Ice Cream Makes Everything Right

Ice Cream Makes Everything Right

A Story by drcornelius

My grandpa died last month.  Actually, it’s not that clear.  Grandma always said he died the first time, when he was in VietNam.  Not the “stopped-breathing and heart-stopped-beating” kind of death. All she knew, and had to accept, was that her husband was not the same man after VietNam that he had been before.  She just said “the guy who went to VietNam must have died”.


I think grandpa was about twenty-four years old when he came home from the army.  According to grandma, when he was a teenager he played the banjo for square dances and continued right up until he was drafted and sent off to southeast Asia.  She told me, when he didn’t have a square dance gig, he would sit by the fireplace and sing old time southern ballads.


My mom was born after grandpa returned from the army.  She said she never heard grandpa play the banjo, or any other instrument for that matter.  I didn’t either. In fact, although I spent many holidays over the years with my grandma and grandpa, I really never got to know him very well.  He always seemed to be somewhere else, lost in his thoughts. When I would ask him what he’s thinking he would always just smile, say “Oh nothing” and pilfer some ice cream for us.  He used to say “Ice cream makes everything right”.


I grew up playing the guitar and sometimes the harmonica.  Mostly ballads and blues. It would set me in the right frame of mind when things weren’t going well and keep me in the right frame of mind when they were.  Although grandpa never played anymore, he would often ask me to play something and would gently tap his foot to the rhythm. Those are the times I remember best; that’s when I felt we were connected.


Now that grandpa’s dead, grandma is going to sell the house.  She can’t keep it up anymore. She knows her way around a toolbox alright but the arthritis in her hands makes it hard to hang onto stuff.  “Got to get rid of all this junk” became her new mantra.


She and my mom assigned me the task of going through the attic and throwing out everything that I thought no one would want.  There wasn’t a whole lot up there. Just some boxes of stuff, some broken furniture, a couple of umbrellas in an umbrella stand and an old mattress in the corner.  


I pushed away the spider webs and pulled the string on the overhead light bulb.  That didn’t throw much light so I moved the dusty boxes away from the windows at the two gables and scrubbed the glass with my sleeve to let some sunlight in.  I pulled that old mattress over to the stairs thinking I’d get the heaviest, bulkiest item out of the way first.


When I moved the mattress I knocked over a black case that had been nesting behind it.  I opened the case and found it contained a banjo. The strings had been loosened and the bridge had been removed from the head and stuffed into the storage pocket in the case.  It looked to be in playable condition, if one was very careful about bringing the old strings up to pitch. I had never played a banjo but decided to tune it to guitar tuning and see how it sounded.


Only four strings instead of six but that’s an easy adjustment, just no bass strings.  I took the bridge out of the case and carefully slid it in place on the head under the strings.  Checking for intonation and adjusting the bridge location along the way, I slowly brought it up near pitch.  The strings held but I would have to proceed gently. I played a few tentative chords, G C D and the Em scale.


Wow!  That banjo made an incredibly bright and lively sound, given the state of the old, worn out strings.  Seemed completely out of place up in this dark and dusty attic but I could picture grandpa playing it on the riser in the barn with neighbors square dancing or just clapping their hands and tapping their toes.  Maybe he was showing off for grandma who was dancing in the foursome up front.


The only thing that was out of place was that buzzing sound when I brushed the strings.  I looked it over from stem to stern trying to figure out where the buzz was coming from. Tuners were tight.  Action wasn’t too low. All of the fasteners were nice and snug. Aha! When I looked in behind the resonator I saw a folded piece of paper that had been vibrating against the underside of the head.   I carefully removed the paper, unfolded and read it.


“Well, since you have found this, it means you’re either a family member or someone who bought this fine banjo from a family member.  The romantic fool in me hopes you are the former. In fact, my fondest hope is that you are my guitar-playing grandson.


This is a 1935 model Gibson TB-11 tenor banjo.  I played it for many years before going into the army, mostly tuned to standard guitar tuning EBGD.  


Don’t play it anymore.  Can’t play it anymore. Won’t play it anymore.  I don’t know. I’m all messed up. When I pick it up to play a ballad my eyes tear up and I fall apart.  Takes me back to how things were before VietNam and then I end up again in the middle of buddies being blown to hell.  Back to a bunch of killing, burning and… oh forget it.


If you are my grandson, pick it up,  tune it low so you don’t bust a string and play me a ballad.  I’ll hear it and if I don’t hear it I’m sure as hell gonna feel it.”


Holy s**t!  Grandpa’s banjo.  I took some time to just stare at it.  The curly maple grain of the resonator, the Grover Pat tuners, the absence of “belt buckle rash” on the back.  I was certain that grandpa loved and cared for this instrument. Since it could be tuned in standard guitar tuning it was clear that I ought to just play something.  Grandpa requested a tune. How could I refuse?



Finally ready to play I didn’t even have to think about what to play first.  Somehow grandpa told me. The banjo slid into a soft version of “You are my sunshine. My only sunshine.  You make me happy…..”   One song after another until my mom hollered up the stairs “What’s going on?  You’ve been up there almost four hours. Supper’s ready.” I went down to supper but not before whispering “I’ll be back grandpa”.

© 2018 drcornelius


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This is one of the most brilliant stories I’ve read in a long time. And I’ve read some amazing stories lately! This one tops the list mostly becuz of the words written in the grampa’s note. That was so intensely stated . . . few are so honest about hidden feelings . . . and it reminds me of my older brother who also changed for the worse after he came home from Vietnam in the early 1970’s. This is stunningly inspirational, as well as being deeply full of feelings. It’s the updated version of a message in a bottle – something most of us fantasize about finding. As a guitar player I recognize the many detailed explanations thru-out, which are clear & precise (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

drcornelius

1 Year Ago

Thanks for the review Margie. Your specificity is helpful. This was a fun write but I can't read i.. read more



Reviews

What a sweet, sad, satisfying story this is. It's hard to imagine someone being turned off by something they'd once been passionate about, but there it is. My family is full of guitar players, but I'm the only one who ever picked up a banjo. What a great instrument that Gibson must be. Well-written and honest, I enjoyed reading this.

Posted 1 Year Ago


A most enjoyable story on so many levels. It could have been initially read as a gentle fantasy, but the factual technical details brought a new dimension , that could only be attibuted to experience. Whichever level ,however, it was compelling, enjoyable and, above all, darned good writing.

Posted 1 Year Ago


This is one of the most brilliant stories I’ve read in a long time. And I’ve read some amazing stories lately! This one tops the list mostly becuz of the words written in the grampa’s note. That was so intensely stated . . . few are so honest about hidden feelings . . . and it reminds me of my older brother who also changed for the worse after he came home from Vietnam in the early 1970’s. This is stunningly inspirational, as well as being deeply full of feelings. It’s the updated version of a message in a bottle – something most of us fantasize about finding. As a guitar player I recognize the many detailed explanations thru-out, which are clear & precise (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

drcornelius

1 Year Ago

Thanks for the review Margie. Your specificity is helpful. This was a fun write but I can't read i.. read more
What a beautiful story and what a great thing to find, especially the note.

Posted 1 Year Ago



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4 Reviews
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Shelved in 2 Libraries
Added on May 18, 2018
Last Updated on May 18, 2018
Tags: VietNam, Banjo, Music

Author

drcornelius
drcornelius

Sarasota, FL



About
Poet, song writer, dream chaser, and retired psychologist. I thrive in the mountains of northern New Jersey during the summer and Sarasota Florida during the winter. more..

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