Mandolin Rain by John L. Neel

My little brother was a musician; he could play anything.

It began when he was young, spending some of the money he earned over the summer to buy a mandolin.  "What a waste; you'll never learn to play it," I told him.

He was playing it in no time at all and playing it well.

At the end of the next summer, he used most of his money, to buy a nice Alvarez guitar.  True to form, he was playing the thing like a champ in a few months.  He, Jim, and I would sit around mom's house and sing while Don played.

Jim and I would learn to play the guitar to lesser degrees.  I learned everything I know from Don and I still play the songs he taught me.

Donald Cook "DC / Cookie" Neel died at 35 in a shooting accident.  His death was a great loss.

He was the gentlest of souls, loved by everyone who knew him. 

His death hit Jim hard; they were the best of friends.  They did everything together, even attending the same college, eight years apart.  I was away in the Army, separated geographically, and, being the middle kid, always a bit of an outsider, but Jim is still my hero and Don was the guy I could always depend on to give me the straight, unemotional information on family situations.

Being a medical professional by trade, I depended on Don's opinion during our dad's long fight with Cancer.  I jumped on a plane from Izmir Turkey, at his suggestion, when it looked like Did was in his last moments. I was back in Izmir when Dad died, two weeks later.  I got Don on the phone to see if the Family needed me to come back.  His advice was the advice I trusted most.

Like all baby brothers, however, Don was a little shit when he was a kid.

When he began playing the Mandolin, he learned to play the lick in Maggie May by Rod Stewart.  He played it over and over, an exercise in picking and fingering.  He would play it slow, fast, softly, loudly . . . over and over and over.  It was annoying, very annoying.

One day, while I was watching a new episode of Star Trek, he plopped down in the chair across the den from me, mandolin in hand.  I asked him not to play it while I was watching the TV.

Maggie May.

Dad, sitting in his recliner, reading his paper, seemed undisturbed, even oblivious.

I asked nicely, "DC, please stop or go in another room."

Maggie May.

I pled, "Cookie.  Please Stop."

Maggie May.

I asked Dad to intercede, to no avail.

Maggie May.

I warned him, "Don, you better stop."

Maggie May.

That was IT, Game On.  I stood up, walked across the room, grabbed the mandolin out of Don's hands, walked out on the back deck, and threw the damned thing out into the woods.  I turned around and found myself face to face with Dad.

DC was whining, Dad was pissed, and I was in deep shit.  My adrenaline was pumping and I remember clenching my fists and stepping toward Dad.  Stupid! Though Dad stood about 4 inches shorter than me, he was still an imposing figure, and not someone anyone messed with.  The look in his eye told me not to take another step, but his voice was calm,  "Go get the mandolin and apologize to your brother, then go to your room until supper.  You will pay for any damage to the mandolin."

Luckily, there was not a scratch on it.

To the tune of Maggie May, I sulked back to my bedroom.

When DC died, his wife Kelly offered up a lot of his things to Jim and me.  Jim took the Alvarez (I would buy a 50th Anniversary Edition for my birthday in DC's honor), I gratefully took the Mandolin.  It sat in the case Jim made for it, decorated for Don with a scene from an old Science Fiction paperback depicting Ray Bradbury's short story A Sound of Thunder, for twenty-seven years.  I got it out the other day, bought it a new bridge and strings, and strung it.

My goal is to learn to play Maggie May.

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