The blue(grass) bird of happiness

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(Editor’s Note–George takes a break today so we run a 2014 column that pretty well defines what happiness means to our friend. RC)

What makes one happy changes over the years. As a child a new toy, or going to the Saturday matinee (feature film, serial and five cartoons) would always do it. A little later, going fishing with my father (though we never caught many fish) or riding my bicycle through the cold tule fog that regularly enveloped Crockett, located just at the western edge of the Delta, were outstanding.

Sunday dinner was big. Mom often made fried chicken, and almost always devil’s food cake with her home-made raspberry jam in the middle layer. I got older and discovered girls. Alas, they did not discover me for several years, and besides this isn’t that kind of a web site, so we will consider other types of happiness.

I had been plunking around on an old ukulele my mother had for some years, but in high school I got an actual guitar, and began playing with friends after school most afternoons. That was certified, dependable, easily-scheduled happiness. It only improved when we all got electric guitars and started playing for Cub Scout carnivals and Red Cross volunteer dance gigs at the Napa State Mental Hospital.

Music has continued, all these years, to be a dependable source of happiness. In adulthood, though, it has had competition from the deep wells of emotion one gets from the love and companionship of an exceptional woman and the joy of watching one’s children grow and establish successful lives and families.

And now I have grandchildren. I think the joy they bring me is reinforced by the feeling that I am unlikely to experience another generation at my age. These two beautiful little boys are going to be my last hurrah in the DNA game. I have had two wishes for them: one, that they be healthy and happy, and two, that they be musical.

A couple of weeks ago I had a peak experience with Cassens, who is now seven years old and has been taking violin lessons for a few months. I went to visit and asked how he was doing on the fiddle and he said, “I learned the second part of Cripple Creek.” The A part, he’s been playing almost since he started, so I was delighted to hear that. When he played it for me, though, he had the timing a little off. ??I picked up a mandolin they have and told to boy to follow my phrasing and I went through it, line by line, until he got the timing right, and then we played it a few times through, and I don’t think a shot of heroin would have made me feel any better. I was playing music with my grandson!

Cassens’ teacher is a symphonic violinist and has taught him, among other things, Bach’s “Ode to Joy.” Now he’s working on the theme to “Star Wars,” which is a major good idea, I think, as the boy is a total fan of the movies, the books, and even the Lego sets.

I’m not greedy. I’m sure “Old Joe Clark” is waiting, just around the corner.

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