My Big-Boned Gringa

My guitar is a beautiful instrument, the blonde beneath the bed, the one I am afraid to play. She has lain under me for 36 years.

In her hardcase she shines, yellow spruce top marked by the many golpes of flamenco music. Her sides and back are Brazilian Rosewood, and though she bears the name “España,” she was made by hand in Sweden. The marquetry around the mouth looks like Moorish tilework; a sampler of exotic woods. When the hippie commune was building luxury condominiums in the old apple orchard back home, my parents bought her from a homesick young Australian—his airfare home. I was six and she was my Christmas gift. I have not received anything so lavish nor beautiful since.

We’re out on the ranch cutting seasoned piñon and cedar that was chained last year. Uncle Alfred, Mike and Mateo. We’ve teamed up and I am with Mike. Today I take what he has blocked with the chainsaw and stack it in the bed of the pickup. I clear the smaller branches from the area he is cutting. It’s detail work, and I have to keep the spare tires and jack free, stack wood tightly in about four rows, and make sure there is enough bounce space between the rear window and the ends of the logs–all the while leaving an area on the tailgate where Mike can fill saws and sharpen chains. It takes four of us as many hours to cut two cords of wood. The afternoon is scented with fresh cedar, piñon sap, and acrid two-stroke exhaust.

Though it is late March, it begins to snow where the 20 mile ranch road joins the paved county road. Afterwards we gather at my house since tio Alfredo doesn’t share our bad habits. I get the stove going with some of the wood we’ve collected, cobble together dinner. And pull the guitar out from under the bed.

When he sees it, Mike exclaims “una jueda!” He improvises a Malagueña, adding little chips in the varnish below the boca. His small veiny hands are a blur. I dig for some sheet music and fumble through a Pavana written by Jorge Bufano for his niece. The guitar is passed around, and I note how she sits in each man’s lap, the pale alto. With me she has always been large but not generous. Brittle and too expensive for my ability. I prefer the $80 pine guitars of the Juarez mercados which have given me an honest and sturdy sound. I find that they are responsive and forgiving, easy to make sound well. I will not describe how my guitar sounds in Mike’s hands. I am angered at how comfortably she lies cradled in his arms. He asks me if I want to sell her. I hesitate. I tell him I will loan her out, hoping that I’ll see her again after Easter.

I had been invited to the birthday party Mike threw for his year-old son, but was traveling and couldn’t show up. My neighbor says it was a great gathering. The family jammed until late at night. Uncle Alfredo played my guitar all evening long.



© Tasso 2003