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Friday, January 29, 2010


slate mountain ramblers

The snow is on its way. Forecast says at least a foot. 12 to 15 inches was one forecast I heard. I actually dread it. Not bad. The salt truck went by one direction, then back the other. They're doing a great job of keeping the roads clear from before the accumulation starts. Before dark we got a little ground cover, then it quit awhile and started again. A foot of snow. That means several inches by 9am. Maybe half that much. My water will be frozen by then. If Sue or somebody gets to the station to open up and turn it on, I'll go. That means somebody did, therefore I can. I like the front wheel drive. About the same as 4wheel. What it doesn't have that a truck with 4wheel has is something I don't need or want. All the years I drove 4wheel drive trucks I never once went 4wheelin. For me, it's a tool to get me from one place to another. Front wheel works. I like the way this car sits down on the road with a well placed center of gravity and not too mushy springs for the curves.

By morning we'll know what the forecast meant. We're so tired of it. We've not had snow like this in 15 or so years. We're spoiled. Now a winter like they used to be is exceptional. The road crews are on top of it. Everybody I talk with is over it. Haven't we had enough? But I don't know anybody who sees it as anything but a good thing. We need the ground water, it kills flea eggs, so the dogs and cats and everything else covered with hair won't have fleas so bad this coming summer. One thing I'd say Noah had more than 2 of on the Ark is fleas.

Friday night at the Rex Theater in Galax on 98.1 FM. I thought to turn it on just as it started. Slate Mountain Ramblers tonight. There's no way I can turn that off. I'd been listening to some Brahms quartets before by the Alban Berg String Quartet. I don't feel like there's a great deal of difference between them. Both bands have master fiddlers layin it to it. The banjo gives a dimension the other misses with all of it bowed instruments. Marsha's banjo plays perfectly with her dad's fiddle. She grew up playing banjo with daddy's fiddle and mama's bass. They're from Ararat, Virginia, across the state line north of MtAiry.
I brought up a picture of Slate Mountain Ramblers from the fiddler's convention a few years ago. Bowman can play a fiddle. Marsha can play the banjo too. Marsha plays the banjo a different way on each tune. Her playing is perfection with the notes of his fiddle. It's like people singing together who have sung together for a lot of years. Marsha's banjo is every bit as interesting to listen to alongside the fiddle as the fiddle. Thornton and Emily Spencer have that kind of intunement with each other. Richard Bowman has been playing for years and he gets better all the time. The bands recent cds are first rate old time string band music.
They're layin it to Kansas City Railroad Blues. I feel kind of partial to that tune as I grew up with the KC railroad switching yard the center of the section of KC I came up in, Argentine. My grandfather was an engineer, went to KC when he was young to work on the railroad. He died 7 years before I was born. I never knew him, never was told much about him. Not for any reason but in my family nobody who knew him would think a little kid would be interested, plus, where would you start? KC Railroad Blues is a kind of haunting tune for me, like a ghost of my grandpa in the air above the railroad yard in KC. Those tracks I saw in a kind of mystery, the landscape my grandpa lived in, the grandpa I never knew. I didn't idealize him by any means. It's just that the railroad tracks symbolized him for me in childhood. Grandpa's unknown world. The other side of a tall fence I could hear whistles and the sounds of train engines float over.
Grades K-6 the school I went to, Benjamin Franklin, a big stone fortress of a building erected in the time when education was held in high regard. It had a beautiful interior of hardwood floors, everything well taken care of by a janitor who knew all the kids. Beside the school ran Metropolitan Ave, the Main St. Running the other side of the street railroad tracks, several tracks wide. Running beside that was the Kaw River. The other side of the river is a section called Turner, and not far from the river is the cemetery where where Katy Sage, the little girl of Elk Creek, Virginia, evidently kidnapped by Indians is buried. She was taken in as the chief's daughter of the Wyandotte tribe in Ohio. It was 5 miles by road from the cemetery to the house I grew up in. 4 miles from the school, having to go down quite a ways to the bridge then come back about the same distance the other side. That would put the cemetery almost straight across the river from the school. Maybe by crow one mile.
That about knocked me over when I read the biography of Katy Sage that's in the library and saw she was buried in Turner. Last time I was out that way, I found her grave. I'd guestimated it 5 miles by road from the house to the cemetery. I measured it with the odometer and it was exactly 5 miles. Katy Sage's grave was the other side of the river the whole time I was a kid. Yeah, the chief took her for is daughter. She had blond hair. White jungle goddess. Her first husband was the next chief. He died, then she married the next chief. He died and she was married by the next chief. This is over a span probably 60 years. She was evidently the prize of the tribe. Good Luck Woman.
I believe there was something about a brother searching for years and finally finding her. He offered to take her back to see mama, who was way up in years by then, and daddy dead, but Katy wouldn't go. Why would she? She was up in years herself. The Indians were in peril. Their tribe was pushed west out of Ohio and Katy had to take up at Turner where she lived out her old age. It was Wyandotte County we lived in. I thought nothing of it then. Now it has a nice ring to it.
This is what I find haunting about KC Railroad Blues. It takes me to the unknown in my own origin. I'm ok with it like it is. I don't have any wishes otherwise. It's just that grandpa's life and the railroad and my school and the house he and my grandmother lived in and raised their kids, they roll together into one, sparking memories, the railroard yard itself a ghost, a mystery with a kind of living spirit about it. And I know my grandpa grew up dancing to this very music the Slate Mountain Ramblers are playing. I've been told 2 of my grandmother's older brothers were fiddlers, and they went to Kansas from east Kentucky, Pulaski County. They played mountain music. I expect he could flatfoot too and probably cut a shine as a teenager. Enough to get grandma's attention and hold it.

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