I met Eddie on a cold, wet December morning in 2005.
He was sitting on a bench in a public park quietly humming
Lying beside him was an old beat up Martin guitar
that he slowly picked up, smiled and started strumming.
He was tall and lanky and wore dirty, shabby clothes
that looked a size too big for his bent slender frame.
His face was leathered and told a story of a hard life.
His boots were well beyond keeping out cold or rain.
When he saw me sitting nearby he held up his guitar
and asked me if I had a request or favorite song
That’s when I noticed the guitar only had five strings
He was missing the little E string…it was completely gone
I asked him how he could play with only five strings.
He said he had gotten use to just five and asked if I was ready
“don’t know what I’d do with that sixth string….he laughed.
Besides he said, I’m partial to my nickname….”Five String Eddie”.
I told him I had no particular request and told him to pick
so he began to play the hymn “ Amazing Grace”.
Five String Eddie would never win on “America’s Got Talent”
But I had never seen so much joy on such a tired old face.
When he was through I tipped him a couple of dollars and left.
Over the next couple of weeks I looked forward to his playing
Each time he asked if I had a request, each time I let him choose.
and when he played old gospel tunes it was like almost like praying.
Out of curiosity one day I asked if he was a religious man.
He pulled out a small New Testament, and held up two fingers
“Me and the Lord’s just like this,” he said with a twinkle in his eye
I’m his favorite guitar player he laughed but not his favorite singer.”
It was hard to tell Eddie’s age, his hard life showed on his face.
On one occasion he told me that he left home when he was 14.
His address was a cardboard box in a grove of trees in the park.
He had lived on the street for years where life could be mean.
He survived by the kindness of strangers, moved by his music
or who tipped him out of annoyance. Either way they got a song.
He never begged or asked anyone for money, he had his pride
His audience was always just a few and never a throng.
In early January I came to the park hoping for an uplifting song
always feeling better after listening to him. But no Eddie played.
In fact he didn’t show all of that week or even the next two
It had been brutally cold and I wondered where he had stayed
I checked with some friends who worked in the courthouse
which stood directly across the street from his daily venue
but no one knew anything except he was called Five String Eddie.
The next day was a cold and rainy but I knew what I had to do
I checked with a friend of mine who worked in the Police Department.
“Yes”, He knew about Five String Eddie he said, then deeply sighed,
“They found his frozen body last week in some trees over by the park.”
Five String Eddie, my lunchtime companion and friend had died.
No family claimed his body so he was buried in a pauper’s plot
on the outskirts of town with no headstone to mark his simple grave.
The cemetery led me to believe that nobody visited there much anyway.
and my mood matched the weather that no one else had braved.
In an old Andy Griffith show Opie kills a mother bird with his slingshot
and Andy makes him raise the baby birds until they’re old enough to fly
When the day comes when he has to release the birds from the cage and as the baby birds, now grown, flap their wings and take to the sky.
Opie sadly states that the cage sure does look empty now
but Andy in his downhome wisdom points out how full the trees are
There’s no Five String Eddie playing and singing in the park anymore
but I imagine music in Heaven sounds fuller accompanied by a five string guitar.
RDavenport 2008 (C)
Poems by Roy Davenport : 5 / 18