In second grade I sold enough World’s Finest chocolate bars and chocolate covered almonds to reach the top tier prize group, the one where you get your pick of a shiny new bike, remote control airplane, or my prize of choice, a tape/record player. I distinctly remember this conversation with my teacher:
“Christina, do you want the record player or the CD player”?
“A CD player? I don’t know what that is.” I responded.
“It’s the disc things Mr. Muller plays in music class.”
“I don’t have those, I have records.”
It was roughly 1992-ish. We had records. Lots of records. Vinyl is what I first heard music on, and I still believe music sounds best on vinyl. Memories of my early childhood are filled with my parents playing classic rock, Christmas albums, and a few Disney albums. It’s on vinyl that I first heard blues, specifically B.B. King.
It’s strange to me that in the same week that great man passed, my husband bought me a record player for my 30th birthday, and I got to share the glory of my vinyl collection with my own daughter (she’s thrilled with it by the way). During my birthday dinner, my dad quietly mentioned, “Did you hear B.B. King is in hospice?” “Yeah, I did, it’s really sad.”
To anyone else, that was a transfer of pop culture news, but to our family, it was something different.
On Thursday B.B. King died, and it got me thinking about the day B.B. King came to dinner at my house. I was little, younger than second grade, but old enough to understand that it was a really big deal and that it was a memory I should really hold on to.
My mom is a sculptor, and a darn good one at that, over the years she turned a hobby into a career. It was early on in her career, right near that “oh wow” point, that point where anyone who’s ever followed a dream understands. It’s when suddenly you receive a spark of success that is completely unexpected but so desired and you stand back and look at what you’ve done and you think, “hey, maybe I really am an artist” or a musician, or a fire fighter, or a chef or whatever it is that dream leads you to be. During that time, she was allowed the chance to meet the blues legend and do a portrait bust of him. She actually wrote about it all recently here on her blog. Reading her blog and thinking about that time, and watching a few friends recently running after their dreams and maybe even turning 30 all got me really thinking about a lot of things.
I remember walking to our front yard and picking flowers, not roses or daisies, but more along the lines of dandelions and those little purple flowers that pop up with clover in the south. “Mom, these are for B.B. King.” Oh the heart of a child. I picked weeds for B.B. King. But he was a man with a kind heart and while I can’t remember specifics, I do recall that he did not reject my flowers, but he gave me a tiny lapel pin with a blue guitar on it (which I later learned was Lucille), and his name in a big bold font.
But B.B. King isn’t just a legend, and it isn’t just that he ate dinner at my house, at the table I still eat dinner at when I take my daughter to ‘Gamma’s’ house. He did something for my family when he agreed to let my mom sculpt him. He gave her that “oh wow” moment, he gave a young artist that spark of early success that sends you propelling forward. He believed in my mom and her talents. And what that did was allow her to continue to follow her dream. Which taught a very young girl that following dreams was completely appropriate and encouraged, even if it’s crazy or harder or silly or whatever nay-sayers tend to call dreams. Watching my mom pursue and push and run after her dreams showed me that I could do that too.
She writes in her blog post about B.B. King, “Reminiscing on paying my dues, I realize that the most important belief in myself had to come from me. Counting others to believe in oneself is senseless. You are the most important thing to you.”
And while she totally taught me to believe in myself, to count on myself, to be self sufficient, that I can do all things I put my mind to, I have always known that she believes in me and because of that I have never had to believe in myself alone.
It wasn’t always easy, there were times where there wasn’t work, and we struggled, but to see where she is now makes me know the hard part is worth it, the work is worth it, the time and energy and blood sweat and tears is worth it, because sometimes, B.B. King comes to dinner at your house.
Thank you B.B. King for giving that to our family. Your memory will live in our hearts and our ears, every time I play that vinyl record.