J. HARLEY MCILRATH
When Bob White bought his National steel-bodied resonating guitar, his momma's heart did a little dance. She thought having an instrument was good news for Bob White's soul. Bob's momma got it into her head that if Bob had an instrument he'd want to play it. And the only place she could think of for Bob to play his guitar was for accompaniment in Pastor Reiland's Church of Hope and Long Suffering.
Her heart did a little two-step at the thought of it.
Whenever she knew Pastor Reiland was out on a mission, Bob White's momma snuck Bob into the sanctuary of the Church of Hope and Long Suffering and stood him in front of the piano. Then she banged out a chord and kept banging on it until Bob found it on his guitar.
Bob's momma hit a chord.
"That there's a G," she says, "G-G-G-G-G-G-G," and the G chord echoed in the sanctuary while Bob White sorted through the strings on his National steel-bodied resonating guitar.
"D-seven," Bob's momma says. "D-seven-D-seven-D-seven-D-seven."
Bob's fingers fumbled around the strings on the neck of his guitar.
"Hell," Bob White says, "This here's more work than freeing the buttons on a bra clasp."
Bob White's momma's heart caught its toe in the carpet and planted its face flat on the dance floor. She stood up.
"Look at that there and don't ever forget it," she says, pointing at the keyboard on the piano. "That there is Music with a capital 'M'."
Bob White stared at the keys on the piano. He was afraid his momma had heard one talk too many from Pastor Reiland. She'd breathed in more sulfur than her brain could corral. Her mind was cooked through and ready to be served.
"There's 52 white keys on that piano," Bob's momma says, "and there's 36 black keys."
Bob's momma gave him a knowing smile.
"Those white keys is the pure ones. Those is God's keys. You want to keep an eye on them black ones. Them black keys is the devil's."
Bob White reached out and hit a black key with his finger. Then he hit it again, hard, and listened to the echo bounce around the sanctuary of the Church of Hope and Long Suffering.
"Amen," says Bob White.
In those days, Bob White had a convertible that had a rumble seat. When Bob White went out driving, his guitar rode in the rumble seat.
"Where you going?" Bob's momma says.
"Momma," Bob says, "I'm off to worship in the Church of Blue Sky and Dusty Road."
"You're going out drinking," Bob's momma says.
"Momma," says Bob as he banged the convertible door shut, "if you can get that piano into the rumble seat, you're welcome to come along."
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Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
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J. HARLEY MCILRATH
J. Harley McIlrath manages the Grinnell College bookstore and writes powerful fiction. He and his family live in rural Grinnell. "'Possum Trot" appeared in the most recent issue (#11) of Wapsipinicon Almanac. Since 1988 the almanac has been edited by Tim Fay and published at his Route 3 Press in rural Anamosa/Monticello. Each issue features a mix of fiction, reviews, essays, poetry, art and homey information, packaged in the format of a folksy, old-time almanac.
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