In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Digging for Roots.”
Who I am arose from the daily endeavors and accomplishments of farmers, musicians, an inventor, a faith healer, seamstress and milliner and more. Many teachers. When people ask me about my family and how I was raised, it is most expedient to respond, as always (cue yawn): “Via father’s side we are mainly musicians, past, present and so, likely, future.” These include composers and arrangers, conductors of symphonies and high school or college orchestras, singers (and players) of every imaginable sort of music (rock, rap and electronic have been mixed in with classical, jazz, folk). And some of us kept the passion for music at home rather than sharing it on stage.
I stepped off stage altogether by my twenties. I had sung and played cello, a little harp, violin and guitar. There was no avoiding it in my family. Even now, mind and soul are imbued with music’s powerful vagaries and wiles each day. Although for years I believed I, too, would become professional, I did not. Rather, I diverged from the norm to explore other artistic endeavors, which I began to pursue with secret fervor. And they appeared to be interconnected, anyway.
But the writing held fast despite attempts to put aside the call. I was hounded by words, stories, characters, a veritable conucopia of imaginative delights. And I feasted.
But who was my role model when all around me were musicians? Who wrote with fearless focus as did I even as a child? First was my mother, who wrote meticulous and scintillating accounts of travels and spun stories in the oral tradition, holding us in thrall. She kept notebooks and sent letters that offred a panorama of ideas and experience. But then my scholarly paternal grandfather comes to mind. He was a Missourian county superintendent of public schools. It seemed to fit him well. He loved books, learning and teaching. A couple of his volumes remain on my own shelves. I have a poem he published for Ida, his beloved.
He and my quiet, hard-working grandmother lived in an attractive one-story white house near the edge of town. It was replete with a fenced vegetable garden out back that I explored for hours, thinking it was country living. Grandfather G. always seemed dressed in a well-worn suit and tie. He was tall, six feet two. Wire-rimmed spectacles did not dilute an appraising, but not impolite, gaze. He was forward-looking in many regards, teaching his (musical, athletic) sons much at home and encouraging them to excel at school, and naturally to seek college educations. I found him calm. Gentlemanly. God-loving and God-fearing. Stern, even formal, from a distance. Close up, his large blue eyes, a family trait, were as inviting and warm as twin sky-blue summer ponds. He spoke in a well modulated voice with meaningful pauses, his beautiful words like sign posts for my mind. I knew we were going somewhere interesting as his words pulled me along.
But what I liked most about him was that he wrote. Essays. Poetry galore, even love poems for his wife. Editorials for the newspaper. Agendas for school meetings. Thoughts I could not discern as I watched him at his desk but imagined. I sat there myself when he wasn’t busy and hoped something of his prowess might rub off on me. All those cubby holes for important things. I breathed in the scent of old wood and paper, appreciated the exotic beauty of flowing indigo ink and a fine pen. I admired his penmanship, thready and graceful. He allowed my visits, giving me pencil and paper, checking up on me. I coveted his old Remington typewriter.
My grandfather, William H. Guenther, was on friendliest terms with written language. That was all that mattered to me. He passed when I was still growing up. But if he was still in this land of the living, I’d mail him my essays, stories and poetry, expecting a no-nonsense review of strengths and weaknesses. Underscored with a gentle smile. Love.