The Old Guitar
Willie Lakin had gone garage saling with his mother that morning. He really hated to go. His mother tended to spend an hour at each sale, sifting through every item, while poor Willie was dying from the summer heat. Then she would do her best to talk the people down in price, even if it was already a great deal.
That morning they stopped at one sale and for the first time in ages, twelve year old Willie saw something that he wanted. As his mother fought a skinny blond woman over a cast iron pot, Willie walked over and inspected the old guitar. The keys were broken and there were no strings. It had lost its glossy coat and there were some deep scratches on the sides. Willie had wanted a guitar for most of his young life, but his mother couldn't afford to buy him one.
The price on the guitar was five dollars and Willie was sure his mother wouldn't buy it for him. He held it with reverence, as if it were the greatest treasure in the world.
An old man sat on the front porch of the house, watching the brown headed boy, slyly from the corner of his eye, as he was whittling at a stick with a pocket knife. After a moment, he struggled to his feet. He walked over to the boy.
Willie jumped as the man spoke. He had been so preoccupied with the guitar that he hadn't seen him approach.
"Do you play, son?" the man asked.
Willie looked up at the old man and just shook his head. "No. I'd like to learn, though."
"I'll tell you what, that old guitar served me well. Finally these old fingers just couldn't play anymore." The man held up his ancient hand in front of him. "My grandkids banged around on that when they were young. Now they are all grown. If you promise to fix it and take care of it, you can have it."
Willie tore his eyes away from the guitar in surprise, that the man would just give him that guitar. He looked up into the man's face with joy and gratitude. "Really? For no money?"
"You must promise to give it the love that it deserves." The old man put his hand on Willie's shoulder and gave it a light squeeze.
"I promise! I swear!" Willie said, excitedly.
"Good, good." The man chuckled and nodded his gray head.
Willie took his guitar home and true to his word, he worked on the guitar for several weeks. He sanded out the scratches and repainted the instrument. When he had finished, it looked brand new. He was proud of his work and couldn't wait to get it strung.
Now, Willie's parents had little money and Willie had started a paper route. He gave a portion of his earnings to his mother and kept just enough to fix his guitar. He took it to a nearby music shop and then waited for two long weeks for them to finish with it.
When the guitar was finally ready to be picked up, Willie was so excited! His eyes glowed as he saw the new bright brass keys and the strings. As a bonus, the man behind the counter gave him a beginning guitar book and wished him luck.
Willie practiced and practiced in the weeks that followed, but not one of the chords sounded right to him. Was he really so bad at it or was something wrong? He strummed and strummed, but only a flat tone came out.
He decided to take the guitar back to the music shop to find out what was wrong. He walked up to the counter where the gentleman was going through a stack of books.
"Sir," Willie said, hoping to get the man's attention.
"Oh, hello there! How is the learning going?" he asked, recognizing Willie, immediately.
"Not so well," Willie admitted, "I think there is something wrong with my guitar." He handed the guitar over the counter to the shop owner.
The man looked over the guitar and strummed a few perfect chords. "Seems to be fine to me." He handed the guitar back. "Are you sure you are pressing the strings firmly?"
"Yes, sir," Willie nodded and strummed a terrible, flat cord to demonstrate.
"Well, it does seem that you are holding it fine. Your fingers look compressed. Perhaps you just need practice."
Willie walked all the way home, hanging his head in disappointment. He knew the problem wasn't his fingers or the guitar. Maybe, he just had no talent.
Remembering his promise, he practiced for an hour every night for the next week, but was even further heartbroken when he overheard his father tell his mother that he wished that he would quit making such a horrible racket every night.
That night as he placed his guitar on the stand something made a sound like a piece broke off inside it. Willie picked the guitar up and shook it. Sure enough something had broken loose. He shook it again and could see a wooden piece through the hole, but try as he might, he couldn't get his fingers under the strings to get the scrap out. He went to his desk and grabbed out his plastic tweezers from his chemistry set and finally grasped the piece. It wasn't a piece of broken from the guitar at all. It was a wooden guitar pick, obviously old and larger than the plastic picks made today.
There was a name carved into the home-made pick. It read 'Willie Dean'. Willie looked at the words with shock and surprise. It was his name.
Out of curiosity, Willie, strummed a chord on the guitar and it the sound rang true. Encouraged, he grabbed his beginner book and played the first song through. He went on and played the entire book, with not one mistake.
His parents had been watching television downstairs when they heard the beautiful strains coming from above. They were drawn up the stairs and knocked on Willie's door. Willie didn't stop playing, but shouted for them to come in.
"Willie, that's beautiful!" his mother exclaimed.
"What happened, son? How can you play like that?" his father asked.
Willie stopped playing and showed his father the pick. The man looked at it in wonder and amazement and then handed it to his wife.
"You don't think…" his mother began.
"This guitar must have belonged to Willie Dean Phillips!"
Willie looked at them, bewildered.
"He was a famous country singer, Willie. We named you after him!"
Willie thought about that old man who gave him the guitar. Could it really have been the famous country artist?
"Was it the man who gave me the guitar?" Willie asked.
"What man, honey? The lady at the garage sale said you could have it, remember?" his mother asked, giving him an admonishing look.
In the next few days, Willie did some research on Willie Dean Phillips. The man had died twenty years before. Willie knew that he had seen a ghost and that it was meant for him to have that guitar.
When Willie was grown and was a famous country star, he sometimes told his story and still used the same old guitar.