Raeburn (age 16) playing his first ukulele. Mom (Gladys Kennard) was my best (only) fan!
THE BIG BOX THAT WOULDN'T RATTLE
You remember how we were back then? As soon as presents started appearing under the tree--even two or three weeks before Christmas--we would spend hours mauling them. Taking inventory of how many we were getting. Trying to figure out what was in them; but hoping not to succeed because that would spoil the fun of Christmas morning. Delighting almost as much in each brother's good fortune, as we did in our own growing pile of treasures.
I know only little kids are supposed to get this excited about Christmas, and I was at least 11 (sixth grade)--maybe even 12; but still, I was as hyper as ever.
Raeburn with his second uke (a gift from brother, Lee) on his mission in Arles, France.
Then one day, The BOX appeared under the tree. It had my name on it, but didn't say who it was from. It was enormous! But it didn't weigh a thing! A HUGE square box, wrapped so you couldn't read through the paper to see what it was, and empty? No, it obviously wasn't empty; there was something in it, but it wasn't very heavy! And it didn't rattle. It didn't even slide around inside when you tipped the box. It didn't even move at all! Not even when you downright SHOOK the box! This was wonderful! heaven! unheard of! A present this humongous--and just to ME ALONE! Not to "the Kennard boys," or to "Aaron, Lee, Raeburn & Roger," nor even to just "Lee & Raeburn." We had to check that several times to make sure there had been no mistake. Sure enough, it was just to "Raeburn." That's all, no one else! And it didn't say who it was from!
Those next two weeks were worth five Christmases! Somebody must really love me! They're giving me the BIGGEST PRESENT THAT'S EVER BEEN PUT UNDER THE TREE BEFORE SANTA CLAUS COMES. How could I wait? Every day we rolled and shook the BOX. Every day we tried to guess what could possibly be in such a big package and yet not weigh anything. Some days, self-doubt crept in, and I began to fear that maybe it was a trick. One of those big boxes filled with wadded-up newspapers, and way down in the bottom some little package of gum or something. No! Whoever it was wouldn't be that cruel! And, besides, it did weigh more than just a package of gum; and there was something in there. But what was it? Who could it be from? No one seemed to know. In fact, no one even acted suspicious enough to make me think it might be from them. The suspense was terrible and wonderful!
Raeburn with a baritone uke (borrowed from brother, Roger) while a student at BYU.
Finally, the day came. The stockings had been opened. The usual: an orange, a banana, some ribbon candy, a hankie, some nuts, and a few other little stocking-stuffers. Then, the chores and breakfast. At last, we were all in the front room and had our positions staked-out for gathering in the loot!
I started with some of the Santa presents: flannel pajamas, socks, one or two shirts, etc. Mom, as usual, had worked overtime at the sewing machine making sure Santa's bag would be filled with all that useful stuff! Finally, I couldn't wait any longer! I seem to remember that there were a few other curious boys who were getting anxious too.
"OK, pass me the BOX!" This was the moment! Off came the paper! Open the flaps! "Oh-oh!" I thought. "Wadded-up newspaper ... this doesn't look good ...." Knowing that the treasure--if it really qualified as one--could be hidden in any of the wads of paper, I was going pretty carefully down into the center. Then, there it was!
"What?! What is this?" I began to whine in my mind. "Is this one of those stupid, little, plastic, fake, wind-up, crank handle music box, toy guitars like my neighbor got when he was five? How old does whoever gave me this think I am anyway?!" I have often wondered if my initial total disappointment--even anger--was apparent to others. It probably was to Mom, I could never hide anything from her! But what did Jim read in my face? And in my silence? Could he tell that I was about to burst out crying for what I thought was a cruel trick? Or did he simply deduce that I was a little confused about just what a UKULELE is and how it is to be played?
Sam playing the hand-me-down guitar from the cabin (Family Camp 2012).
As he lovingly cradled the uke in his arm, left-fingered the strings at the top of the neck, and strummed it to life in a real musical chord, it seemed he had given me the gift he had wished someone would give to him. I tried a few chords on the uke, but you couldn't really call it music. My left fingers wouldn't go or stay where they should, and then when it was time to move to a new chord, they wouldn't move. But Jim was patient. By the end of the day he showed up with a book of songs that even had pictures of the fingering.
My progress was slow, and there were long weeks or months when I didn't take the uke down from its spot on top of the encyclopedias. But through junior high I finally got so I could play three or four songs without too much hesitation between chord changes. Then, in high school I began to memorize all of the Kingston Trio songs, and even figured out the chords for many of them. At some point in learning new things, you get over a big hump. Then, all of a sudden, it all starts to come to you in a flood. For me it was the summer after graduation, when I was asked to play and sing with some other guitar and banjo types at the Fathers & Sons campfire. And now, as if it all passed in a dream, I look back on over fifty years of pleasure, relaxation, sharing, nostalgia, campfires, jam sessions, hootenannies, and musical expression, and thank my "Big Brother, Jim" for the little ukulele in the BIG BOX.
Jammin' at the Family Camp (2012).