Photo circa 1991
Back in the mid nineties when inline skating and the X-Games got wildly popular, I went through a roller blade phase. I put all my eggs in one basket and only asked for skates at Christmas. I am a persistent human, if nothing else. When I got my inline skates for Christmas he hid a series of clues around the house. After a dozen of so clues my dreams of becoming an X-Games medalist started forming. Unfortunately, I grew up in rural Missouri on a dirt road. Such surfaces don’t lend themselves to small wheels. Occasionally, when were at school afterhours, I was able to use the skates on level ground. If someone needs a pair gently used roller blades, I think they still exist in a basement in Cassville Missouri.
Christmas 2003 was my favorite. Dad and I had moved to northwest Arkansas after my adoptive parent’s divorce. Dad worked in one school district, and I was in high school at another. His responsibilities paired with my school activities made our weeks very hectic. Slowly I started to stay at my grandma’s house more often than not, it was easier and convenient for me. I still hold guilt about that time. I should have spent more time with dad.
We acquired a small rental house in Cassville halfway through the fall. I still mark those days as some of the best I’ve had. I remember the slight rental smell from years of temporary inhabitants, the generic paint color for the walls, and that is was ours. The Turner men had a place to call their own again.
Money was tight, but ain’t it always? We had left behind years of memories at our old house. Fifteen minutes to gather our most precious items meant we had unwillingly become minimalists. Life is about perspective. It’s hard to answer the question of “what do you want for Christmas” when all you possess is what you could quickly throw into a garbage bag and throw in the truck. I could only think of one thing I felt was missing, but I couldn’t ask. There wasn’t money.
Music had always called to me. Anytime I brought up an instrument or music I was discouraged to pursue it from half of my parents. After a decade, you just stop trying, but Christmas 2003 was different. It was dad and I. We weren’t held back anymore. I let slip my interest in an electric guitar. I tried to make sure dad knew there was no obligation or expectation.
Christmas morning we made pancakes. Breakfast food is always present during our best times. We tore into our humble stash of presents.
Gift number one: VHS copy of Gettysburg. Dad knows me.
Gift number two: Monopoly. We used to play on snow days after feeding the cattle.
Stocking: A clue.
Dad’s clues lead me around the whole house. Kitchen. My room. Laundry area. Bathroom. The final clue directed me toward the Dollar General drum ornaments on our tree. In the decorative gold braiding, I found a guitar pick. Then another and another. Closer examination of the fake tree trunk unveiled a ¼ inch instrument cable, carefully placed from the base to the star.
“Look under the couch,” dad said.
A Fender Squire Stratocaster was tucked neatly below where I had been sitting.
I don’t know how many times my poor father watched Gettysburg or how many games of Monopoly I talked him into, but I can tell you I spent hours playing that guitar. I like to think that guitar and I really helped dad learn a great deal about patience and grace.
As a kid who had seen dark times, I had been looking for my voice. I was trying to scream out that I was hurting, that I had things to say, that I noticed some things about life. In youth, we have a hard time knowing what our voice is and how to use it. Christmas of 2003, my father gave me a voice, and although at times it’s a growl filled with red clay dust, it’s my voice.
Ps. Joyeux Noel is one of my favorite Christmas films.