* * *
That’s how I used to tell the story. I punctuated it with a “Wait till you get a load of this…” exaggerated elbow jab and an incredulous “So you think your mom was crazy?”
Now that I have children, and as I stand among the various smithereens I have made or felt like making, I remember the story a little differently.
* * *
Once when I was ten years old or so, I found a ukulele that belonged to my mother. I thought it was cool and it looked easy enough (after all my mom could do it) and so I asked her if she would teach me.
She said, “Sure.”
This, I understood to mean that she would teach me as soon as possible. And as soon as possible meant basically right that second.
She managed to put me off for a couple of hours because I think she might have been doing something. (But what really could she have been doing? I was ten and could basically take care of myself. My brother was twelve. My sister was three. My mother was in some graduate school thing but it seemed a lot less stressful than the fifth grade.)
I kept asking.
I wanted to know exactly when we were going to do the ukulele. And I wanted to know when! And as long as we were talking about when, why is it that it couldn’t be right now?
So she took me to the living room. We sat at the piano for a couple minutes while she tried to tune the 4 strings of the ukulele. The first three strings didn’t give her much of a problem. I watched, bouncing beside her waiting “patiently” for the forever it seemed to be taking her.
The last string, the A string, was a little more obstinate. I don’t have the best pitch so forgive my approximation here, but the string was supposed to sound like a “Ping!” (The A above Middle C, I think.) To get this pitch in her ear she would strike the “A” on the piano. She would hear the Ping! While this note was still ringing in the air, she’d pluck the A string on the ukulele.
“Pang.” It was closer to A flat.
So she twisted the little knob on the ukulele, hit the A on the piano, “Ping!” and plucked the A string again.
“Pang.” Now it was closer to B flat
This Pinging and Panging went back and forth a couple of times. I could see that we were headed down a pretty frustrating road so I tried to say, “Maybe we should do it tomorrow?”
My mom, having just “panged” one more time, made it clear that this would not be happening. In fact, she said something like,
“You wanted to do it today. Right now. Today. So we are doing it now or we are never doing it. And if I can’t get it tuned on this next try, that’s it. We’re finished with the ukulele.”
There was one more “Ping!” and one more “Pang.” Then there were about 15 pieces of ukulele on the floor.
Looking back now, having spawned an even more impatient version of myself who just can’t understand why we can’t simultaneously construct a Lego alien village, while operating a kid’s wood working lathe that was advertised as “completely safe” for 7 year olds but turned out to be an actual lathe that could grind off a finger as easily as a dowel, while making Jello, chocolate muffins, and banana bread—I see this story differently. Her reaction seems pretty normal now.
While I never learned to play the ukulele, she did sign me up for cello lessons. Amazingly, we all survived that. Including the cello.