What is the most memorable gift you have received?

Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.

One evening in 1980, I drove one of our volunteers home to his apartment. Paul was from Iowa, single, in his early 20s, and worked at a grocery store. He wasn’t a college student like most of our “associate staff” persons were–he had gone to college for a year or so, I think, and decided that it wasn’t really his thing for the time being. He played the guitar, and as we spent more and more time together, it became clear that our musical roots and interests were very closely aligned. We were both James Taylor fans, and patterned our playing more or less after his. We both loved Bob Dylan, and several of the same folk-rock bands. Suffice it to say that we hit it off, and when we decided to form a little staff band to play at youth events, we had a ball.

At that time I was playing a Yamaha FG-180 that I bought from a college student in one of the dorms at KU when I was a high school student. I had seen an ad in the classified ads of the local newspaper, and I called the guy up and made arrangements to come see the instrument. It wasn’t a great guitar, but it was far nicer than the piece of junk I had been playing, and even with a laminated top (instead of solid wood), it had fairly good tone. He wanted $60 for it. I had $55 on me, and the deal was made. I played that guitar for years, and by the time Paul and I started playing together, it was pretty banged up. Paul’s guitar was a Martin D-18, as I recall. Not a top of the line Martin, but a very nice guitar–much nicer than mine.

When we arrived at Paul’s apartment, and he said, “If you’ve got a minute, come inside–I want to show you something.” I went in and sat down in his living room while he went back to his bedroom. In a couple of minutes he came back to the living room carrying a guitar case, and I thought–Cool, Paul has a new guitar. He opened the case and pulled out a brand-new Taylor 610–mahogany back and sides, solid spruce top, mahogany neck, ebony fretboard–a beautiful instrument. (Current Taylor players may observe that the newer 610 models are made from maple, but this one was made in 1979, when Bob Taylor was still making them by hand.) I saw the sticker on the case that indicated he had bought the guitar from one of the local shops. He handed it to me and said, “Here, try it out.” I was eager to do that, and I picked it up and began to play, noticing immediately that it had a lovely tone, and that the action (the height of the strings above the frets) was nice and low, making it easier to play than my guitar ever had been. It was a dreadnaught-shaped body, large and loud–a great guitar. I had noticed the brand on the headstock–Taylor–a brand I had not heard much about, so I asked him about the maker.

“It’s kind of a new guitar maker, but I feel like it’s every bit as nice as my Martin. I agreed. Then Paul said, “So what do you think? Do you like it?” I told him that I did, while asking myself why he felt like he needed a new guitar, because his Martin was in great shape. “Are you sure?” he asked, which seemed like a weird question, as if my approval of his purchase was important to him.

Then he said, “Awesome. It’s yours.”

I think I blinked–“What?”

“If you like it, it’s your guitar. I just felt like you needed a new one, and I found this and really liked it and I thought you would, too.”

I don’t remember much of what happened next–I was stunned. Not once had I suspected that he intended to give me the guitar. It was a beautiful, hand-made, expensive instrument. I could not imagine that someone, even a very dear friend, would give me such a precious gift. I know I thanked him profusely, and embraced him, probably with a tear or two in my eyes.

We worked in the ministry and played music together for another year or so before Paul moved away to go back to school. I saw him a few times after that, and we exchanged letters for a while, then Christmas cards, and then pretty much lost track of one another. Not long after Paul left, I left that ministry. I joined a band with another guitar-player friend, and I played that guitar for at least the next 25 years. I still have it, and while it is no longer my only guitar, nor my only Taylor guitar, it is still the most precious instrument I own, perhaps less because of the gift, and more because of my friendship with the giver and my deep appreciation for his act of genuine kindness and love.

Thanks, Paul. You have no idea how much you blessed me that day.

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