My Words

Grandpa’s Gibson

Many of my childhood days were spent at a little green house on a dead end street called Mecham Lane. It took me a while to figure out the little green house on Mecham Lane belonged to the Mechams. I’d always known them as Grandma and Grandpa Grape. And since my other grandparents were Grandma and Grandpa Dumas and Grandma and Grandpa Evans, then certainly Grape would have been their last name. But it wasn’t and they weren’t the Grapes. They were Thelma and Rulon Mecham, and they were my great grandparents. The little green house of Thelma and Rulon Mecham was a place of magic when I was a child. There was the pea patch, and the strawberry patch, and the raspberry bushes. We’d eat peas from the pod in big bowls, and Grandma Grape was the best at “making” strawberries, which was just muddling them a little with a generous sprinkling of sugar. There was the Gold Machine – a contraption with conveyor belts and windshield wipers to sift gold from dirt. There were easter egg hunts and family gatherings, horseshoe games, the canal, and there was music. Almost every time we were there there was music. My great-grandpa Rulon was a musician. He wrote songs and would entertain us for full evenings with his guitar on his knee. He had love songs and spiritual songs, but my favorite were always his funny, tongue-twister songs. Hearing stories of him playing his songs in bars for an audience sounded the same as being famous in my little-kid days.

Thelma & Rulon watching me open Christmas gifts, early 1980’s.

Those days of listening to my grandpa play are long gone. Thelma passed away when I was 14. Rulon remarried and lived a long life, despite his heart’s attempts to say otherwise. Rulon passed away several years later in 2004, when I was 28. As one of the multiple great-grandkids I cherished what I had of those days; an old cassett recorded by my grandpa Grape, December 24, 1985.
He gave all his kids and grandkids copies, and somehow I’d ended up with my mom’s long ago. Ten years ago I was able to put it on CD and redistribute it to the family. On it is my grandpa and what he chose as the most important of his songs, and one little line from my Grandma Grape; “Oh, Rulon, I didn’t know you cared so much,” you can hear her say.
Those days in their tiny living room, with smoke swirling at the top of the ceiling and my grandpa’s twangy, country style voice filling the rest of the open space, have stayed with me. I’ve had a love of music in small venues my whole life, and for live music in general. I shared that love of live music with my son, although he never got to listen to grandpa play, he does know the joy of listening to a guy with a guitar, singing to a crowd in a small room.
The love of music is continuing to spread from one generation to the next, and the love started at the feet of Rulon Mecham. As little kids singing along with his original, Little Piney, or the one we all sang, You Are My Sunshine, the love of music blossomed. We’d giggle and try to sing along with The Thing, convinced we were clever and knew what that little critter really was. The song Christmas Day became funnier as I got older.
My memories of those days were rekindled this week with the discovery of Grape’s guitar and this blog post by its new owner. He’d found the 1956 Gibson online after it had been pawned a few years back by a cousin. I’m sure the decision to pawn it was a desperate situation. My initial reaction was the same as the rest of the family at learning he’d sold it to a pawn shop; why hadn’t he called us first? But as it turns out, the journey through the pawn shop was the right one.

Current photo from blog post by new owner, posted on Jazz Guitar Online.

This beautiful guitar has found it’s way back to a loving home with a man who plays. With a man who appreciates not only the beauty of the instrument and what can be done with it, but also the story that he knew had to be attached to it. On his own he’d done research on my Grandpa Grape after discovering his name etched on a plate on the guitar. He found Rulon’s obituary and put what he’d discovered about his new guitar in words.
The new owner of my grandpa’s Gibson took note of everything about the guitar that showed it had meant a lot to someone. The wear marks from his knee, the divit created by what he assumed was his wedding ring. He’s decyphered how my grandpa played by the ghost-like pattern left on the neck of the guitar from his hand. He wondered about heat damage on the case which we guess came from resting too closely to the 3’x3′ metal heat grate in the living room floor, and not from the rescue of a different Rulon Mecham from an apartment fire in 1976.
What he couldn’t know when writing his post was how much it would mean to our family to see it. To see this guitar, responsible for so many happy days and nights in that little green house, brought up a flood of emotions for us all. The Gibson spent several decades making music with my grandpa Grape. He would be pleased to know it had traveled far to make it to another loving home, after all these years, to be played again.

Five generations in front of the little green house. Rulon Mecham, his daughter, Ilene, her daughter, Barbara, her daughter, me, my son, Alexandre. Spring 1997.