“But mama I don’t wannit,” pouted the 11 year old boy, “why can’t I have a rifle like the other boys?” He was cradling in his hands a 22 caliber that store clerk, Forrest Bobo, one of their relatives, was eager to sell. The boy’s mother would much rather he take home a guitar for Christmas than this firearm. He was “pitching a fit.” After all he’d worked and saved hard to buy the weapon. A moment of family conflict had arisen. Many parents reading this have been there too.
What’s to be done when your preteen has his or her mind set on something that you, as a parent, really don’t want them to buy? Many child-raising text books tell of honing your negotiating skills. Sometimes you’ll be able to talk them around to your way of thinking. Other times you just have to insist. Some kids even make an outward show of agreement while nursing resentment deep inside. By the age of 11 most of us can say very clearly what we want, but very few of us know what’s best for us. That’s the problem when the vigor of youth’s willfulness meets the void of inexperience in young hearts. The strength of your passion isn’t a good indicator of the depth of your wisdom. That takes a few years. Who better to turn to for advice than your folks who love you? That day in 1946, in George W. Booth’s Tupelo Hardware Store, changed a lad’s life.
The boy and his mom were poor, very poor. Mr. Bobo knew that there was not much in the store that day they could afford. The mother insisted the boy try the guitar. He listlessly plucked at the strings, slowly became a little more interested and then, noticing the price tag: almost $8, he put the instrument down saying that they didn’t have enough money.
Was that the “mama knows best” moment? She said that, if he’d take the guitar, she’d make up the difference in price. Money was scarce and what they bought would also have to serve as his birthday present. He was born in January, 1935. With that the deal was done. Music, guitar music, came to a very poor Mississippi family. Gladys and Vernon’s home was the place where the lad picked away at the strings of this cheap instrument.
They worshiped at the First Assembly of God Church whose Pentecostal services always included singing. Sometimes, after Sunday lunch, Gladys would hear him crooning a hymn to the tune of his instrument. During this first year, Vernon's brother, Johnny Smith and the boy’s pastor, Frank Smith gave him basic guitar lessons. He was an eager student.
This is not to say that the lad might not have become a crack shot with the rifle. In fact he enrolled in R.O.T.C. in high school. His dad’s struggle to find work had moved them to Memphis by then. All through his later teens he kept developing his guitar skills. Majoring in English, Shop and History, he graduated from Humes High in 1953. Then, during the day, he worked at Parker Machinists Shop but at night he’d pick out songs on what was becoming an old, scratched instrument. He had one consistent fan and encourager. His mother had given his music her undying approval from the day they came home from the hardware store.
This is one story where a kid, heeding a loving parent, was enriched beyond words. The boy who reluctantly gave up the rifle to go home with the cheap guitar was Elvis Presley. Whatever happened to that old $8 guitar? Elvis gave it away. It came to be in the possession of Ronnie West, a man who, like Elvis, ruined his life with drugs and drink (but that’s another story). In 2002, now in the possession of Pensacola author Bill Williams, it was put up for auction at Guernsey's, in New York with a price tag of $7 million. In 2008 there were charity auctions of individual guitar strings played by the King of Rock and Roll. You can buy pictures of the first guitar to inspire kids to reach for high goals. I just wonder if a parent should get a picture to help them say “no” sometimes to a willful child. The Bible says to manage your family well and see to it that your children obey you with proper respect. Do they obey you with respect? See to it. You too might do them a huge favor by wisely refusing to go along with some of their plans.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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