Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ukulele Lady

I have a friend back east. She and I met when we were working a shitty job together, and she's one of the few friends kept in touch with after a move. I've known her five years and I'm reminded fairly often how glad I am that she held on to me after I left Maryland.

She's one of those friends that makes you get out and live your life, who makes you feel like a better person when you're around her. You know the type. She glows, and it makes you glow. She makes a person feel like there's more to life, whatever your life might be.

We trade text messages throughout the day, small notes that often mean nothing more than "I'm thinking of you, I miss you, I wish you were here." We play games with song titles, or word games that I can't explain. I'll think of her laugh, or consider what she might think of an outfit I'm buying, and I'll text her with our inside joke: "What's he building in there?" If I'm melancholy, it will be another inside phrase: "How does it end?"

I'm proud of her. We've had our differences, and they are sometimes big differences, and I'm proud of the woman she's become in this short time I've known her. I'm proud of the mother that she is becoming, and the grace with which she bears the crosses in her life.

We frustrate each other in small ways. I frustrate her, anyhow. I'm a stick in the mud, a fuddy duddy, and I try not to wonder why she talks to me at all. She has good friends who treat her better than I can, both in tangible gifts and sheer entertainment value. I try not to think of these things and just be grateful, but there are days when it's hard.

Like tonight. I got a call from her, and in her slightly southern accent (which tells me she's in a wonderful mood) she told me she was in Hawaii. I asked her if she was physically in Hawaii, or if it was just her imagination running west. These are the questions I have to ask her, because either could always be true. She was in Hawaii, physically, with a girlfriend who works for an airline. The friend had gotten free tickets to a wild blue heaven in the middle of a dreary and droning winter. My friend was calling because she had become aware of how little she knew about ukuleles and she wanted to send me one straight from Hawaii.

I, in my stuck-in-the mud, let's-be-rational mode that I'm sure drives her up a wall, took five pictures and a short video on my cell phone. I sent them to her, a 1.3 megapixel crash course in ukulele buying. In her infinite, wonderful patience, she refrained from heaving an exasperated sigh or laughing at my thorough descriptions. I offered to find a good uke store on her island so she wouldn't have to keep going from shop to shop.

I had given up on finding anything when she sent me this:

The one on the left will soon be in my clutches. She even had the guy working at the shop play me a tune on it. I sat in my favorite rocking chair in Chicago, listening to the dulcet sounds of a bored shop keeper playing a uke for a tourist, as he likely often does. I was thinking about how much she was doing for me, as she always does.

I can't wait to play a concert for her. Maybe a jumping flea boogie, or some old tune that warms her heart and sounds perfect on a ukulele. I want to give her back some of the joy she's given me through all these years. I hope she likes it.

I'd better start practicing.

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