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The Christmas gift that almost wasn’t

I’ve known since about last May that I wanted to get Drew a baritone guitar. He dropped it casually one weekend at his family’s farm. “One of these days, I’d really like to get a baritone.”

Not being a guitarist myself, I was a bit taken aback by his desire to purchase an opera singer.

No, he said, a baritone was a special kind of guitar, tuned lower than a regular one, with a longer neck and heavier strings.

Sexy, I said.

There’s a company, Washburn, that makes a solid wood one for a couple hundred bucks, he said. Someday.

I filed that away under, “When We Have Money.” He mentioned baritone guitars a handful of other times, always saying he wanted the solid wood Washburn. I nodded each time, acting like I didn’t remember the conversation from before.

As Christmas approached, it looked like I was going to have more than the money I’d need for a Washburn. I calculated shipping dates, looked at model numbers. Early November, he mentioned the baritone again.

“Right, what was that company that makes them? Washburn?”

“Actually, I discovered that Washburn’s marketing is misleading. Only the top is wood. The rest is laminate.”

Laminate, I have learned, is the kiss of death for an acoustic guitarist.

“But there’s another company, Goldtone, that makes one for just a little more.”

Okay. Goldtone. Goldtone Goldtone Goldtone.

Well, I don’t know where he saw a Goldtone for the price he mentioned, but I certainly couldn’t find it. And when I started thinking about shelling out that much cash for a brand he’d never played, a brand that might not “speak” to him the way his Taylors do, I couldn’t justify it. What a letdown!

His Taylors…out of curiousity, I looked up what a Taylor baritone cost. Hooooly crow. No way. But maybe I could find one used…

So began two days of frantically scouring the web for respectable used guitars. Most places were consignment and had a 24- to 72-hour return policy. I simply didn’t know enough about guitars to make a proper judgment.

Then, a week after Thanksgiving, I stumbled across a little shop in New York that hadn’t yet changed their Black Friday sale prices. They had one Taylor baritone guitar in stock: a spring 2014 special edition. Ecstatic, I emailed them. Five minutes later, too impatient to wait for a response, I called.

“It’s funny,” said the woman on the other end of the line, “I just talked to a guy in Canada who was asking about this guitar. He said he wasn’t sure. Sometimes, when you wait, you miss out!”
The box nearly came up to my shoulders.
I waited excitedly for the delivery, working from home without Drew’s knowledge the day it was to be delivered. I hauled the box as big as I was up the elevator and into the condo. And then the question was: Where does one hide a giant box in a thousand square-foot, open floor-plan condo? Somewhere he’d never find it: In the closet where the vacuum cleaner lives. Perfect.

I planned it all out: Sunday I would swap the guitar in the box with the one hanging on the living room wall while he was at church playing piano. Then I’d wait for him to just notice it. I was leaving for California the following week, to be joined by him seven days later. He’d have all that time to do nothing in his spare time but play music if he wanted to. (He’s still just a little shy and uncomfortable playing the guitar in front of me. It’s adorable.)

Sunday, one of his friends came over to hang out after church. I didn’t want the friend to notice the guitar first, so I thought I’d do it after he left. By that time, however, we were running late for dinner at Drew’s folks. As we walked out the door, I “realized” I forgot my ring.

“I’ll wait for you,” said Drew, clearly a little grumpy that I was insistent on getting it. I urged him to just get the car and wait for me outside, then tore into the apartment, ripped out the guitar, and threw it on the wall. I barely remembered to actually grab the ring. I tried not to look too smug.

A couple hours later, we flicked the lights back on. Drew walked into the kitchen and stopped in his tracks. I will never forget the look on his face.

“What is this?” Turning around to face me, he asked, “What did you do? What did you do?”

“Merry Christmas,” I whispered.

He picked it up with an awestruck look on his face. “I can’t believe you did this. It’s beautiful.”

I felt so proud of myself.

A few minutes later, he lifted his head. “Sweetheart? Are you sure this is a baritone guitar?”

WHAT. What?!

In the spring of 2014, Taylor made two guitars: the 320e and the 320e baritone. Same wood, same case, same model number. Different guitars. The company in New York had mislabeled their inventory.

I bought Drew a guitar inferior to the two he already had. I felt like I was going to throw up. Sweetheart that he is, he hugged me while I tried not to cry and thanked me for doing, in his words, “such a wonderful thing” for him. (The company was fortunately incredibly apologetic and the return was seamless, fortunately.)

Well, hell. Now it would be January before I even got to think about finding another one, and I probably wouldn’t be able to find another Taylor. I went from Christmas hero to Christmas bumpkin. Just to be thorough, I looked online again. Everything would need to be shipped. Nothing would get there in time.

Then I found a guitar shop in Highland Park, half an hour north of my job. They had one Taylor spring 2014 special edition 320e baritone. I called and told them I’d be in after work to pick it up.

It was raining by the time I got up there, making rush hour traffic even worse than usual. The shop was tiny, but packed wall-to-wall with spotless instruments. They brought out a guitar case with my name on it. They flipped it open. I plucked the bass string. It rumbled.

“I don’t know anything about guitars. It’s a present for my husband. It looks perfect.”

“You had the six-string and not the eight-string, right?” Yes, I said. Name for the warranty? Andrew Battaglia.

The sales rep paused. “He doesn’t go by ‘Drew,’ does he?”


“Would he have had a reason to buy a baritone and have it shipped to California?”

I’m pretty sure the look on my face at this point was somewhere between stepping in dog poo and discovering my hairdresser had given me a mohawk. In a weird turn of events, the shop had sold the only two baritone guitars — both Taylors — in the shop within a couple hours of each other after having them in inventory for the better part of a year. The other Drew was having his eight-string baritone shipped to Marina del Rey. I quite happily wedged my Drew’s guitar in the passenger seat of the Jeep.

IMG_1486My Drew was already home when I got there, quite late. Since our doorway is hidden from the rest of the apartment, he probably thought I had a load of groceries when I asked if he could give me a hand.

I got the awestruck reaction not once, but twice: wide eyes, the half smile/half gape, the unbelief. And again, he asked, “What did you do?”

I got it right this time, that’s what I did. And next time he wants a musical instrument, I’m going to let him pick out his own.

Published in Family