A recent tale from Amanda Palmer (Eddie Vedder Gave Me A Trophy!!!!!) seemed like the perfect excuse to share this song and tales of my own with that beloved little instrument, the ukulele. Enjoy.
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As it has been told to me, my grandpa would bring out the old ukulele for sing-alongs when he and my grandma would host gatherings at their house. It goes along with another prized possession I have of my grandfather; the bar he built and served drinks from at their home during those very same gatherings.
A homemade bar and a ukulele? Sounds like my kind of party. I wish I’d been there to see it.
I remember music in my house as a child, but it always came from a record player or a tape deck. We weren’t exactly the singing type…no instruments were in the house…no sing-alongs ever took place. The thought of my grandparents strumming and crooning, it’s an unlikely scene in my mind, one that brings a smile, a chuckle and, perhaps, even a bit of envy.
I often wonder if those are scenes I can create within my own home.
We have all of the tools; a harmonica from my good friend Ethan, the guitar I named after the lead ladies of Veruca Salt, the bongos I purchased in Baltimore. And that old ukulele. Still, I’ve struggled to find my inner musician with any of them. And Kristin and I aren’t exactly the performing types, though, I suppose we do have our moments. We do randomly break into song in the privacy of our own home. We do make music out of the most mundane of household tasks, where dusting and vacuuming become stage numbers to rival Andrew Lloyd Webber. Perhaps the old uke will find some future use.
I have memories of the old uke floating around my grandparent’s basement when I was a child. Most of the time, it sat unused up on a shelf, yanked down occasionally by myself, my sister, or my cousin in the same space where we played with a dilapidated pool table and a still-in-use (at that time) rotary phone.
It wasn’t until my adult years that the little stringed instrument came into my personal possession. We had a rummage sale or some such at grandma’s house and the uke had made it’s way up from the basement and onto the table where I sat taking money. I had no real plans for the thing when I asked my grandmother to allow me to take it home. For months it sat with no purpose. One night though, it gained use, notoriety, and a title.
“The Ukulele Of God”
It was some time during my college years. I was living with my parents, who had just taken off on a vacation away, leaving me alone in my childhood home, a house sitting near a wooded area back off the main road.
It must have been summer, as the windows were open. We weren’t alone on our little dirt driveway…directly across from the house I was occupying sat a duplex owned by my grandmother and occupied by various renters. One of the current renters worked nights, so it wasn’t unusual for him to arrive at late hours. That was, of course, how I explained the sound that awoke me from a deep sleep that night.
Then again…had it been a sound?
It struck me that I wasn’t quite sure what it was that had pulled me from a deep sleep to an immediate and disoriented awake. I peered outside to see the late-shift renter had not yet returned home. Sound or not, it hadn’t been him.
I reminded myself that no one else was home, so it certainly wasn’t one of my parents using the bathroom or grabbing a late night snack. I was entirely alone.
But someone or something had roused me.
As I sat there in bed, now wide awake and aware, I knew beyond any doubt that something was very wrong with my world. The sense of dread was a weight in my gut. It occurred to me that something had woken me and that the obvious explanations had been eliminated. Except for one…someone was breaking in.
I pondered my situation, quickly realizing I had to act. At this point, cell phones were not as prominent in the world and, though I’m sure I owned one, it was likely sitting in the glove compartment of my car. It was left to me, and me alone, to venture into the rest of the house to investigate.
I couldn’t, of course, go out unarmed.
I quickly assessed my room, scanning the area for anything weapon-like. I wasn’t a baseball guy, so no bats were at hand and my book and CD collection were, at best, a cumbersome supply of projectiles. But then my eyes fell upon the ukulele.
A ridiculous tool of self-defense, to be sure, but then, it was all I had. And maybe the sight of me wielding Harmony of Chicago’s best assembly of glue, wood, and strings would be enough to throw the potential intruder off guard, gaining me the advantage in our duel.
I crept down the hallway, approaching each room, turning the doorknobs ever so gently before thrusting open the door, ukulele raised above my head, battle cry ready on my lips. And nothing.
Room by room, I found nothing.
I had journeyed past the hallway. I had secured the living room and the front entry-way. I found no sign of intruders, only a growing sense of silliness and skepticism at my previous sense of dread. The ukulele now hung at my side. The house was now entirely accounted for, other than the basement, a territory I decided I would best leave to my enemies, as any approach from that enclosed area would make plenty of noise and leave me enough time to prepare for battle.
I went back to my bed and I slept. And you can bet I had that ukulele, the tool of my victory, the instrument of my enemies’ destruction, my four stringed sword of doom, in my arms as I slipped back to sleep.
The epilogue to the tale involves a news story a few days later. An area a few states South of my own Michigan home, just before the time I had awoken and embarked on my ukulele adventure, had experienced a very small but still affecting earthquake, one that had been reported as far North as my own state.
The tale gained fame among friends and family, of my adventure through the house, of my choice of weapon, and the explanation for my sense of doom.
Out of shaking earth was born…the Ukulele of God.