While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Jonah’s Guitar Journey — Part One

Having once been a kid myself, I know what it’s like to want to do something, to cry and clamor for your parents to finance it, and then to lose interest in the aftermath of victory. I’m horrified by how many times I talked my parents into supporting my childhood dreams of grandeur. Come to think of it, Ellen should probably have put her foot down a few times as well. Ah, well. At least I don’t have a hobby that includes yachts or airplanes.


His first guitar became his knockaround camp-guitar 4 years later (2007)

I remember when Jonah, at the age of twelve, came to me asking for a guitar. I knew the gambit and I wasn’t biting. I told him we’d get him a really cheap guitar. Also, Ellen’s dad had done the same with her, purchasing her first guitar from a pawn shop to make sure she was really serious about wanting to play. Jonah could learn from that. And if he enjoyed playing, and he was learning stuff, and showed signs that this was something he was going to continue, then we’d talk about a real guitar.

So I went onto eBay and searched for guitars that would cost less than $25. Actually, I was hoping to buy one that, even with shipping and handling, wouldn’t exceed $25. I bought him a $12 guitar. It had no brand name stamped on the headstock and in the sound hole it read, “Classic Guitar.” What a piece of junk! But from his response, you’d think I’d gotten him Jimi Hendrix’s Stratocaster. Jonah was so grateful and from the minute he started strumming that thing, he never stopped! This was an eye-opener for me. This kid really liked music!

The very first song Jonah wanted to learn was Tom Lehrer’s Irish Ballad, a particularly reprehensible little piece about a young girl with an irrepressible propensity for murder. Both Ellen and I grew up on ample amounts of Tom Lehrer’s music and, while it may cause one to question our fitness as parents, we exuberantly shared his music with our young children and were only too happy to teach it to Jonah as his first “recital” piece.

One morning in a fit of pique,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin.
One morning in a fit of pique,
She drowned her father in the creek.
The water tasted bad for a week,
And we had to make do with gin.

That’s my boy. It wasn’t enough for him to make music; he had to make people laugh too.


Playing the Backpacker in Mississippi (2007)

Jonah didn’t wait around for me to buy him “a real guitar.” When he was thirteen, he spent his own money on a Martin Backpacker. These weren’t great guitars either, but they were portable, really easy to carry around. And that was what Jonah was looking for. The stories we heard after his death would bear this out. So many of Jonah’s friends – from camp, to youth group, and even during college – told us how much Jonah loved music, and how much he loved sharing music. More than a few of them wrote of the joy he got from teaching them how to play the guitar.

I think I got my money’s worth on eBay that day.

19th century physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., wrote, “Alas for those who cannot sing, but die with all their music in them.” Nineteen years is far too few, but Jonah squeezed immeasurable amounts of spirit and music into them. That little guitar of his did its job well, for he played and played, and sang and sang, until his song was done. The guitar is still around, and when I have occasion to see it, I am reminded just how extraordinary a life my son lived. “Real guitar” or not, he brought real music to us all.



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