Boulder • By the time I was 11, I could read, dress myself and find my way home from school (most of the time), and I had memorized the lineups of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon programs.
Because this was more than anyone in my extended family had achieved by the same age, I was considered "gifted." I wasn't a genius by any means, but I was exceptionally talented for a Kirby.
My parents were rather proud of me. At every opportunity, the old man would point out, "When he isn't setting fires, that kid can read without moving his lips."
I felt good about my childhood accomplishments until last week, when I went to Boulder in Garfield County for the annual Heritage Days celebration. It ruined everything.
The two-day event featured a variety of live musical acts. They ranged from quite good to dog-howlingly bad. However, because all of them were better than I could ever hope to be, it was an opinion I kept to myself.
Over the years, I had convinced myself that given my natural talent, I probably could have been a musical success had I wanted to. It's just that I had preferred to apply myself to other disciplines such as television and fire.
When Garrett Shakespeare, 11, from Cedar City, climbed onto a stool with a guitar, I ignored him. He was just a kid. And then he drove into the opening rift of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."
Listening to Garrett, I was instantly ashamed of myself. Any pride I had for what I had accomplished as a kid vanished. I suddenly felt small and ordinary.
Note: I'd like to make it clear that Garrett is no Ronnie Van Zant (R.I.P.), but the important thing is that he's no Robert Kirby, either. His parents can thank the Lord.
Garrett's singing and playing hauled me back to the summer of my own musical career. I was 14. One day, I bought an acoustic guitar with my very own money (which I stole from my little brothers) and set about becoming even more famous.
After a month of applying myself during television commercials, I could more or less pluck out the first dozen notes to "Louie, Louie." However, the rest of the song eluded me.
I tried. Every once in a while, I would pick up the guitar and mess with it some more. Plunk. Plink. Twang. That was as good as I got until one day, in a burst of irate creativity, I smashed the guitar on my bedroom floor.
Now, 40 years later, I was listening to an 11-year-old kid glide effortlessly through every chord and lyric of one of my all-time favorite songs.
This was a kid, I painfully reminded myself, who had the same amount of hours and minutes in his first 11 years that I had had in mine. How did he get so good with a guitar while I made kindling out of another?
When he finished to applause (including mine), I stopped Garrett and asked if he had always been disturbingly obsessed with the guitar, or had a miracle occurred in which he was instantly transformed from a regular kid into an accomplished musician?
Garrett shyly told me that he "kind of liked playing" the guitar and that he had "practiced a lot." Hours and hours of practice, in fact.
There you go. Instead of studiously applying himself to cartoons and misdemeanor pursuits, Garrett had wasted all that time playing the guitar. Shoot, I'll bet he didn't even know HOW to accidentally burn down an abandoned barn.
And that's what I'm going to keep telling myself every time I think about what I could have been with a little talent, some practice and a lot of self-discipline.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.