The following story is part of a volume of stories collected from the residents of the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. For more information on this project, click here.
I used to play the guitar….
When Kim Ells used to get a new song and she wasn’t sure of the tune, she’d come in my room, and we’d sit for a couple of hours and go over that song until she had the chords and the tune in her mind.
I don’t play any more because of my fingers – the arthritis in my hands.
I got my first guitar when I was 16 years old. I borrowed $100.00 from my mother, and I went to a man in Halifax named Harry Jackson who used to teach music. He used to teach music, and he also sold guitars. So, he had one in there that I wanted more than anything. It was made of yellow birch. It was a Stewart, but now the Gibson people have bought the Stewart people out. It was what we call an auditorium sized guitar, so the base of it, where they’re rounded, was about that wide across (about 15 inches) and it was about that high with little f-holes in it – not the round holes – 2 f holes up on the top part. So I thought I’d buy a book on chords. I just taught myself to play….
Of course, Mom and I were always country and western fans, and she loved Hank Snow, (Senior). I learned how to chord. I never learned how to read music. I played everything by ear. So, I’d put records on the turntable, and I’d listen to the first verse to find what chord I started in, and after that I played along with them until the end of the record. After a while, I got so good at it that 2 or 3 other fellas and myself used to play around together, and we’d go to senior citizens’ homes and we’d play for them for an hour or so. Then, when my hands started aching when I was playing, I thought I’d better give it up….
I paid $100.00 for that guitar. That was a lot of money in those days. I just saw it and had to have it. It was probably around ‘85 or ‘86 when I had to give it up because my right hand was the one I used all the time. The left one was not bad for chording – not bad. But this one is. This finger there is a little turned, but they’re not that bad. The arthritis is in the knuckles….
Mom used to love to sing. She sang in the choir for nearly thirty years. She loved to sing. Her voice… I would say she was probably about an alto. Not quite as high as a soprano, but just a little bit lower. Dad had no music ability at all. He didn’t like music. When I was living home, I used to spend a lot of time with Mom singing and playing. Even dancing. My grandmother taught me to dance because my grandmother and my grandfather on my mom’s side used to be ballroom dancers, and they used to win trophies and medals and everything for ballroom dancing. They used to go once a week to the Lord Nelson Hotel, to the ballroom down there. Mom always told me that as long as I lived, her father would never die because I looked so much like him….
So it was Grandmother who taught me how to dance. Of course, Mom always knew how to dance because when she was small, Grandmother used to teach her. But Dad had 2 left feet He was never what you’d call a dancer.
We used to sing at family gatherings. Mom and I were very, very close. I think she also had a little bit of a soft spot for me because I was the first born. Mom and I always sang. We used to have songbooks and we’d go through them, and we’d get out the songs we want and sing. I didn’t really have a favourite. It had to be something I could get into my head. If I didn’t like something, then I wouldn’t bother with it. I had to know the tune – the way it goes. There are songs I won’t sing any more….
My favourite that Mom used to sing was “Carolina Moon”. It’s not very long, but she used to sing it a lot. I started singing that when I was five years old. She’d put it on the Victrola – the crank – the old RCA Victrola, and I would sing….
Collected from Arthur Boswell, by Kathryn Collicott, Fall 2011. All photos by Kathryn Collicott