This is a story I received from who was recently separated from the U.S.Army.
At the time Chuck sent me the story, he was stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga
... Chuck and I frequent a guitar builder/repair forum, and the guitar in the story is one Chuck repaired a few years ago..
Hope you enjoy it and Happy New Year!!
MAMA’S OLD BLONDE TIGER STRIPED STELLA
Mother was born Erlene Sula Money in 1921. At that time her father, Bryant Money and mother Lula McCoy Money lived in Henry County, Alabama. Her father was a blacksmith, and her mother, a schoolteacher. Times were very hard, the depression was fastly approaching. Mother’s father soon moved his family of six girls and wife to Columbus, Georgia to work in the cotton mill there. Mother always said, “Papa would say that was the easiest money he ever made.”
By the time the great depression of 1929 hit, Papa had moved his family to Fortson, Georgia. Papa was a strong believer of God and Church, and loved Sacred Harp singing, which was a very important part of his family’s lives.
Singing and playing musical instruments became a very important part of those hard times, and it was very routine for all the girls to sing and play on the porch. They would sing and play under the guidance and teaching of the oldest sister’s husband, Richard Batts who played a style of picking with his fingers, while the girls played in rhythm. Richard’s style of finger picking back then was known as “Old Black Folks” style picking. Very hard to play this style on the guitar.
While living in Fortson Georgia, mother turned about 14 years old, and having grown up in size, she went from playing the mandolin, to playing a guitar that her older sister Myrtle had given her. It was a blonde tiger striped Stella guitar. She learned to play with the help of Richard and her sisters. As time went by, Mother and her sisters went on to be known as The Singing Sisters, playing and singing in Church and throughout the neighborhood that good old gospel sound, along with a little country here and there.
Mother married in 1940 and began having her own family, still singing that good old gospel music. Growing up as a young boy, I can still hear those beautiful songs coming from whichever sisters’ house we would be at that evening.
As a young boy, sometimes I would ask mother, where is that old yellow guitar……and she would say, “Oh, it’s here somewhere, just look for it, you’ll find it.” Then we would sit on the couch and with that old yellow guitar in my lap, and mother saying, “Put your finger here and hit this string. That’s a boy, very good.”
When I got older, Mother gave me that old yellow blonde tiger striped guitar. She said, “It seemed you were the only one that wanted to share its love.” As I got older, the old Stella had served its purpose, and I moved on to an electric guitar. The old Stella went back in the closet for several years, only to reappear as “look, I still have Mother’s old yellow guitar.” And each time the old Stella lost more of it shape, as the old man of time was taking its toll on her.
Many years went by, and Mother didn’t have much time left, and I remembered the old Stella, and knew I must have a picture of mother and her guitar. Now at the age of 89, she hadn’t seen her old love that she took to school to play for the class and teacher, the neighborhood and in Church all those many years. She said, “You mean you still have it?” and I said, “Of course I do, I love it too.” Mother said, “Of course we can take a picture.” “I would love to.” So, I went home and pulled the old Stella from under the bed, only to find a heartbreaking sight. The old glue had broken down, the body and braces had come apart, and from the tension of the strings, the base of the neck had pushed into and warped the sound hole. My heart was broken and I was very angry with myself for allowing this to happen. I could not let Mother see the old Stella like this, the love of her childhood. I prayed and asked God’s help. I knew I didn’t have much time to have it repaired.
The Lord answered my prayers, and sent to me Sgt. Hutchison, a gentleman I work with, and through casual conversation found he repaired and built guitars. I brought the old Stella to him very ashamed of what I had let happen to such a true family heirloom. Sgt. Hutchison looked her over and said he could fix it, and with my heart and no time to waste I handed over the Stella.
In about two weeks Sgt. Hutchison told me the Stella was ready and the next day he brought her to me. I could not believe my eyes. He had not only fully restored the Stella, but he had also made a DVD of the process as it was being done. What a beautiful job he did. It looked just like it did when Mother gave it to me some 45 years ago. Sgt. Hutchison will always be a very special person. I will always remember his caring touch and love he put into a very special guitar.
Now, with time running out fast, I rushed over to my sister’s, where mother lived. My sister and I decided with the help of the Lord, mother could handle the excitement, so we went in to show Mother her childhood love and past.
When I raised old Stella up for Mother to see, it was apparent that all those old memories came rushing back very fast, so much so that at first she was overwhelmed with emotion and with a little talk of comfort, the shock of emotion began to turn into pure joy. She rubbed her hands over every inch of Stella while the emotions and memories took control. There was no talking from her now, only a casual “Oh my, Oh my.” We both held old Stella close and shared the special moment. I will never forget the way she held her sweet blonde tiger striped Stella. And Stella was showing her class too, as that old yellow guitar and Mother once again held each other close like two sisters that had been lost, never to be together again. What a sight to see, I thought my heart was going to burst from joy. As I stood back and let the magic go, I know Mother traveled back to her childhood days of her Mother and Papa and the Singing Sisters loving God and all that gospel glory.
After a few moments, Mother began to tell a story that I had never heard before, about a time back in Fortson, GA, at about the age of 14, while attending Mountain Hill School. It was back in the time when she and her sisters and her brother-in-law Richard would sit out on the front porch and play and sing. This was about the time she was given that old blonde tiger striped Stella, she was her hew lifeline to the music she loved.
One of the younger boys from school would come over (Mountain Hill School). He had not long moved there with his Father and opened a store just across the road in front of the old house where Mother lived. Mother said the name of the store was the Atkins store. This little boy would come over to sit and watch and listen, and sometimes he would get so close while trying to play someone was often heard saying, “Back up a little Chester, I can’t play with you so close to me.” Chester would sit in front of each person as they sang and played, but more often he would rather watch Richard with his fancy finger picking. Eventually Richard asked Chester, “Do you want to learn to play like this?” Of course Chester being so young and small could only watch and try everything each one would try to show him. Mother said if you laid your instrument down just for a moment, Chester would be strumming away when you returned, and with a look of “Just a few more minutes please” on his face. With the little time they had with Chester the sisters and Richard tried to show him a few chords and he could sing along too. I’m not sure how long this went on, the singing and playing with Chester but I now know this little boy went on to become “Mr. Guitar”, the one and only Chet Atkins. I asked Mother, “Do you remember Chester playing the old Stella?”, she said, “Oh yes, if you laid any instrument down, Chester would pick it up and do his best to make some kind of music, but at that time he hadn’t learned very much but he did the best he could, we always said, “That sounds good Chester, you keep that up and one day you’ll be able to play that old blonde tiger striped Stella guitar, you’ll see.”
As time went by, mother eventually lost all of her sister and her brother-in-law Richard. But, Mother and Chester Atkins were meant to cross paths one more time. Chet Atkins came back to Mountain Hill School for a final fundraiser to save his old childhood school. He brought seven guitars, he would play and autograph and give to the children in the audience. And yes, Mother was there too, remembering those good old days of just being kids and loving music.
As Mr. Atkins ended his concert and was pulling away to make his departure he spotted Mother and gave her a big smile and a big wave as if to say, “Hello, I remember you, an old friend from a long time ago.”
Mr. Atkins passed away not too many years after that historical concert at Mountain Hill School. It was a very sad time for Mother. She always kept Chester close in her heart, that little boy that loved music so much.
Mother passed away the other day. I promised her I would smile for her always. When my heart gets heavy and my smile begins to fade, I go to the closet for comfort from that old yellow blonde tiger striped Stella. From the moment I take her down and hold her close, Mother’s hands seem to take hold of mine and I hear, “That’s right, put your finger there and strum this string, very good. I told you, you could do it.”
That old blonde Stella will stay with me many more years, for I know I will have to call on her again, and with all her love and comfort she gave Mother, I’m sure she still has a smile or two left in her just for me. I love that old yellow blonde tiger striped Stella, and I know she loves me.
I’ll pass that old Stella down to my kids as I begin to move on, and I’ll tell them, “Take good care of this old striped guitar, there is still a lot of tiger left in her.”
In Memory of Erlene Sula Money Bishop Love Scott, your Baby Boy