Legends of Myself 9

Posted on February 18, 2011


Continued from Legends of Myself 8

11. A Gibson Guitar & Another Generation

I heard one more story about my father after the war, involving Port Essington and a Gibson guitar.

If you are a guitarist, you know Gibson.  Les Paul designed a very special one, which became a benchmark for all electric guitars.  I’ve seen Albert King playing a Flying V, and Johnny Winter too.  Robert Johnson reportedly played an L-1 acoustic model.  And if you heard any number of Reverend Gary Davis recordings, you heard the Rev talking to Miss Gibson and you heard her talking back.

My father probably bought his Gibson with fishing money.  With the cheque you got from the cannery at the end of a successful season.  Maybe, for all I know, with a cheque he got from Inverness Cannery.  And a good fishing season can purchase a fine guitar.

I know that in Port Essington my father’s Gibson caused a sensation when he offered it up for a contest.  My friend, Elder Ken Harris, who was there at the time (he was eight years younger than my father), said that the contest had every guitarist in Port Essington practicing and working.  The terms?  My father would give the precious Gibson to the first Port Essington musician to play a real song on their guitar.  That was a challenge that was taken seriously.  And according to Elder Ken, the fallout was that the music really got better in Port Essington after that.

Ken told me the story shortly after my father died.  “I’m sorry I didn’t bring it up some time when your father was alive,” he said.

My father, as usual, had never mentioned his connection to it all, but I do remember statements that he made more than once about a particular guitarist.  (His name has long escaped my memory.)

“He was tone deaf,” my father said.

But tone-deaf or not, that guitarist practiced, and after practicing hard, he started sounding pretty good.

My father never did let on why the man was practicing.  He just brought him up with a smile, a little bemused.  That story about a guy in Port Essington who was tone-deaf but learned to play guitar anyway.

I suspect, putting it all together, that that guitarist was the one who walked home with my father’s Gibson.  My father never did mention anyone else who could have been connected to that contest. And there is something appealing about the story of a “tone-deaf” guy turning himself into a musician, who walks away with a prize just because he wanted to do it.

Music will let that sort of thing happen.  It’s a plausible story.

And of course in that particular fellow’s case, to make it a better story, he gets a little incentive from my father’s fishing money.

I wish my father had boasted more, left me with more stories of that kind.

I’m not surprised, really, that a poor fisherman with nothing to gain but a more musical community would arbitrarily give away his Gibson.  My father always had the classic hunter-gatherer attitude towards possessions, an attitude which is shared by all travellers, of course, which is that anything you’re not willing to carry on your back, you better be ready to let go.

Dad was always shedding possessions when he moved and that probably made it easier to do at other times.  Of course, with a Gibson guitar in the reckoning, he made it count that one season in Port Essington.

Talkin’ about my generation.  I expect that Pop and Granny Alice considered it inevitable that there would be another generation of Clan Collins, their own attempt at family possessing as it did so much crackle and spark.

My Aunt Grace started first, connecting up with Kay Wing and giving birth to Georgina in 1944.

Sometime around 1947, I guess, Uncle Gus married my Aunt Irene:  a beautiful, slightly-vain member of Port Essington’s Bolton family, whose strong personality complemented Gus’s easy-going nature somehow.  In 1948 my cousin Art was born, to be followed in due course by Reynold and Trudy.

In late 1948 my Uncle Jim had Marylou, my soon-to-be sister, with Ramona, my soon-to-be mother, who already had a daughter, Irene, also my soon…well, you get it.

By 1950, I came along; and by 1951, my brother Tom.

Genus father domesticus walked the Earth briefly, pushing a buggy.

There are stories from that era concerning my sister Irene who was famously accident prone.  My father talks about buying her a nice new dress, and there being only one puddle between home and downtown but Irene fell into it.  Meaning that they all had to go home and clothe Irene in her shabby old dress once more.

Then there’s that other story which plays upon the fact that my sister and my aunt shared the same name.

“Irene Collins fell in the ditch.”

“Oh, she must have been drunk.”

Concerning my sister Marylou, I have only a nickname given her by Old Pop.  He named her Little Les—after Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Miserables—because she always somehow seemed to be unhappy.

I was there too—in those days before memory—and marauding armed about the countryside, according to one of the few stories that have come down to me.  My cousins Art and Reynold insist that I tried to shorten one of their fingers with a hatchet on a particular occasion.

I plead childhood amnesia.


Continued at Legends of Myself 10

Posted in: autobiography