Recollections: Rocked in Time — blues beginnings… by
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The boy rocked in time to the music, rump bouncing against the back of a ruptured easy chair. He pushed a mouth harp across tiny teeth, accompanying a blues singer over the pops and scratches of a fast-revolving 78-rpm record. The harmonica’s discordant moan caught the rhythm, modality, and feel of the music and bounced it back to singer and guitar. The boy wore a striped jersey, baggy blue corduroys, and brown oxfords. Soft-rounded cheeks, nose, and chin glowed beneath a bowl-cut thatch of dark hair. Brown eyes revealed amazement and delight, as yet unscarred by any perceptions of what might follow.

As he played, the boy stared into the album propped open against the bookcase. A Negro man in a white shirt stood in the ruins of a burnt-out prairie home, his back to the viewer, the carved neck and body of a guitar strapped over his belly. Charred planks and timbers reached toward the night sky. They reminded the boy of witch fingers.

The only structure left standing in the painting was a scorched brick chimney. On the mantelpiece, a clock stood intact save for the heat-shattered glass face. Across a sea of prairie grass, a passenger train shone silver in the moonlight, windows radiating warmth into a dark night. In the foreground the man embraced a guitar, black strap diagonally bisecting a white-shirted back. The lonely man, the dark night, the unreachable warmth and movement of the train all cried loneliness, abandonment, and missed chances. Desolation was lost on the boy. He was four years old and was busy making music with the man in the picture.

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Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Thanks for this beautiful, poignant image of a moment in time, and the influence of music on a little boy. It nicely fleshes out the reference in A Brief Audible History to your playing harmonica with a Josh White record. And the link to your blog is an added treat.

    • Thanks, Suzy. This story does draw from my earliest memories. Music, like smell and imagery, can open doors to ‘way back. The other scenes linked to this brief Retro piece also draw upon my earliest recollections. I’ve pondered them enough to know that I don’t know what I recalled or what I imagined. Ah well, the mind is a drawer of unmatched socks.

  2. John Zussman says:

    What an evocative elegy to a place, a time, a family, and human distrust. Your story warmed me until, by the end, it chilled me. A beautiful piece of writing.

    • Thank you, John. Your thoughtful response reminded me its original intent, to evoke a diverse response to a recalled experience that embraced all that you found — the warmth of family and fellow-traveling friends, significant beginnings to a life filled with music, and the direct impact of the shadow hanging over it all. Glad you could follow my stepping-stone ramble!

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