A bit before sunup on a cold day in February 1964, I was opening up the co-op for the start of daily business. I didn’t expect many boats that morning since most of the fishermen had taken up their traps for the winter. Those few hearty souls who were still fishing had gotten gas and bait the day before, so my morning should be fairly quiet, but busy.

There was a new pile of bait dumped on the wharf that needed to be forked and salted into barrels. The boss had designated a crate of lobster to be steamed and picked that day and there would be the usual administrative interruptions to deal with, as well as servicing the boats as they came in from hauling. It was cold in the tank building, too cold to stand here and pick lobster even if they were still steaming. I started the salamander, a propane-fired torpedo-shaped heater that sounded like an F-4 Phantom when lit. That thing would melt a man’s hip boots if he got too close, but it warmed some of the building if the wind wasn’t howling.

The office was a small, dimly lit room with file cabinets, a desk and a few chairs. Its most appreciated features were the coffee maker and the two space heaters that kept the temperature habitable. Through dark, frosted panes, two poorly insulated windows displayed a chilly view of the large pile of bait under the big dock lights on the wharf. Opposite the desk and against the wall leaned my Gibson six-string, a companion during slow times of the day, times which came too seldom.

By late morning I had cleaned up and salted the bait pile and started cooking the lobsters in the steam box. It was time for a mug-up. In the office to warm up and fill up, I caught the phone call that was the boss’s habit. Being just a young, inexperienced kid left alone with the business, I was accustomed to being checked upon daily. It was like taking attendance in a class of one. We talked briefly about the job list for the day and I went back to work while he went back to whatever he went back to.

Just after noon I heard the now-familiar thump of a Cat Marine diesel easing up to the floats. It was a new engine for Caterpillar and they had stationed a tech aboard the Jean Louise for the first weeks of its life. Kenny “K.R.” Toothaker was her captain and it was rare that the Cat tech came out from below to socialize. After offloading and weighing his catch, Ken and I went up to the office while the boat’s sternman baited up for the next day.

Coffee was first, then the paperwork tallying his day’s efforts. He had those gloves-be-damned fisherman’s fingers, thick and calloused with the strength of a 50-pound bench vise. He spied my guitar against the wall and asked if he might give it a strum. The strings were old, dull and rusty, and if I had known what an accomplished player he was, I might never have allowed the guitar to be seen in that condition.

But it didn’t matter. Kenny picked up my guitar by the neck, placed it on his lap and began to mesmerize me with sounds I didn’t know that Gibson could make. His big, thick fingers danced around the frets with envied precision. He played songs of the day, songs from future greats in the country and early rock genres. To me, it was magic, and obviously, I’ve never forgotten it.

It became his habit to spend a little time in the office each day when he came in from hauling. He would grab my guitar and make it sing songs I didn’t know it knew. With a strong “Maine country” voice to go with it, he cemented my love of that music. I have never appreciated the complex sounds of symphonies and classical music with their manic-depressive pace, volume and mood. But if you can play me a song with a melody, a story and a rhythm that makes my foot tap in time, I’ll listen all day.

And if you can play my guitar and sing to me the songs of Kenny Toothaker in that cold little office, I’ll buy the coffee and you can keep the mug.

Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.