I learned that Moses was dead from Fred Koller, the dry-witted songwriter who had told me his acquaintance Moses could build me a harp case. Fred called from Nashville to say that Moses had died of “bad livin’” and that I needed to get the case before it was taken and sold to repay debts. Unfortunately, the case he had built was not the light-weight one I wanted for my small Celtic harp. But maybe if I had the case I could sell it and get my $600 back.
I wouldn’t have ordered such an expensive thing if my career as a singer/songwriter wasn’t picking up steam. Having made my first recording, I was getting airplay in college radio stations across the nation. It was time for a better instrument along with a flight case. I ordered the new harp. But Moses made very slow work of the case, despite my frequent and increasingly urgent long distance calls. Eventually he let slip the fact that he had subcontracted the work as soon as he had cashed my check for $600. I decided it was time to take a firmer stance with Moses.
“Hello Moses, this is Bobbie Wayne. Is my case finished yet?”
“Well I was just over to the workshop and saw it.”
“I’d say about 200 pounds. It could probably hold you inside.” Horrified, I informed him I didn’t weight that much and reminded him I had ordered a portable case. He informed me there wasn’t much he could do about it now. We went back and forth, the gist of our conversation being that I wanted my money back and that he didn’t have it to give.
During the next month I sent Moses registered letters begging him to sell the case and return my money. I threatened small claims court. I even thought of driving to Nashville and confronting him personally. Fred Koller assured me that Moses was truly too poor to be worth suing, adding “If it makes you feel any better, he probably used your money to feed his dog.”
Meanwhile, I was playing my rickety old harp, booking my fall and winter schedule, working as a free-lance sign painter and performing with a marionette theater for extra cash. I kept busy. Eventually, my new harp arrived. Having neither time nor money to pursue Moses for my $600, I decided to cut my losses. I consoled myself with the knowledge that down South somewhere, my money was feeding a hungry dog. The following spring Fred called to let me know that Moses had died. The case had been at Moses’ house the last time Fred visited, and he figured I’d better call and claim it.
I dialed Moses’ familiar number. Having harbored decidedly un-Christian thoughts toward him in the past, I felt awkward expressing my condolences to his friend who answered the phone. Then I explained that Moses had built me a harp case before he died and I needed to have it delivered.
“It’s been there since last summer,” I told him.
“He couldn’t have sold it to another musician; The only thing that fits in it is my harp.”
“Well, no, I don’t see it ma’am. It musta’ got used for something, ‘cause it sure ain’t here anymore.”
“What about the dog?”
“Someone took him in.” Hanging up with a sigh I cursed myself for having studied harp rather than the piccolo.
Little did I imagine at the time all of this transpired that two years later I would be living in Nashville myself, trying to break into the songwriting industry. My husband, Dan, and I settled into a suburban Nashville neighborhood. One introduction led to another. And before long, I’d invited two couples to brunch—music publisher Juan Contraras and his wife, Victoria, along with Garth Brooks’ manager, Pam Lewis, and her husband, Andy.
It was a perfect Spring morning. The stuffed crepes were on a warming platter, coffee was made, the champagne and orange juice were chilling in an ice bucket. Flowers decorated the table. Juan and Victoria arrived early and after a few minutes of polite chat someone noticed my harp. When I told them I had been a performer for ten years, Victoria asked how I carried a harp on airplanes when I had out-of-state tours. I shot Dan a look. We had agreed before moving not to bring up Moses to anyone. Nashville is a small town.
“Oh I don’t fly. I drive to all my gigs,” I said.
“Why don’t you have a flight case made?” she asked.
Oh I..er.. did.. sort of.” (Where were Pam and Andy). “Who would like champagne?” I said gayly.
“Where did you order it?” Juan Contraras was a man of few words. His handsome appearance bespoke his Spanish ancestry. He was not easily distracted once he was interested in a topic.
“Here,” I said taking a pull on my champagne.
“Who made it?” he said fixing me with his serious gaze.
“Oh, it was a few years ago, and, uh,..I...uh think his names was Moses, or something.” Juan’s face registered surprise; he cut me off.
“I knew Moses; he died two years ago,” he said frowning thoughtfully. I finished my glass, anticipating a change of topic. “He was very poor, Moses,” said Juan, warming to his story. “Once I brought him a check for something. He was really happy and asked me to drop him off at the store. I thought he would buy food but all he bought was cigarettes and several six-packs.”
I poured myself more champagne and tried to change the topic. “He lived way out in a cabin,” Juan went on. “Didn’t have hardly anything, just a dog. I don’t know how he even fed him.”
“I do” I murmured into my glass.
“Then I heard he died. I thought I’d go to his funeral but he was too poor to even have one. When I got to the graveyard I was the only one there, ‘Weren’t even any flowers except what I’d brought.” He paused, brooding.
I had managed over the last two years to put the whole Moses incident behind me, to look upon it as a painful learning experience. What were the chances that a perfect stranger would revive the whole incident? We four sat in respectful silence. Privately, I pictured Moses’ gravesite, a black hole dug in some low desolate valley with no one there to see him buried but Juan. Blinking back tears I heard the crunch of tires in our driveway - Pam and Andy!
“And you know what the worst thing was?” Juan interrupted the silence. “He was so poor, he didn’t even have money enough to pay for a coffin...” A horrible image began to force its’ way into my mind. “So they buried him in this big trunk, it looked like some kind of huge instrument case that they found in his house.”
Swaying slightly I stood up to go to the door.
Behind me, Dan asked flatly, without missing a beat, “Where’d they bury him?”
Bobbie Wayne has a BA in Music and my MFA in Art. She worked as an abstract artist, a music therapist, a singer/songwriter playing Celtic harp, a sign painter, a portrait painter, a puppeteer and many more jobs. Bobbie lived in Lower Manhattan where she built her own lofts and met many interesting characters. She studied writing at Grub Street in Boston and uses all of the above as fodder for the stories she has always written.