About me

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I began this blog in order to share my experiences learning instrument building from my dad, but along with those stories I look forward to sharing my memories of growing up with two busy, musically inclined parents as well as my current experiences stepping out on my own as a female luthier promoting environmental sustainability in her instruments while working to alter gender stereotypes in a male dominated field. If you'd like to use quotes from this blog for interviews or in your own work, please contact me first! (email is henderson.elizabethj@gmail.com)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Neighbors, Part 2

I don't have any siblings. But I do have Lauren and Leah. My grandfather and their Granny Shirley were siblings, therefore we are third cousins. (We think, though none of us is terribly adept at genealogy.) When I was very young and my dad and I would go for walks around Granny's farm, looking for indians and arrowheads they might have left behind, my parent's dog Martha would often join us. When she would wander off I would yell out her name repeatedly. My dad would always say, "Shhh, don't yell so loud, Martha up the hill will think you are yelling at her." I had no idea who Martha was, but I always secretly hoped she would come down off the hill and pop out of the bushes wondering why someone had called her name. I did finally get to meet Martha, who, as it turns out, is Lauren and Leah's mother.

The first time I met this Martha and her daughter Lauren (Leah must have stayed home, or maybe she wasn't around yet) they came to visit one evening while I was expressing my extremely precocious (not really) artistic abilities on a moderate sized green chalk board that slid out from behind the television stand and blocked the door to the kitchen when in use. I remember Lauren marched into the living room and immediately intimidated me even though I was five years her elder. She had sparkly blue studs in each of her pierced ears and of those I was extremely jealous. My mom had not yet allowed me to visit the Piercing Pagoda to get mine done, though I think after meeting Lauren I used her to back my argument that I should be allowed to have pierced ears as well. While Granny and Martha chatted, Lauren and I drew on the chalk board, though not before she erased everything that had previously been scratched on there with pastel colored chalk. This was presumably due to her expert eye when it came to chalk drawing, and the fact that my doodles were probably not as amazing as I had previously believed.

Having a friend across the street who was of similar age was extremely exciting to me. Until I met Lauren, I had spent most of my time with Granny or alone reading books, or escaping outside to play with the cats during the dreaded "Stories" on CBS. Though I could see their house from Granny's porch when the leaves were gone in the winter, Lauren and Leah's driveway sat a ways back up Rugby Road, which meant I could not visit their house unless I found some way closer to where the crow flies.

But lo! Directly across the street from my Granny's driveway and Wayne and Lucy's driveway sat Blair and Katherine's house. Lauren introduced me to the idea that it was alright to visit Blair and Katherine's house anytime I wanted, and their house by the way, had a path mowed in the tall grass behind it leading to Lauren's house. When my dad was young he would also go visit Katherine, and as he tells it, she taught him how strum the first few chords he learned on the guitar. So, I guess a lot of my dad's success in guitars began with her, so we all should feel fortunate she was such a sweet lady, allowing neighborhood kids to come visit her from when my dad was young up until she passed away several years ago.

I learned a lot of valuable life lessons from Katherine, such as how to make peanut butter fudge, how to play croquet, that blueberries picked from a bush in the backyard taste the best when added to a bowl of milk and sugar, and that The Wonder Years is quite possibly the best show ever to air on television. Blair and Katherine had satellite TV, whereas no one else I knew in the community had more than a fuzzy picture of such personalities like Bob Barker and Dan Rather. So, most afternoons, especially during the Stories, I would head down the driveway and across the street to watch The Wonder Years and American Gladiators while enjoying Rugby delicacies the likes of homemade fudge or fresh picked blueberries.

The thing about Rugby is that you kind of have to rely heavily upon yourself to create entertainment. There aren't any Discovery Zones or Chuck E Cheese restaurants up the holler adjacent to the cow pasture. Lauren, Leah, and I would oftentimes conjure entertainment by phoning our relatives and assuming alternate identities. I believe that is what they call prank calls in the big cities...Anyway, I remember one particular summer evening we lightly bounced on the huge black trampoline rimmed in blue padding that was positioned in the center of Lauren and Leah's yard and called Granny, and then Katherine. Taking turns, we spoke with each of the ladies, producing amazingly inaccurate British accents and offering each woman a well paid position as a seamstress employed by the Buckingham Palace. The Queen of England had specifically requested their presence in her newly formed sewing circle. Both Granny and Katherine politely declined, but not before humoring me and Lauren, allowing us to verify to ourselves that we were top notch actresses at such young ages.

Last year, during a walk that I would love to share with you in more detail later, Lauren, Leah, Harper, and I all went for a long walk on Granny's land. That day reminded us of our younger days when we used to scamper over the same hills spying on the cows, or searching for treasures hidden deep within the brush. One particular time we were exploring the hilly pasture next to Granny's house and the bull who resided there seemed to become agitated due our invasion of his space; he snorted and pawed vigorously at the ground.  Naturally we ran for our lives. Poor Leah ended up getting a face full of grass before tripping out of the lot after Lauren and I hopped effortlessly over the low electric fence. I am going to go ahead and credit that experience, and note my involvement, for making Leah the awesome runner she is nowadays.

The experiences I shared with these girls are priceless memories that I am so proud to possess. I think growing up in Rugby has afforded us a unique opportunity to experience a simple existence that focuses on relationships and the love of family. I love so much that Leah and I still take walks in the woods and continue exploring the countryside and I know Lauren would do anything I ever asked of her. This entry doesn't come close to fully describing the awesome times we have shared over the years, so get ready for further entries I guess. I chose only these two girls to stand with me at my wedding because they know and accept all of me and I am closer to them than anyone else I know. I am so lucky to have grown up with them both and am able to call them my sisters.

Rhododendron Gap, Grayson Highlands State Park

Friday, January 13, 2012

Neighbors, Part 1

First of all, I would like to apologize for not writing a post earlier in the week. I have been planning to head back to Asheville and realized that I am so close to finishing the guitar I am working on, I might as well go ahead and spray on the finish and head home while it is drying. I promise I have been thinking about stories to tell you, and things to say that might be interesting to you. So, on that note, I am going to tell you another story about growing up in Rugby.

So, a thing about Rugby is that you know everyone. I mean, there aren't that many people to know, but every neighbor is a friend. That is something that I love about this place. The people haven't changed much in my lifetime and I love that. I think all who reside here have an aversion to change and don't always welcome newcomers well until we are positive they are not a threat to the precious socioeconomic group that has grown over generations. And I shouldn't even include myself into this selective clique because I am a hybrid and not always accepted by everyone here myself. Having DNA relating to that of Wayne Henderson helps though.

My Granny and her neighbors were some of the greatest people I have ever known. In the small grey house constructed of tar shingles directly adjacent to my grandparent's land lived Wayne and Lucy. Most of the days I spent at Granny's I would walk partway down the gravel driveway (Granny's was the kind with two gravel ruts and a tuft of grass running down the middle) and would cross through the vegetable garden where I would then wobble across the thin 2x8 inch board intersecting the small "branch" that ran between the two properties. I would scamper up the bank and then into Wayne and Lucy's yard. The chicken coop sat on my right, a flower garden was dug into the dirt on my left and the grey house and it's side glass storm door was straight ahead. The actual front door to their house, sitting atop a covered porch was to my left facing the road. I never knew anyone who used it.

When I came to visit Wayne and Lucy, I would scratch on the screen  of the storm door instead of knocking so they knew it was me. Lucy, quiet and subdued, always dressed in a light cotton dress buttoned in the front and her hair was either styled in soft grey waves or pinned up in tight circles held to her head by bobby pins. She was very delicate. I was always scared to touch her for fear of hurting her.  Immediately after my arrival she would insist that I have something to eat. She always kept a hard plastic cup; the kind with small cuts all over so it sparkled in the sun, full of candy on the counter. I am not entirely sure why it was always filled to the brim with such sweets as Worther's Original and Peppermint Patties. I didn't know if it was just refilled for my frequent visits, or if other children also stopped by or perhaps she and Wayne would indulge in the sweets every now and again. Whatever the reason, it was always there, as long as they lived in that house.

The complete opposite of Lucy, Wayne was loud and boisterous. He would pronounce, "Look who is here! Jayne is here!" every time I stepped in the door. He would then proceed to tell me the story of when he first met me. Apparently I rolled around in the floor of Wayne and Lucy's living room when I was perhaps 8 months old, having only one tooth protruding from my gums. Wayne had a shined apple in his shirt pocket and crawled over to him and dug it out. In his words, I fished it out of his pocket and used my one tooth to try to take a big bite out of it. That is pretty much all of the story, but I guess it was an exciting moment for him and Lucy and Granny. Another thing about Wayne is that my dad is named after him. When my Granny went into labor, Wayne was the only person in the county with a car, and he took my grandfather Walter and Granny to the hospital, therefore Wayne C Henderson has his name.

Wayne and Lucy's house is also special. The neat thing about it is that it had a room in it specifically for items that needed to be chilled, before people around Rugby had such things as a refrigerator. The spring ran through a cement holding tank in their cellar, which happend to be attached to their house, on the way to the bathroom. Many times I would stop in there and marvel at the cement tanks holding cool water that emerged from the ground just outside. Above the tanks were rows upon rows of cans filled with colorful food such as beans and tomatoes and apples. I always thought that room was pretty cool. Now, after learning about environmental law, the slow food movement and reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Mineral I wish I could visit Wayne and Lucy again and ask a thousand more questions regarding their food production and preservation. At the time I just thought it was a neat looking room, the likes of which I had never before seen in anyone's house.

These two people were part of my family. I am sad to say that they both have died in the past few years, but I remember driving to Rugby from college and taking my Granny-when she was 89-to Lucy's funeral because my dad wasn't in town at the time. It was important to me to be able to do that for her, because I loved them as much as she did, and as much as I have any aunt or uncle. They are good people and I am so fortunate to have known them.

Walnut back
Maple binding
Oh dear, it looks like I have written quite a bit, so to save you from even more mumblings, I will leave the stories of Katherine, Lauren and Leah for next time. Also, it is time to head out and spray another coat of finish on my walnut herringbone guitar. I think it is going to look and sound really great. When you tap the slightly bearclawed top it rings with a bright and prolonged tone and the curly grain is highlighted in the maple binding and walnut back and sides. I am still hoping to raise some cash for Luke's bills, so keep spreading the word!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Guitar!

Starting a new guitar is so exciting to me. Choosing the wood is like a puzzle but there are so many options as to which pieces will fit you really are never positive you got the right combination until you just know. I always want to make the right choices, worried that matching this back that I dug out from under seven other dusty planks will match the sides I found buried within another pile of wood stacked in my dad's shop. And will those look good with the back strip I choose? And what is the story behind this wood as opposed to that one over there? Where has this wood been in its life? In its death? Who cut it down, and why is it here in in a tiny shop in Rugby, VA right now? It is exciting mixing and matching until I get a feeling about everything. I feel anxious until I find the best match for the project. In this latest case, I have decided on a walnut back and body, less curly and wild than another set I was considering, paired with a spruce top that is kin to the set I used for my number 4 Koa cutaway.

Looking over my dad's collection of backstrips, small pieces of wood glued together in a pattern that when cut into thin strips make a beautiful constellation of colored wood, I felt inspired to showcase a herringbone pattern on this guitar. I have bent a strip of the "braided" brown and white wood into an O shape and inlaid it around the soundhole as well as glued it down the middle of the two walnut pieces that will constitute the guitar's back.

Today I shaped back braces and fitted the back onto the sides of the guitar. Tomorrow I hope to finish up the bracing on the top of the guitar and finish up the body. I will then work on strapping herringbone strips around the outside of the top and back to complete the body. Once a plan is in motion, it feels really nice to see the puzzle complete itself with each passing day.

I haven't yet sold this guitar, and that is a new experience for me, working without specific needs in mind. I am having some difficulty making something for someone I don't know because every other guitar I have worked on has included thoughts like, "I hope they like this," or "This neck size feels good to me, so I bet they will like it."

This guitar is going to be special in that I hope it will help someone. Several weeks ago, a distant cousin of mine was defending his state wrestling title, and after hitting a wall, broke his neck and is now a quadriplegic. My cousin Luke's life changed so drastically in a few seconds, and I hope to be able to use a portion of the proceeds of this guitar to put toward his medical expenses. I don't have the person I am making the guitar for in mind while I am working, but I am thinking of Luke. I want to help in the way that I know how and make sure that the work that I am doing is helping others.  If you know anyone who might be interested in this guitar, pass this along and let me know!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Memories

I apologize for the break in posts. I have had a hectic holiday season, spending time with Nick and Harper and Nick's parents as well as my parents. Currently I am in Harrisonburg, VA visiting my mom. All of this travel has provided me with lots of time to think about Christmasses past and great memories of family gatherings.

I was thinking that one of my very favorite Christmases was the year when I was 8 and I was presented with two giant boxes. This was still when I was pretty sure that the best packages came in the biggest boxes. (Not always the case, especially as you get older, but in this instance it was definitely true.) I remember walking into my grandmother's house, and being greeted by the same Christmas tree she used every year, covered with tinsel and those large colored lights that I am not sure are even made anymore. When I was young, I remember Granny would dig the small Frasier Fir my dad replanted following one Christmas and bring it inside, roots sitting in the old metal bathtub in which my family used to bathe once upon a time. Impressively environmentally conscious, Granny would bring that tree in each year and then replant it back in the front yard following the Christmas festivities. I also remember that my parent's dog Bo, who was adopted by Granny following their divorce, would pee on it in the interim between Santa's visits.

Currently that tree stands taller than the house, with a significant bare patch (I would guess around 3 feet in height) thanks to Bo's urine and it's impact with the tree's biological functions.

The year I turned 8 just 5 days prior to Christmas, I was presented with two boxes. Of course, Santa brought other stuff too, but I can't remember any of it other than these two presents. I excitedly unrwapped the first present, revealing a cardboard box stamped repeatedly with the word ECLAIRS. I had never had an eclair before, but I knew it was sweet and chocolatey and probably delicious, so my curiosity and excitent grew. To my surprise though, what spilled from the box was not enough eclairs to smother an eight year old, perhaps physically stunted, little girl. (I was born three months early weighing in at two pounds and it took a while to make up such a significant amount. That is a story for another time, but I have achieved a normal weight and then some now, so don't worry.)

As I opened the flaps of the box, red and black and white squares emerged from the side. I saw Dalmatians, black and white squares and white yarn knots making up a quilt my grandmother had stitched for me. Growing up, my mom and I shared our house with a Dalmatian called Oreo. To me he was a brother, as he surely tried my patience time and again, but was always there when I needed a playmate or someone to hug. He also used to drag me around the yard by my shoelaces, which is a task I feel is something a brother might do to a smaller sister but I am willing to overlook it as he is not currently around to defend his actions now. Again, I was tiny when I was younger...and I probably just looked like a super awesome, challenging chew toy to him.

Anyway, while I might not have fully appreciated that quilt at the young age of 8, I definitely do now. Many times, especially since my Granny's death, I have curled up in its warmth, remembering her and the time she presented me with this amazing gift in an oversized eclairs box. "To Jayne From Granny 1992" is stitched in red thread in one corner. I am so so grateful that she did this for me, now as I snuggle under the quilt and write this story for you, and I thank my mom for guarding it with care while I went to school and pursued my own interests. Now I am able to remember my Granny and her kindness and unconditional love for me.

The other large box under my Granny's tree in 1992 held another currently priceless, handmade gift. As I removed the layers of tissue surrounding a small, size 5 28 guitar with heart inlays gleaming throughout the fingerboard and on the peghead labeled Henderson, I was filled with excitement. My dad had made me a guitar! I knew he loved to make guitars, but I had never considered he might be working on one for me. I now know that the back and sides are constructed of Brazilian Rosewood harvested from the bar on Truman Capote's yacht. Several years after receiving this guitar I read Breakfast at Tiffany's and then a bit later In Cold Blood because I figured I should learn about this fellow who's bar now serves as the majority of my guitar. Now knowing what I do about ol' Truman, I marvel at the amazing stories I am sure that wood would tell if it could speak...(Sidenote: I love his writing, even though In Cold Blood scared the wits out of me and anytime I sleep alone now I make sure to prepare my surroundings with ample protection, usually in the way of some sort of bludgeon divice wearing a disguise of a huge flashlight, on the advice of one Susan Trianosky.)

I never learned to play the guitar well, as I have pretty small hands and it never came easy to me. I could go ahead and blame that on my premature beginnings as well, but it is just a fact. And, the length of my fingers unfortunately does not increase with my growing culinary arts interests. I plan to work at it more now though, especially since I am learning to construct similarly awesome instruments and need to know how to tell when they sound good when my dad isn't there to help me. Someday, hopefully close to never, my dad won't be around for me to talk to and get guitar advice when I need it. When that day comes, I will probably sit wrapped in my quilt and play my guitar. For these gifts, and allowing me to keep my family near when they physically aren't, I am so thankful.

Happy Holidays from Wayne, Sylvia and Walter (circa 1954)