Where Would the Chevy Be Now?
By Marvin Payne

Just when you thought it was safe to click on Meridian Magazine, Backstage Graffiti Returns. Probing and dissembling our fundamental values.

Where it returns from is hiatus. “Hiatus” is a colorful word. I think it has the same emotional charge as the word “Bahama,” or the word “sunscreen.” But I’m going to wrench this lovely straw-and-sand word out of its tropical context and apply it to my five-month absence from Meridian (What? You didn’t notice? Hmm…) on account of being too busy with other work. Not that I don’t love you, I just love staying out of federal prison more.

When last we virtually met here, I wrote about the obvious evil of procrastinating the purchase of a new guitar. The concluding paragraph was,

…if I reach out and take this guitar [Martin D-18 Golden Era] it will be because the Lord is handing it to me, just like all the other stuff. And in the matter of blessing us with tools with which to praise Him and lift His children and exercise our godly creative muscles, procrastination has no place in the Divine Character.

Or words to that effect.

Here, in a couple of journal entries, is how it all turned out.

2 March 2007

“Today the D-18 came (serial number #1048992, made in early 2005). I bought it from a guy in Cincinnati who bought it in New York. I immediately slapped on new strings and bone bridge pins [the bridge
saddle and the nut, which are the little dealies at the lower end and the peg end of a guitar over which the strings pass, and between which all the music happens, come from the factory made of Wooly Mammoth ivory. This is true. It’s environmentally sound, too, because the Wooly Mammoths are, well, already dead.] that I got [bone bridge pins – remember?] from Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan. It’s a gorgeous guitar. It passed the final test gloriously – playing the kids to sleep.”

4 March 2007

“I had come, empirically, to expect the Lord to answer our prayers when we’ve lost little tools or toys. I don’t know why it should be any surprise that He would answer a prayer for something really big, as He is doing for me right now.”

[CLARIFYING INSERT FOR THIS COLUMN: the “prayer for something really big” was not a prayer for the guitar under discussion. If you are a Research Junkie, the “something really big” is defined more
precisely in the Archives, beginning in the column titled “A Treatise On Learning,” ) August 14 reference, and more fully developed (trivialized? lampooned?) in “Dreams, Faith, and Arithmetic.” For now, let me just say that the “something really big” was recently addressed by the rather miraculous appearance of an impossibly lucrative recording contract – audio versions of textbooks for kids in the Southern United States. Ask me about Arkansas. Anything. Medieval Sub-Saharan Africa? Cake.]

“I think I should see my new guitar as symbolic of answers to prayer. Let it be the ‘prayer guitar.'”

[End of entries for a moment.]

Columnreader Peggy A. wrote:

…about procrastinating and the Martin guitar. I started playing, along with the folk music craze, in high school. Mother, figuring it was a passing fad, bought me a real clunker made for Sears Roebuck.”

Words of Marvin: I had one of those. Silvertone. Black paint. Razor strings. Ouch! The Great Resounding Irony of the Present Era (or “G.R.I.P.E.”) is that the beginning guitar player is the player who most needs an instrument that’s easy to play and rewards the player with a pleasing sound. These are the two characteristics that are typically absent from the guitars that beginners (or their parents) can afford. There are desperate, passionate young hearts who would fan this social injustice into full-blown revolution. Happily, there are very few of them. Back to C.P.A.:

It was hardly worth the calluses on my fingertips. During my Junior year in Spain, I bought myself an inexpensive box that had a nice tone. But what I really longed for was a Ramrez – not that I deserved one from a musical standpoint.

A year later, my Dad congratulated me on my newly minted bachelor’s degree diploma and cleared his throat, a sign of a weighty pronouncement to follow. He said, “You know, you’d look cute in a Mercedes convertible…” (I gulped) “…but all I can afford is a used Chevrolet.” The Spirit shoved me. I answered, “Dad, for that money, I’d rather have a Ramrez guitar.” He looked nonplussed, but assented to my rather silly suggestion.

I still have that lovely guitar. It has been a half a million miles with me. It helped me sing my children to sleep. Even now, more than forty years later, I pull it out of its worn case and make some lovely, mellow notes flow from it. Where would the Chevy be now?

I thank C.P.A. for what I think is a brilliant values story. We are extraordinarily blessed. I think we should value most the things with which we are blessed. Often we value the things that we just sort of wind up with, like straight teeth or dramatic hair, or we value things that the world imposes upon us, like certain brands of jeans or carbonated beverages, or things that the world merely tells us to value, like an attitude of self-reliance (as opposed, here, to reliance on the Lord) or the appearance of secure prosperity (which
is, particularly in these days, the profoundest fiction).

Blessings are generally things that make us more useful and godly, like a Ramirez guitar can do beautifully. (I’m relaxing my C. F. Martin fanaticism for a moment, here, because C.P.A. is talking
“classical” guitar, and, alas, Ramirez makes a much better classical axe than C. F. M.) Less often, blessings convey us from home to church, like a Chevy can do adequately. But typically people
are not drawn nearer to the Lord by their Chevy. (Did you know that in Hawaii, Chevrolets are biodegradable? Maybe I mentioned this before.)

I value my D-18. I’m using it mostly in these days to prepare to tell the Prodigal Son story (a great values story!) in the deJong Concert Hall at BYU Education Week in late August. (Because I’m taking one last Meridian hiatus in early August, you’re spared the column that would be hyping “Take The Mountain Down – A Fingerpickin’ Parable.”) Since I got it, it’s put some warm, smoky sonorities behind the bearing of much testimony.

I value other things. From the last few days of journal:

30 June 2007

“Okay, this kind of thing happens a lot in our marriage. Laurie and the kids have been in Arizona all week, having driven a rental car down so they can bring back the van we’ve bought from Steve and Janae Thomas [our brother-in-law and Laurie’s sister]. It’s about 11:00 on this Saturday night and I was sitting on the porch watching for the moon to rise, because I’d seen a silvery glow above the shoulder of the mountain. The very instant the moon’s edge appeared, the phone in my lap rang. It was Laurie calling from the road, near LaVerkin [this is the real name of a town – it’s a nice town], to ask if I’d seen how beautiful the moon is.”

I value that.

1 July 2007

“It’s fast Sunday. I had fun making one meal while Laurie was gone (they get home in about an hour). It was last night, and it was inspired by my having learned on the phone that John Riley [our six-year-old son] had eaten a hot dog for lunch. I fried a hot dog all black and smoky and cut it into a dozen bits. Then I nuked a can of beef chili. Then I added the hot dog, eight or nine olives, a handful of little tiny cherry tomatoes, a couple of tablespoons of red salsa, many shakes of Mark Taylor’s home-brewed hot sauce, and nuked it some more. Then I poured it over a plate of tortilla chips and sprinkled the whole thing with lots and lots of grated cheese. It was really good.”

I valued that. Usually, I ask my wife to read through these columns to make sure I’m not embarrassing her (it’s okay if I embarrass me). This time I’m not asking, because when I told her the first two ingredients of my recipe, she told me she really didn’t want ever to know the rest. I don’t know if the meal made me any more godly and useful, but I know it didn’t come from the world, because the world would never impose that recipe on me. Unless, perhaps, I lived at Guantanamo Bay and knew something about Al Qaeda that I wasn’t telling.

4 July 2007

“I bought a new flag yesterday – really shines in the breeze. We goof up a lot as a country, on every level, and risk hypocrisy daily by proclaiming such high ideals. But they’re true ideals, and we can’t just shut up.

“Last Sunday I couldn’t shut up, and closed the Fast Meeting with the story of the Great Answer To Prayer we’re receiving. It’s a good and true story, of course, and I felt the Spirit’s permission to tell it, but He really showed up in the last sixty seconds of simple, non-story, testimony. Elder Packer once told us missionaries in Australia that if we’re uncertain about the truthfulness of the Gospel, we should go right ahead and bear testimony of what we hope is true. The natural man would call this dishonest, certainly foolish. But as I testified Sunday of the Atonement and the Restoration, I had the distinct feeling that whether or not I knew these things were real was irrelevant. The Holy Ghost had work to do, and a willing mouth [mine] to do it with.

“…I’ve written here of visiting my old friend Diane … [I’ll keep her last name off the Internet] several years ago as her husband lay dying elsewhere in the house. Her testimony of the Savior and His gifts made her home feel like a temple. The veil was thin and the Spirit was there. Yesterday I ran into … [I’ll keep his whole name off the Internet] in a gas station. He and [his wife] lost a child just a couple of days ago. I offered my condolences and we talked for a few minutes. As happens so often among disciples, the one being comforted, the one standing nearest the passage into Eternity, the one surrendering a child, a parent, a companion utterly to the care of the Lord, brought a much greater comfort to the would-be comforter. That gas station was a temple, and grateful testimony flowed both ways. Death is every bit as holy as birth, and lays bare the beauty of the Atonement.”

I value my testimony and what it represents above all things. Back to the 4 July entry:

“I so love having my family back from Arizona. We love each other a lot.”

I value my family – so what else is new?

“I love sitting in a corner of our yard under the aspens, Virginia creeper on the cedar fence, looking out across our little patch of earth and watching things grow as shadows deepen and the sky dims into a darker blue and the mountains still glow in sunlight that has left the valley. In the very top of the gorgeous tower of a tree across the street, the baby mourning doves get their last feeding of the day.”

I value the beautiful stage on which the Lord has placed us, so that we can rehearse godhood. (“Atonement” only has one possible meaning.) After hiatus, I’ll meet you backstage and we’ll talk
about it. And compare tans.

Visit marvinpayne.com!

“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)



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