Mothers Day

Liz Gelber circa 1946. Bye, Mom. And thank you. I miss you already.

Liz Gelber circa 1946. Thanks Mom.

Did your Mom yell at you to turn that thing down? Did she tell you that there was no future in being a guitar player? That maybe you should be a doctor or a lawyer or maybe a nice accountant? Mine did not and that’s just the beginning.

My mother had nine children (all boys in case you think it was going to be easy). She’s been gone since 2011 but I think of her much more often than one day a year in May. She always encouraged her sons to play a musical instrument. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was mandatory. We had a spinet piano in the living room which she played often and competently. She could sight read like you read the newspaper but she wasn’t going to be mistaken for a musician. Still, there were show tunes coming from the living room. Each of my brothers played at least one instrument. None of us were good enough to make a living at it but most of us stuck with it. I took violin starting in the 4th grade. I wasn’t very good. My parents added an organ to the living room when I was around ten (not a chord organ either-a real dual manual, no fooling’ around pedal board pro Allen) and I took lessons on that too. I wasn’t very good. My oldest brother, Ben-who also played violin, took to it and then there was Bach coming from the living room.

The Beatles showed up in 64 and I bugged my father endlessly to get me a guitar and he came home with a flattop Kay that cost $15. I started guitar lessons and quit the organ. I still had to play the violin in the school orchestra (I switched to upright bass that same year). Mom made sure I practiced like she did with every other brother and every other instrument. The big surprise was that I was pretty good at it. They agreed to get me an electric guitar (Fender DuoSonic and Princeton amp in 1964) and my younger brother, Brian, who already played the oboe, albeit not that well, took over the Kay. He would take over the DuoSonic when I got the Fender Jaguar in 65. I would often practice in the living room with the amp turned up to somewhere around 11. And then there were Beatles songs coming from the living room. My Dad would come home from work and yell at me to turn it down but Mom never did.

When she was in her 50’s, Mom decided it was time to learn another instrument. She asked me to help her find a cheap and playable guitar and we ended up with a German Framus flattop that had good action and she taught herself to play. I helped her with chord charts but she wouldn’t have it. She had to read music – not some chart. That was cheating. Just the notes please. She never got that far but she was never one to shrink from the task at hand. Mom had no fear. She learned to windsurf in her 60’s, built a path down to the lake behind our house, wallpapered the bathrooms, made a quilt out of my Dad’s old neckties and about a zillion other “projects”. She never excelled at any of them but showed a level of determination and ingenuity that has influenced me throughout my life. If someone says that something is so simple “…even your Mom could do it…”, they didn’t know my Mom.

So thanks Mom. Thanks for the encouragement, your example and your unwavering support. And thanks to my wife, too, for carrying on the tradition of superb mothering. Our son is a pretty good guitar player and can play the piano better than my Mom thanks to the support of his Mom. In our house, there was Chopin and Gershwin and Lennon and McCartney coming from the living room.

Liz Gelber circa 2005 Thanks again, Mom.

Liz Gelber circa 2005 Thanks again, Mom.


3 Responses to “Mothers Day”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, a great story about your dear old mom and how supportive she was of your guitar endeavors! My folks were pretty much the same way, tolerating loud band rehearsal sessions at home. And of course they bought me my first decent electric set (1960 Fender Music Master (in Desert Sand finish!) and ’64 non-reverb Deluxe) after I blew the speakers in their Fisher stereo from playing electric guitar (acoustic with a cheap pickup on it) through it! Here’s to supportive moms (and dads!) everywhere encouraging their kids’ musical adventures!

  2. Brian says:

    Beautiful, Charlie. Thanks for sharing.

  3. chuckNC says:

    My mom went to the University of Wisconsin on a full music scholarship and had perfect pitch. My dad was tone deaf. Although Mom dreamed that some of her side of the family’s musical talent would show up in her kids, I’m afraid my sisters and I were a little too beholden to dad’s roots. We all did hard time slogging through John Thompson’s books. (Or book?…I’m not sure if my making it into Book 2 is reality or a face-saving delusion.)

    Mom asked my what I wanted for a graduation (from 8th grade) present and I begged for a guitar. Why she finally relented I’ll never know. I had never stuck with anything before but she finally bought me a Kingston classical guitar at Treasure Island. I think they were $30 but she gave $25 for the floor model, which was strung with steel strings instead of nylon.

    I still have it. It still lives in its original chipboard case with my name and address in Mom’s neat handwriting plainly visible inside (in case I left it laying somewhere and forgot to bring it home). I think I got Mom’s money’s worth out of it. I wore its brass frets down to the board learning how to bend those steel strings.

    That’s amazing in itself. The only reason I wanted a guitar was that a buddy at school told me you didn’t have to read music to play the guitar — all you had to do was look at the little checkerboard chart and put your fingers where the dots were. “Next thing you know you’re strumming chords and it sounds like music.” That’s all I wanted to do…until I got that guitar on my lap. Immediately I was hunting notes and trying to play simple licks by ear. I still am doing just about that 44 years later.

    Thanks, Mom!

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