Buying My First Guitar at Age Ten (from upcoming memoir work in progress)

As a third and fourth grader I sang songs like “Sounds of Silence,” “Blowin’ in The Wind,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “If I Had A Hammer.” They didn’t sound great on my clarinet but each showcased an instrument capturing my ear and imagination — the acoustic guitar. I wanted to sing and play these songs in my bedroom. The chord progressions, minor chord vibe and lyrics intersected with my sense of the Civil Rights Movement, and were tailored for the 9 year old me. I wanted to play guitar. 

When I first told my parents they were less than sold. I’d already blown through the piano and clarinet with not much to show beyond expenses. So my mom and I cut a deal: they’d rent a guitar and pay for lessons but to own one, I’d have to pay for half. My guitar lessons started with songs like “Hey Jude, 
 “House of the Rising Sun” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Within six months I’d written a song and offered guitar lessons to kids in the neighborhood, five cents a session, a pig-tailed entrepreneur saving coins towards a dream.  

One of my favorite TV shows was “Here Come The Brides,” based in Seattle, a place I knew nothing about beyond the show. It aired between 1968-70 so at 10 when guitar lessons started I’d been watching the show a year. The basic storyline was Seattle, this rugged male-heavy logging community out west wooed women from New England to move there to get married. The three main male characters were brothers Jason, Joshua and Jeremy, the latter played by teen throb Bobby Sherman. Jeremy’s love interest was Candy and I was obsessed with them or maybe just her. The first song I ever wrote was “Candy” and I told my parents, guitar teacher and myself it was a song I wrote for Jeremy to sing to Candy: 

“Her lips are red as roses. 
Her eyes are hazel blue. 
Her hair is long and pretty. 
My girl, my girl Candy. 

I love the way she walks and talks. 
I love the way she smiles. 
I love the way she says hello. 
My girl, my girl Candy. 

After “Candy” I wrote “Ozymandias,” about an imaginary dog, and by then I’d also raised $20, enough to buy half my first guitar. 

By combing classified ads in the Richmond Times Dispatch I found a used acoustic guitar for $40 in a  local pawn shop and with newspaper in hand told my mom I’d found the “perfect” guitar.  

We drove off soon after in search of my prize. By the time we got there though, the guitar was sold. Gone. The 10 year old me, visibly shaken, touched my mom’s heart. “Paula, you stuck to the bargain so if there’s another guitar here you like I’ll get it for you.” In that moment, she was the coolest mom any kid could invent. We’d struck a deal though so I told her “no,” I wanted to find a $40 guitar.  Overhearing us, the shop owner told us he had a guitar in his basement that might meet our needs. My mom thanked him and then turning to me said, “Paula, you don’t have to get that guitar” but I really wanted to see and test it. After playing this used Yamaha 6-string awhile I tested others in the shop but when I returned to it, I knew I’d found my axe, nylon-strings and all. 

I took the guitar everywhere and being a skinny kid, the instrument was almost as big as me. Though I don’t recall specific school performances, childhood friend Jeannine Relly recalls me carrying the guitar around St. Joseph’s and playing for other kids at recess. By 6th grade I’d even won a talent show hosted by Oak Street Church. Throughout my remaining years at St. Joseph’s  I wrote music and along with our next door neighbors, the McClenny kids, we Boggs’ were beginning to learn songs we could perform as siblings. Standouts included Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” and the Staples Singers’ “O Happy Day.” 

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