The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 22, 2014

Fond memories and singing a song of six strings

From The Back Porch

By Nerissa Young

— Mom said she sang to me constantly when I was a baby and hoped I would grow up to like music. I did.

I was 5 years old when I picked out a blue electric guitar from the Sears Roebuck calendar for Christmas. I didn’t get that guitar, but later I got guitars. I sang in church the first time when I was 5. The song was “Nothing but the blood.”

Not many years later, I was playing the organ for Sunday school. The first hymn I learned to play was “Take time to be holy.”

I liked TV — a lot, but I always made sure to stay close to radio station WJLS every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to hear “American Country Countdown” with Bob Kingsley. And I was one of those kids with a transistor radio under the covers scrolling the AM dial at night to pick up clear-channel AM stations such as WSM in Nashville, WWVA in Wheeling and WLW in Chicago.

That Lionel Cartwright song “I watched it all on my radio” was my life. Radio opened my world to include faraway places, and I wondered whether I’d ever leave the farm. I did. My goal now is to go back.

I got a stereo one year for Christmas, and I loved to blast vinyl in my room. That was a great sign of independence to not have to stay downstairs and use the family record player. I still have that stereo with the column speakers. It’s a bit worse for wear; after I brought it out of storage, I noticed a mouse had made a nest underneath it.

Every time I hear certain songs, I can picture where I was when I heard them on the radio. As the Radio Advertising Bureau once proclaimed, “Radio … the soundtrack of our lives.”

My tastes are eclectic. I can find something to like in almost any genre. I didn’t have much use for rap until I started playing “Fight the Power” for one of my classes. Now, I like that song, at least the lyrics I can make out. I don’t want to know about the ones I can’t.

When I was working in Oklahoma and driving back to West Virginia every chance I could, someone asked me how I traveled the 1,100 miles by myself. “You get in the car, put a good CD in the stereo and start driving.” Even then, Missouri seemed like the widest state in the country.

I’ve often wondered what I’d do if I had to give up one of my senses. I think I’d have to keep my hearing if I had a choice because I like music so much. It improves my mood, vents my frustrations and speaks to me in ways mere words can’t.

They asked me to sing at the church Christmas dinner. I have three guitars. I pulled out the one Grandma Wallace gave me for Christmas all those years ago and promptly broke a string. I pulled out Uncle Charlie’s and broke the same string. I pulled out Grandma Wallace’s and the same string sounded too plinky. I can’t remember the last time I changed strings on any of them.

I dug through Uncle Charlie’s guitar box and found a set of Gibsons he had taken off. At least I’ll have six of the same strings, I thought.

The string that broke was the No. 1 string, or high E. I got to the church and wanted to have some fun with the folks. I wanted to tell them that I broke two G strings trying to get there. Then, I realized some of the older folks could take offense at that language in the Lord’s house even if it was just the fellowship hall.

So I resisted the urge, almost. I took the preacher’s wife aside and told her. She laughed her head off.

Music soothes the savage beast, they say. Sometimes, it creates one.

Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© Nerissa Young 2014