado. I was tracking her on my iPod and called my neighbors after I saw her confirmed delivery, only to find they had already retrieved her and placed her on the bench on the landing by our back door.

“Do you think it’s too cold there?”, my neighbor asked. “If so, I’ll be happy to put it inside for you.” I said that I’d appreciate such and asked if he could check on the kitty while upstairs. He agreed to both.

When we finally arrived home, around 9:30 in the evening, after the car was unloaded, the dog walked, the Thanksgiving leftovers put in the refrigerator, I changed clothes and asked if anyone wanted to join me in unwrapping the package.

“I’ve been waiting for you to do so,” replied my spouse from the other room.

With an X-acto knife and pair of scissors, I carefully worked through the layers of packing tape, cardboard, bubble wrap, more tape and a towel wrapped carefully, but tightly, around her. Finally unbound, I pulled her from the towel and at last saw the mandolin I’d coveted since I’d bought my first Martin Backpacker mandolin in 2002, when I first decided to take up this little instrument that intrigued me so. A intro-level Epiphone followed the Martin, then it was traded a year later for a nice, middle-of-the-road Eastman A model.

1914 Gibson A4 Mandolin

But it was a Gibson that I’ve longed for, specifically a pre-1930 A-4 with a black top. It’s the mandolin designed by Orville Gibson early in the last century that marked the real emergence of the instrument in the US. It’s not the classic Lloyd Loar F-5 that would follow, that by choosing it, Bill Monroe would make THE bluegrass mandolin (and of which only about 175 originals were ever made), but “the 1905 Gibson A-4 was a revolutionary instrument in its time, breaking radically away from the traditional bowl-back instruments brought to America by Italian immigrants (disparagingly referred to as ‘taterbugs’)… Though this design was subtly modified over the years, it clearly set the standard for what was to become the preferred style of mandolin used in American folk and popular music.” A Brief History of the Mandolin

When I found one on ebay last week, I hesitated for about an hour, then made an offer I couldn’t afford, but couldn’t afford not to make, either. The buyer accepted, promising that the instrument was in excellent condition after sitting in its case in a closet for the past 30+ years. When I pulled it from its mummy-like wrapping, I saw he had been completely truthful. There isn’t a scratch on her and though she’s a bit sleepy from not being played in so long, I can already hear the soft, rich, mellow voice that will in time emerge.

As I sit with her today I can’t help but wonder who has played her over the years. I wonder where she’s been. I wonder what kind of music she has made. I think there are stories to be told by her or perhaps to be made up from my imagination and attached to her. But regardless, we will tell some stories together. And I’m glad she found her way home to me.

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