PINE HALL — Lanky and tan from a summer of hard work in the fields for guitar money, a handsome 16-year-old Bobby Martin sits with legs crossed by his sister in a snapshot taken just before everything changed in the summer of 1969.
“That’s us, just sitting on the couch the day before the accident,’’ said Martin, a prolific singer/songwriter and guitarist, easing his wheelchair up to his computer screen.
Discarded steel leg braces, complete with shoes, rest on the floor of his living room by a recliner. A Beatles logo hangs on the wall alongside nearly a dozen ribbons and gold and silver medals for athletic victories in local and state Senior Olympics competitions.
Buddy, a chow and Labrador mix, lopes in to greet Martin. The loving dog’s clearly a soul mate, having endured displacement from New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
That tumult landed Buddy at a Greensboro animal shelter where Martin was moved to adopt him after the dog’s first rescuers mistreated him.
Martin and Buddy share a tidy bachelor pad that showcases cabinetry Martin has managed to build and restore from his wheelchair in recent years.
His Community Center Road home is serene — all but the slashed screen panel on the front storm door where burglars barged in on June 26. They jimmied the front lock of the modest house while Martin was tending to his mother’s meals and medication at her home nearby.
And the thieves targeted Martin’s very heart and soul — his prized guitar collection.
Stokes County Sheriff’s Department detectives said they are investigating the burglary that took place between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. On Tuesday, however, Capt. Thomas Sands said detectives had no news to share about the case.
“They took five of my best guitars and an amp,’’ said Martin, 66, who spent years intricately customizing his instruments and playing them in gigs with local bands to supplement his income.
Among the lost instruments are super-hybridized rock machines that Martin made to glove-fit his hands and musical personality during his years of recovery from the car accident that left his legs paralyzed.
It was Aug. 2, 1969 — just days after Neil Armstrong had taken his first steps on the moon and the summer was full of wonder.
Martin, 16, was a passenger in his brother Kenneth’s 1958 Chevy and the two were heading down Madison Dillard Road.
“We were in that place where the road curves, and he over corrected and we hit the bank, and it turned end over end, corner-wise,’’ Martin said. “It threw me out the driver’s door. The driver’s door ended up wrapped around the top of the car. My brother fractured his leg, but he lifted the car and put it back on its wheels, thinking I was trapped underneath it. But I wasn’t.’’
Unable to find his brother, a frantic Kenneth ran a mile to a nearby barn to summon help.
Rescue workers found Martin--close to death with two broken femurs, a head injury and spinal chord damage that robbed him of mobility.
Also in the wreckage: two packaged seat belts the brothers had purchased to install that day in the car that didn't have the safety feature.
“We had gone home to get cleaned up after working in tobacco, and we were gonna head to my uncle’s and get a drill to put in those seat belts,’’ Martin said, solemn at the irony.
After surgeries and more than two months at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, Martin came home for a nine-month wait for an opening at a Charlotte rehabilitation center where he would work to regain his memory, strengthen his body and be fitted for his first braces.
Shortly after his homecoming, Martin immersed himself in his music, playing favorite acoustic Beatles melodies, jamming on the back porch with friends and family, and joining local bands to play lead electric guitar and sing.
He was a hip teen, who wore Beatles-inspired Nehru shirts and jackets of the 1960s. “I had the bell bottoms and the flowers on my britches and the patches ... the love beads.’’
His voice, then and today, has an earnest mellow sound with hints of velvet Elvis tone and the nostalgic vibes of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.
Original songs like “It is Love” have an ethereal quality with instrumental an vocal nods to the stylings of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, as well as the Eastern-flavored slide work of George Harrison.
Yet, even with those influences, Martin’s sound is solidly unique and has landed him stints with local bands over the years, including Near Normal Noise.
“I’m steadfast in trying to live life the way it’s supposed to be lived,’’ Martin said. “Negativity will kill you. I will not give in. Whatever’s right for you, you better do it,’’ he said. “ I look at what I’ve accomplished, and I am pleased, but I think about what if I just hadn’t gotten in that car that day. I think I could have accomplished a whole lot more.’’
Martin’s DNA is charged with tenacity.
He’s climb/crawled up Hanging Rock, a steep 1.5-mile Stokes County trek during which he used his braces. Rigorous workouts in recent years have also included 32-mile journeys on bicycles he’s adapted for hand pedaling, one upright, and one recumbent.
Back in the 1970s, he even signed up to run a rainy one-mile charity race, using his leg braces.
And in order to build strength and practice walking with braces, he engineered a set of parallel bars for his front yard from steel pipe. While studying to be a watch repairman and jeweler, he regularly used a make-shift desk along those bars to study while standing.
In 2014, Martin biked, swam and competed in shot put and discus events at the Rockingham County and state Senior Olympics, garnering plenty of top medals.
Beyond that, he earned degrees to become a watch repairman and jeweler years back and spent time as a staff tinkerer for Madison Jewelry Company and Carlyle & Company at Reidsville’s Pennrose Mall.
Twice named Pine Hall’s Ruritan of the Year, Martin still stays involved, shaking off rotten luck and loss.
Looking like a young James Taylor, Martin thrust himself into the public eye soon after his accident by performing at a local talent show. “I played “Yesterday,” on my 1958 Martin G18 acoustic,’’ he said, smiling at a photo of the day.
And though the recent loss of his instruments stings, Martin lights up when detailing the stolen guitars. In fact, he describes them like a mother would her children.
“That’s my 1419 L Silvertone with a black body, white edging and a white pick guard,’’ he said of one regal collectible with a metal bridge. “I had just bought that thing with my tobacco priming money, working on Bill Sizemore’s farm,’’ Martin said, admiring the 1966 photo.
Thieves also nabbed a 2013 Michael Kelly solid body electric with Les Paul styling. The instrument, with deep cherry coloring, is made of burly tiger striped wood. The Chinese-made guitar notably features a button that will convert from a single coil pick up to a dual coil.
Another missing instrument is a super hybrid Martin put together and fondly dubbed “The Outcaster.” “It’s a Les Paul body with Telecaster neck and pickups and Gibson wiring,’’ he said with a laugh. The black guitar has a blonde neck.
Rounding out the list of stolen axes are two Fender Stratocasters, both black with white pick guards and models from 2017 and 2018.
For now, Martin’s playing acoustic guitars that were left behind, and he plans to adapt an electric guitar given to him last week by the Pine Hall Methodist Church.
But he’s holding out strong hope that a pawn shop owner or a guitar shopper perusing the online market may see his instruments and help him bring them home.
“Music is my everything. If it weren’t for music, I’d go insane.’’
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Martin’s missing instruments, should call the Stokes County Sheriff’s Department at 336-593-8787 or phone Martin at: 336-926-6758.