When my mother was growing up, a woman named Edna Conrad used to take care of her during the summers. Edna remained a fixture in her life and subsequently in ours when we came along. She was a Quaker from Philadelphia, born in 1898, whom my great grandfather, Earl Barnes met when she was a teenager. He hired her to help out his family during the summers when they would decamp to his country house in New Hartford, Connecticut.
My mother was born in 1928, daughter of Howard Barnes and his wife, Virginia Hood, known as Hoodie. Hoodie had issues and they divorced by the time my mother was 3. Edna did the bulk of the mothering of mom after that. Edna was a teacher at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village. She lived alone at 8 Bank Street. My mother lived there as well during her 20’s. Edna had a little house in Belmont Vermont where she and a number of other teachers had gotten summer places. I was conceived in that house, or so I’m told.
When my mother was dying of cancer in 1983, Edna came down to Rowayton and took care of her making macrobiotic meals as was the trend in cancer treatment in the eighties. No shrinking violet, Edna descended upon our household like a whirlwind, cooking, organizing and shuttling between our house, the Irwins’ house, and the hospital. She was in her eighties and my mother was in her fifties. We boys were in our early twenties except for John who was 13. The prospect of a life without a mother was about to dawn on us, though we had been preparing for this for about two years since we learned of the diagnosis in Fall of 1981.
Edna remained a constancy in our lives through the years following until her death in 1993. She would always be a destination in Vermont where we could bring friends, girlfriends and fiancés. Tony and I stopped there on our road trip in June 1991 and talked about the James Gleick book, Chaos, which she was reading at the time. After supper we would play Cows and Bulls. It was a kind of memory game that we’d been playing since we were kids any time we’d go to Edna’s. We believed it was responsible for her sharp mind.
When she died she left us Hussey boys $2500 to be divided between us. I had never had such a windfall.
I’d been going to Daddy’s Junky Music Store since 1972 when Fred opened his second store in Norwalk CT. I went into Daddy’s on Mass Ave with $500 in my pocket. They had a guitar towards the back which had no label but looked like a badly refinished small Martin. Sure enough it was a 1971 Martin 000-18 with a $500 price tag.
That was my main acoustic all through the nineties on the Boston folk circuit. It didn’t have a pickup and I didn’t have the money to make all the repairs needed to accommodate one. I made do with sound hole pickups and SM57s. Thirty years later and I’ve finally got some money. Lenny tells me about a guy in North Adams who works on Martins, whom he has used before. His name is Steve Sauvé.
I bring the guitar up to North Adams. On the way, I drop off Neil at the Volvo dealership where he is getting his high end Volvo. Steve’s studio is in an old mill building. There are Covid restrictions so I can’t go in. An assistant comes down to meet me, goes over the guitar with me so I can tell him what I want done. He then takes the guitar and disappears back into the old building and I drive home and wait for 3 months. I realize I never got a receipt and for all I know that could have just been some guy who steals guitars for a living. I finally call him, expecting him to go, “Who? What guitar? A triple-oh-eighteen? Are you sure?” But he does have the guitar and tells me he was just about to start on it. That week, he does and starts sending me pictures of the progress. He takes off the neck and resets it. He replaces the bridge. He puts in the Fishman piezo pickup I have provided him with. I anticipate playing the guitar and having that magical feeling of a properly set up instrument cradled in my arms.
When I finally do go up to pick it up, I am not disappointed. It plays like butter. We have a discussion about what strings to use and how often to change them, something you would think I had worked out after fifty years but, alas, I haven’t. I pay the man and come home to play the guitar I’ve always had and always wanted. It’s beautiful as long as I remember to change the strings.
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