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Sunday, January 17, 2010


ralph stanley & the clinch mountain boys
fairview ruritan 16jan10

Met Debi at the Mexican Restaurant Mis Arados in Sparta and we had some good spicy food before the show. Debi has been taking care of Myrtle with Alzheimer's during the week, Sunday evening to Friday evening. It's quite a job and it is changing Debi. We've talked when she was so frustrated she had to make herself not cry. There was no time for it. I had it easier in a month with Jr every day than she has with Myrtle in one week. Everything Debi does with Myrtle has a loving touch. It's like a mother's love for her baby. Myrtle is in the foreground of Debi's attention at all times. Has to be. Keeping her out of the lumberyard for the old and helpless.

Walking into the Ruritan seating area I noticed sprinkled around among everybody else some people with difficult afflictions. Country people being taken care of by ones who love them, who want them at home and are willing to do what they have to do. I also noticed Debi was drawn to them like they were magnets. I don't believe she noticed. They drew her attention subconsciously. It was the compassion in her connecting with each one of them.

I followed to see where this would lead. She picked a place for us to sit behind a family of women from great grandma, grandma, mama, the kids, one of them with a toddler, the only boy. Great grandma was a bent over and tiny, using a 4-footed cane. She was alert, just had this affliction she'd lived with all her life that was kind of deforming. One of the girls sat staring at us over the back of her chair for a long time after we sat down. Whatever it was they had seemed to be genetic, because they all had whatever it was. Not debilitating, just awkward making. Mama was the one that got things done, drove the vehicle, probably a van, and coordinated activities. Pleasant seeming people happy among themselves at the Ralph Stanley show.

Not far from us sat a man in a wheelchair with a strap across his chest to keep him upright, arms flailing in a twisted kind of way. Every once in awhile he let out a yelp. The people with him were attentive that no harm came to him, comfortable in a Ralph Stanley audience as at home. I saw others with someone unable to take care of self, bringing them out for the Ralph Stanley show. The range of hair colors in the audience went from gray to white. A few grandkids around in the audience. Even a few middle class city people were there that stood out like Americans in Paris.

Everybody else was country people. And I'd venture about every one of them goes to church and is devout. I found myself drawn to the people of various afflictions after Debi drew my attention to them. I looked for them around in the audience, realizing this is what I love about country people. Go to a country dance place anywhere in these mountains and you see people with afflictions brought by the ones taking care of them. Getting them out of the suffocating house to have a good time with something they love--old-time mountain music--where it's safe and they're regarded with respect by everyone around them. The people around them automatically watch out for them.

I carried my copy of Ralph's memoir to get him to sign it. He was at the table when I walked in, no one talking to him or buying something, and I stepped right up, handed it to him and asked him to sign it. He looked at me a moment, I think trying to see if he recognized me, somebody who already had the book. He didn't recognize me and signed it. I wanted to say something, but I'm not good at that and I'd be saying something just to be saying something. I said, 'Thank you.' I'm not an autograph geek by any means, but this I had to do. I got Bo Diddley's autograph several years ago at a show. I like that. Bo Diddley and Ralph Stanley.

When Ralph and I made eye contact, I saw him approaching feeble, noticed his grandson sitting beside him with the air of a body guard, with him at all times in case of anything. I saw Ralph has no danger of getting shelved in the lumberyard when he's too feeble to take care of himself. His family loves him in a great big way. In a country people way. His face had deep lines and furrows with bright living eyes seeing through the mask of old age. If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have asked him to let me photograph him sitting there, wanting something of his face. But it's just not in me to do that. I know it would not be a problem, and I know he'd consent. But I have a hard time being so impersonal with someone I respect. I wouldn't walk up to somebody in the restaurant I don't know and ask them to let me take their picture. Caint do it. During the show is a different thing.

Debi was about to jump out of her skin waiting for 7:30 to roll around. We got there early anticipating a big crowd. The place was full by the time the band started. We were about half way back. My friend Chris Davis was there with her husband, Ronald, daughter, Cheri and friend, Linnea. Chris was a knockout. Black coat to the floor. No buttons. Plain, Quaker plain. In the middle where a pendant would hang, a snowflake made of silver with white gems. And she with short white hair. She knows how to make a visual statement. None of them had ever seen Ralph Stanley. Chris said she felt goose bumps when he sang.

The show, of course, was spectacular. A stage full of good musicians in their time as Clinch Mountain Boys, fellers that have picked a good many years together; guitar and banjo, each 17 years. The fiddler, Dewey Brown, won Galax several years ago. Ralph's grandson, Nathan, playing guitar instead of mandolin. Ralph 2 was not there. These boys can make some music together and they made it in abundance last night. 2 shows, the second more casual than the first. Ralph spoke some, noting this is the 30th year in a row he's played Fairview Ruritan. He said he'd rather play here for mountain people than anyplace else in all his travels. The part I loved was these are Ralph Stanley's own people whose lives he celebrates. This was so close to home, it was about the same place. These are the people God's parachute put me down among 33 years ago. Sitting among several hundred people of these mountains before Ralph Stanley, I said a lot of prayers of thanks that came from all the way in my core.

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