After the glorious June greenness of the Shenandoah Valley and McCormick’s farmstead… my next destination was Arlington, Virginia, where my old friend Martin lives with his wife Patti. And now you have to meet Chester. See that battered old guitar? It has a name, and that name is Chester Lee Kachouzel. I tossed Chester in the car right before I left Knoxville because I knew I was going to see Martin.
Chester is a nice little old Spanish guitar that I paid £5 for back in 1974. Martin paid the other £5 for a grand total of £10.
Here’s the story: When I was 19 years old, I got the chance to study in England for a summer, at Oxford University, no less. At University College. I can’t say I deserved this honor, because I didn’t, but I got it anyway. Such are the ways of injustice, but I’m not complaining because they favored me. I was on a program that was being run by Southwestern at Memphis college, now Rhodes College, still in Memphis, Tennessee. My brother and his wife were living in Oxford at the time, so I was eager to be there for a summer.
There were about 40 young people doing the same thing that summer, but the only one I really remember was Martin, who was a tall, skinny, black-headed, laconic boy from Kentucky. He seldom spoke, but when he said something it was often very funny in a dry, cynical kind of way. I think he was the only other kid in the program who played music. I don’t quite remember how it happened, but Martin and I became music friends, and at some point we (he) decided we had to get a guitar. So we duly went to a pawn shop, tested out some guitars, and got Chester.
Martin has very good taste in songs; he knew about Emmylou Harris long before I did and he could play Graham Parsons songs, which in his semi-bullying way he forced me to learn so I could sing harmony with him. I’m good at finding harmonies. I think we had two pub gigs. And then it was time to leave Oxford.
I had a nice guitar back home (sure wish I still had that beautiful brown mahogany guitar), so I didn’t argue when Martin wanted to take Chester back to Georgetown University, where he was studying philosophy. We went our separate ways.
And then we lost touch. Martin finished his PhD in philosophy only to realize he didn’t want to starve, so he went to law school, met and married Patti, and became a corporate lawyer. I did a master’s in English, became an English teacher, taught in Italy for a couple of years, and then came back to the US to start my own family. I was never as clear on the starving thing, so I remained an English teacher.
About 30 years later, due to the magic of the internet, which Martin excoriates but which he also used to find me, we reconnected. He had three children now, nearly grown. He had suffered a serious illness, lost his memory while in a coma, relearned his life, returned to work, and was now engaged in that rigorous game of “Where has the time gone” which we enjoy playing when we have weathered some crisis.
And he still had Chester.
I’ve visited Martin and Patti several times now, and the time before this trip, he gave Chester back to me, after 30 years. Much scarred, worn, and scratched, but it’s still got a sweet, grumpy sound. Sort of like Martin.
The night after I got to Arlington, we did a gig at an open mike where Martin likes to play. He said, right before we went on stage, “Belt it!”
Now I am not a belter. But because I was in God-knew-where, and who cared, I belted my harmony to Martin’s melody, and the guy who runs the open mike came up afterwards to say, “Are you coming back?” In a good way.
So that’s the story of Martin and Chester. Chester is mine now, though I am still such a lazy player that I rarely practice. But I know the next time I go up to Arlington, Martin will bully me, and Patti will rein him in, and possibly I might even stand up for my own self, and maybe some good music will be made.