For five years in the 70's I lived with my Grandparent's and it was a time I shall remember with warmth and a certain nostalgic sadness.
They built a home and two duplex cabins there in Northern California along the river with their own hands and called the place “The Feather River Past-time Lodge”,
This was a place of cool quiet nights, with the sound of the river singing us to sleep. We would have folks come to camp or rent cabins as far away as Missouri. I would do tours, and demos of gold panning and speak of the plants and wildlife there. I would sit under the stars by campfire trading stories and jokes. There was such a sense of belonging and peace.
I learned some of the most important lessons I would ever learn there in that little valley.
My grandfather earned my deepest respect. He had a respect for life, and a gentle demeanor and he taught me that respect for life.
It was the first place I really felt safe in my life, my dad was pretty messed up. To be honest, I am both awed and grateful that they tolerated a troubled youth like me. I shudder to think where I might be had they not shown such patience.
In that place, we didn't have TV. Oh there was some reception of a sort where you could tell a refrigerator from a person only when the person moved about.
To pass the time, we had to actually talk or play cards or do other things. It was a time before computers and video games.
I played a xylophone I made from old scraps from my grandparent's wood pile and the panels came from an old discarded wooden door.
I clamped the wood to two by fours and used those as a guide for the hand saw.
I used pieces of aluminum bars and cut them to length and filed them till they were tuned to the proper note by ear.
I then made sound compartments and used string looped through holes in each end of the bars and ran them through cotter pins that held the bars suspended over the sound holes.
I adjusted the size of the compartments in such a way that the sound reinforced the notes so the sound was magnified and reinforced so that the notes would play longer much like someone pushing another on a swing set.
Finally I glued it together with Elmer's and let it dry and sanded the edges so everything was flush. I had no carpentry experience beyond one class in high school.
Later I tested the tuning with an electronic tuner and found it was in tune enough so as not to matter, but I did use the tuner to make it perfect.
I played that instrument for years at that peaceful place while watching the birds and the clouds float across the river valley.
There was a little town called Pulga (Spanish for flea) across the river, and once my granddad told me when I was twelve years old never to go over there alone even though it was such a small place. I used to say it had a sign that said “Welcome to Pulga … Leaving Pulga”.
My grandfather died in 1977 and my grandmother followed shortly thereafter and to this day I have kept his charge to me never to go there even though I am now in my mid-fifties.
I never got to say good bye to my dear grandfather, his death was so sudden and the only thing I had left of them was to keep that promise in his honor.
So I tell you, the lesson I've not mentioned. Never let a chance to say good bye or thanks to those you love and treasure you time in places long gone by.
Years later, I lost that instrument in a flood and I thought many a times of those days of sunshine and nights spent playing that instrument.
Just a few days ago, I was rummaging through my closet looking for something and I found this carrying case on the top shelf and opened it.
Inside was a xylophone! I had forgotten I had purchased. It was in good condition, and looked like it was worth at least $400, but to me it was worth many memories, and I get it out occasionally and play it and think back to days of old and remember!