A Bassic Christmas Story

In 1991 I was just shy of 14 when I first started playing bass at Birchwood Junior High. I loved it so much that I sold my Nintendo and begged my parents to return the video game they had gotten me for Christmas so I could subsidize my first electric bass purchase. It was a cheap used bass, but I loved it. We didn't have a lot of money, and I couldn't afford an amplifier so my dad rewired one of those old grey "boomboxes" so I could plug my bass in and hear myself.
The next fall I was at Colonel Gray in the concert band and intermediate jazz band and my life was full of music--amazing! Music was pretty much all I did. For Christmas that year, I knew my friend was getting a brand new electric bass, and though I was happy for him, I was pretty jealous. I didn't have the money for a new bass and my parents did their best but didn't have a lot of extra money lying around.
Christmas morning I woke up really early, I couldn't sleep so I went downstairs and sat on the couch at around 5am. Shortly after, my father came downstairs and was a bit surprised to see me. He sat across from me, and I can't remember what we talked about; however, it was a nice one-on-one moment with my dad that didn't happen often enough. I was the youngest of four kids so the former Christmas magic had somewhat dissipated for him, but he seemed excited about Christmas morning. We didn't have a lot, but we had enough and life was pretty good.
He went off to make a coffee, and I fell asleep on the couch for a while until my sisters got up. We went through the usual Christmas morning routine--my sisters excited about clothes and other older teenage girl stuff while I opened a few toys, socks, etc. I was trying not to feel sorry for myself, but I was clearly missing the point and missing the excitement. And that was when my sister handed me my next gift. It was a small heavy box filled with what I quickly realized were some of our used books. Confused, I took them out and at the bottom there was a folded piece of paper that said "try mom's closet". I looked up to see smiling faces...and realized that I was about to go on a scavenger hunt. My sisters followed me everywhere with an excitement I hadn't seen in a while, and I was trying hard not to get my hopes up.
Several rooms and clues later, I read a card that says "back where you started". So baaaaack to the livingroom I went and I saw the shape of a knee-high box covered in a blanket in the middle of the room. Everything in my world paused, and I took the blanket off in what felt like slow motion and there it was: a brand new electric bass amplifier. Like still-had-the-tags-on-it brand new. I was speechless. I literally couldn't believe it! So many thoughts went through my head: I could jam with friends now, no more boombox. I could start a BAND! But above all I was thinking two things: 1) where did they get the money for a brand new amplifier? and 2) did they really do this for ME?
I squatted down and inspected every inch of it, looked at every knob, even picked it up to feel its weight. I was in love. Then with a smile someone in my family said, "Well are you going to try it?". Still stunned, I reached behind the couch to grab that cheap electric bass that had given me so much joy that past year: the one that gave me a reason to look forward to getting up and going to school, the one that I look back to now and see how it completely changed my life, brought me to study music, helped me meet my wife and build a family, helped me become a music educator, helped me learn how to function in this world, helped me become successful at whatever I wanted to do, and for some reason that cheap bass felt different in the moment. I mean, literally, it felt different. Heavier.
And then it clicked...
I opened up that case and saw the most beautiful sight--a brand new electric bass. Fender Precision style with a three-tone sunburst finish, a maple neck, and a rosewood fingerboard. Glorious.
I'm sure you can imagine the look on my face, but every Christmas I think of this moment created by my parents and sisters, and I'll never forget the look on theirs.

Originally shared as part of Home for the Holidays concert series at the Harbourfront Theatre in Dec 2017


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