The Ukulele

First Posted 26-Dec-2014

I owe my Dad an apology, again. When I was a kid I was so pissed off at him for buying me a stupid ukulele. Four strings, sounded like crap, and was strung so I could finger chords with my right hand. I’m missing part of my left pinkie because of a fight over a girl with a childhood buddy–Chucky. Both of us lost the fight because the girl, on seeing us fight, thought we were both stupid and rejected each of us.

I owe my Dad an apology because back then I was dead sure no good music could ever come out of a miniature guitar with two missing strings that, worse, was strung wrong. I hated that thing because instead of helping me work out how to play a guitar or a violin with my overly short left pinkie he spent money on a dwarf guitar that was gimped like me. He bent the world to me rather than helping me strive to thrive in the world as it was. He, without words, labeled me as forever scarred, forever the guy who became handicapped in a fight over a stupid girl. The girl, now, is married with her own family. She’s not so stupid. Not then, not now. Chuckie I’ve lost track of. But, the things I learned from him and others I fought with as a kid, have become gifts. Instead of wearing my loss as a reason to pity me I’ve become proud of my too short, stupid pinkie. This is why I owe him an apology.

There are, if you look for them, more than a few videos from talented musicians who play incredible music with a stupid ukulele. They took on this dwarf guitar with missing strings and turned it into something amazing. So, my claim then, that no good music could ever come from a ukulele, was wrong. My angry words toward my Dad for trying to help, were wrong. I apologize for being cross with him. And I forgive him for just being a Dad who loved his kid enough to buy a ukulele that was strung so I could strum with my left hand.

Here’s the thing. We have the hand we are dealt. We have the circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we can point to a cause & effect that chains together from things we have done to get us to the circumstances. Sometimes, boys fight and lose fingers. Other times, though, the randomness of the world, the possibility of harm, becomes the fact of harm and there is no clear cause & effect to chain together to explain why harm arrived in our lives. S*&t happened and now we are left to clean it up.

Waddy do, though? Build castles made of bubble wrap and adapted so no one has to strive to achieve anything? Claim that the correct ukulele is the one strung so you strum with your left hand? Build temples to our miseries and make sacrifices to demons & demigods who stoke the fires of resentment and longing for missing pinkies? Pine for the days before the pinkie was gone, when things were better, when maybe, in a different dimension, the girl chooses the boy with the too short pinkie to be her hero? Today?

No. You give the kid a ukulele and help him learn how to use his left hand, short pinkie and all, to play the thing. You walk him through the frustration and challenge of playing because you know that with time & effort, the dwarf guitar with two missing strings can me made to sing opera worthy of the Met. You walk through the frame of the front door instead of the missing walls and start figuring out how to live in the aftermath of the chaos unleashed by whatever disaster befell you.

I type about 45-50wpm. I struggled when I first started to learn to touch type because the mechanical typewriters required the keys to travel too far for me. These days, on my computer keyboard, I fly at my usual pace. 45wpm isn’t record setting fast. It is fast enough that I can transcribe conversations as I listen to them. It’s fast enough. I don’t have to look at the keys as I type. By all measures, I can touch type well. My pinkie is too short because some of it was lost in a fight over a girl. I can still type and unless I show you my finger, you probably don’t notice that it is about a half-inch shorter than normal.

So, I and the ukulele are both capable of beauty, even with some of my pinkie missing and the uke being too small and not having enough strings. Something to be happy about. Sorry, Dad, I had no idea you could make a gift out of a shortened pinkie and a dwarf guitar. Lest you doubt it, know this, you done/do good. I can appreciate that now.