A little more about who I am and the journey that brought me here to share my music:

As long as she had a guitar, Sue Wood could make a home for herself
KATE GRIGG - Special to The Packet & Times
Thursday, January 9, 2014 6:43:55 EST PM

Sue Wood sang in each house the agent showed her. Most people look for nice kitchens, they turn on taps, open closet doors; they don’t sing in every room they’re shown, testing the acoustics.

But if Sue Wood couldn’t find a house with good acoustics, a sympathetic spot to sit and strum her guitar, how would she “catch them as they go by,” the riffs, the fragments of notes she finds beneath her fingers as they move along the fretboard of her guitar? Like running your fingers over the earth and turning over unexpected treasure, a bit of broken porcelain, a ring someone dropped. You never know how you’ll stumble onto the beginnings of a song.

Sue was starting a new life in a new town, but the one thing she carried with her when she “ran away from home at 50” was music, her Ovation guitar with the “beautiful voice.” As long as she had her guitar, Sue could make a home for herself.

But the first time she went to McCabe’s on a Thursday (open mike night) looking for the chance to sing (the first thing Sue did when she got to town was get herself a library card; the second was find a place to sing and meet other musicians), Sue’s guitar nearly joined the list of uncertainties she was facing mid-life. Coming in from the parking lot, a zipper on Sue’s guitar case gave way and the Ovation unexpectedly slipped and hit the pavement. Like dropping a baby. And there was Sue, walking into McCabe’s, not knowing a soul, a complete stranger using “questionable language” as she found a seat and inspected the damage to her guitar.

Jamie, the host, came forward to welcome her. Would she get up and play, he wanted to know. And despite the tiny split in her guitar, despite being out of sorts and the place being fairly busy, people talking, making noise, Sue got up to sing.

Singing in a strange place didn’t make her nervous; she’d faced tougher crowds playing at public schools for Christmas events and BYOB (bring your own bear) teddy bear picnics, where little listeners weren’t afraid to voice an opinion. (Sue has recorded two children’s albums, Music For Bears and Small Children and Bear With Me.)

Sue performed some of her own material at McCabe’s, singing for herself, singing about things that had happened in her life, telling an honest story in an honest voice.

She was thinking about her mother when she wrote Can You See Her, a song about leaving. Thinking of how brave she had been — fostered as a child, alone at 16, she joined the army in London before coming to Canada, stayed in a less-than-perfect marriage for the sake of Sue and her sister, put off leaving because that’s what women of the 1950s did.

And maybe Sue was thinking of how she’d followed in her mother’s footsteps. Got married, young and hopeful, looking for a happy home. How she’d left the home she grew up in in search of something better, a place where a husband and wife enjoyed each other’s company, actually spoke to each other instead of passing messages through their children — tell your mother this, let your father know that. How, years later, like her mother before her, Sue had leaving on her mind. How, at the end of the workday, she couldn’t face going home. Because that’s not what it was anymore.

The house Sue bought in Orillia has hardwood floors and mahogany trim. Chintz curtains hang in the windows and the countertops are the same flecked white Sue remembers from the house she grew up in. The acoustics in the kitchen make a good place to sit and strum a guitar, trying out tunes as they come to her.

The songs Sue sings now have a happier tone. People have noticed she’s singing less of the hurting kind, songs about sorrow and longing.

They noticed at the Limelight talent contest she entered last month. All kinds of interesting people appeared at the Aladdin Banquet Hall, dancers and whistlers, people reciting poetry, authors reading stories. But when the votes were tallied, it was Sue — who strummed her Ovation guitar and sang in the folksy Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell style that comes to her naturally — who was declared the winner.

Maybe it was the honest sound that appealed to people. Maybe it was the love song written for Walter, the new man in Sue’s life who is, as the lyric says, the morning to Sue’s night. Maybe it was the universe’s way of welcoming Sue to her new home. Applause for finding a new life and a new song to sing.

For more information on Sue, visit suewoodmusic.com, email suewood@rogers.com or call 705-259-0423. To learn more about the Limelight talent contest, email Bridget Gole at limelightorillia@gmail.com.

Kate Grigg is an artist and writer who grew up in Orillia and tells stories of local people in her weekly column in the Packet & Times. If you have a story idea you think she may be interested in, email kategrigg@gmail.com.