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Friday, April 4, 2014

HILLBILLY HEAVEN

 
caterpillar lioness
 
I want to sit back with a movie and Caterpillar on my lap, but I want to do this more. Been waiting all day to be here. Didn't get to write yesterday from weariness after being up all night writing about the Wild Goose experience, which I felt was valuable, not just for the spiritual fellowship of the meeting, but the entire experience with Debi, who is valuable to my heart. She's a catbird in kitten britches. True as true is and she don't back down from nothin. A few years ago she was driving in Sparta, just left the traffic light in front of the courthouse. A man was walking across the street in front of her and he turned and made some smart remark to her about not slowing down soon enough. She laid a revolver on her arm resting on the open window and asked him to repeat what he said. He ran. Her life has been a struggle, the cause of the struggle being the men in her life. She's been into everything that could be got into, multiple times. Her heart embraces all the world around her. Such a big heart she doesn't know how to handle it, it gets trampled and beat down. She has something of a contentious personality, too, which is simply mountain. It gets her in trouble sometimes. She doesn't care. She'd say, I am who I am and I aint bein nothin else for nobody. You hear a lot of triple negatives in the mountains. I love it every time I hear one. Once I heard a quadruple negative. It's still in my head, heard it between 25 and 30 years ago. It was so beautiful I memorized it, can't find it right now, but it will rise to the surface in a day or two. The woman who said it was Eura Lee Phipps, wife of John Lee Phipps. Some people called them the Lees. Eura Lee sang in the Regular Baptist church, so fine a hillbilly voice it brings tears to remember it. One of the men would lead, most often Millard, the preacher, Debi's great uncle, who sang with the soul of Ralph Stanley. When he sang a gospel song, you felt its meaning. He and Eura Lee would lead the songs. He'd sing a line and she'd repeat it in her high hillbilly voice, all the way through. She'd sing a phrase after a phrase, sometimes a word after a word. Fourteen years I listened to Eura Lee's beautiful singing that was totally unselfconscious. She just sang the songs the way she sang them since she was little.
 
air bellows outdoor art museum
 
This is getting close to my heart right about now. People from the past I have loved in community and individually, the people of my heart. So many of them dead now. The very last of the old-time mountain people are dead. May be a few left in the nursing homes. A few are in their nineties, but their minds are largely gone. I had the great good fortune to know some of the most wonderful people of my life in these mountains. In my Charleston years I knew a lot of good people, but here in these mountains is where I found the home of my soul. Today at the doctor's office talking with the nurse taking blood pressure, whose husband is a bluegrass musician, and she's from Fries (pron: freeze), Virginia, we were talking about what fun it would be to go to sleep one night and wake up in Gloryland. I asked if she knew the Ralph Stanley song, Gloryland, knowing she did, and she did. We both had a moment of inner swoon hearing Ralph Stanley. Another version of Gloryland, by the Marshall Family. They own that song. It is totally theirs. I'm going to check YouTube, I already know it's there. It's in a cd in another room, but I don't want to go look for it. Found it on YouTube and now the whole front of my face is wet all the way down the chin. Just now wiped a tear off my chin. Wow. If you want to hear what I mean by hillbilly singing, the Marshall Family do it. They're from the mountains of central Pennsylvania and they do mountan singing right. That song tears me up. The visual with it was big clouds in natural cloud motion. My eyes were closed all the way through and tears of joy running. Hadn't heard that song in some years. There'll be no tears in Gloryland, the moon and sun won't shine, for Christ himself is light up there. There'll be no graves on that bright shore. It's of the Baptist tradition in the spirit of a church hymn. I think it was originally a black gospel song. It has that kind of soul. Ralph Stanley sang it too, and it don't get no better'n Ralph Stanley singin a gospel song.

home sweet home

Went to YouTube again and found Judy Marshall singing I Just Want To Thank You Lord, another Marshall Family song that tears me up. Simple song, soulful. When I was so down and out, you came along and made me want to shout. I just want to thank you, Lord, for always being there. Wow. I'm in the spirit. Eyes are running. Those are the two songs by the Marshall Family that I love with my whole heart, just like I love Caterpillar. It's taking me back to my Saturday morning radio show on local AM station WCOK. Seven years of playing music of the Central Blue Ridge an hour every Saturday. It was my favorite hour of the week, because I was playing what I called Music From Home, emphasis on musicians of this and surrounding counties, to the people of my county. It included gospel. Mountain people love their gospel music. And it's something to love. Emphasis was the Central Blue Ridge, and it included down into Georgia mountains with the Skillet Lickers, the Smokies and up into West Virginia and East Kentucky and  East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest NC. All hillbilly music. I gave my listeners some good jams. When I played the Carter Family, I couldn't talk for choking up. Just the mention of one of their names, all I had to do was say, "Sara," or "AP," or "Maybelle," and I'd choke up unable to talk. Long silences, not good on the air. None of their songs needed introduction or anything said. When I played an hour of Carter Family there was no talk, because I couldn't talk. I wept through the whole show from knowing how much my listeners were loving the music. The people of these hills LOVE the Carter Family. Playing the Stanley Brothers, I couldn't talk, and often playing Ralph Stanley. These were musicians I loved so much and knew all my listeners loved them even more than I did. I was saying to my listeners what I say to the mountain people in all my art forms: Your culture is valid and good. You are valid and good. When I write articles for the old-time music magazine, I am doing the same thing: your music is valid and good, you are valid and good. For five years I wrote a column in the local weekly paper. I wrote to the mountain people I live among and appreciate as much as I'm able to appreciate anything. My attitude was that I was writing specifically to the mountain people of this county. All others had permission to read if they wanted to.

stay away from important people
 
Writing that column was tremendous fun. When I wrote about somebody, it was always country people like I like being among, never any of the "important" people. My attitude was they get enough press. They don't need my attention too. Anyway, they're sure as hell not going to get it. I had the attitude before Jr Maxwell gave me the maxim, Stay away from important people. One night an elderly woman who believed herself Sparta Society, which I took for an oxymoron, she called me at home to tell me I needed to write more about the important people and less about these people who are nobodies. The next piece I wrote celebrated the janitor at the courthouse, told about his life, introduced him to the community, told about who he was, a friend of mine, humble old hillbilly, told the work he does. I concluded that the courthouse is the most important building in the county and Roy maintains that building, making him one of the more important men in the county. Roy couldn't read. One of the women in the Clerk of Court office read it to him with all of them standing around listening. Judges were talking to him after reading it and the lawyers spoke to him as if he were a man. The people around him celebrated him. Every day for a month afterward somebody would mention to him having seen it. It brought him a month of very positive attention and even gratitude for all that was taken for granted. The coffee pots in the break room always had fresh coffee in them. When they were low, suddenly they were full again. A few years later he didn't show up for work one morning. A deputy went to the house and found him in the bed, gone to Gloryland. The county had a plaque made in his memory for his service that hangs on the wall in the courthouse hallway. Somebody so unappreciated he was invisible. My work kept me in the courthouse every day for six years. I came to know Roy pretty well. The day any graffiti appeared on the men's or the women's rooms walls, it was gone same day. He kept the walls painted white, so all he had to do was go over it one time with the brush. Roy was a good man. I was grateful to that old woman for inspiring me to look for the most humble individual I knew. These, for me, are the people worthy of attention.

water in a white bucket

At the doctor's office I talked some with another nurse I know there, Julie, who was telling me about where she lives, just down the road and in sight of the little church I went to that is now closed and locked up, dust on the benches. They called them benches, not pews. Pews wouldn't sound right to the hillbilly ear. Sounds like you're trying to be up there with the big shots that talk perfect English. Any sign of uppity behavior was, and is, dealt with immediately by anybody nearby. Parents, friends, relatives, anybody you know or don't know. It's the culture. You don't act like you think you're somethin special. Sure as you do, you'll be shown right away you are not, whatever method it takes. Very strict code. My city background and college education are something of a wall between me and the working mountain people. It's a low wall now, easy to step over, no higher than a curb. To them, that puts me in the class of the people they work for. And teachers. First thing I have to do when I meet someone new of these hills is just show them by my behavior, the attention I pay to them when they talk, and laugh when they say something funny, kind of like in a secret society without saying it let them know I don't feel I'm better than anybody around me. I look up to them. I appreciate them. I am one of them, naturalized and in the heart. They learn I live by their code, appreciate them, love them, by asking around, You know this feller? What have you heard about him? What kind of a feller is he? Soon they'll find somebody who knows me and get the country equivalent of, he's cool, or, he's an arrogant piece of shit, or whatever suits the individual speaking. I've earned the trust of some hard core people, which I value as much as a medal of honor to wear around my neck. When I can earn the trust of people who don't give trust without years of experience (hillbillies), I feel like I have accomplished something important in the experience of being human. I've become that way about trust, too, and like it. It serves. Everyone I know has learned I don't talk about them behind their backs and don't tell their business. Took the car to my mechanic today. He went for a drive with it to get the feel of what I'd described to him. He keeps the radio on WPAQ in Mt Airy. They played an outa sight old-time fiddle tune, a great hillbilly fiddle tearing it up with banjo a-cluckin so good it made me listen close. It set me to flatfootin on the cement floor in the garage with nobody a-lookin.    
my blue ridge mountain home
 
 
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1 comment:

  1. TJ - What a beautiful love song to your Hillbilly home :) I love the story about Roy and his impact on the community and your stories impact on him. I could also "see" you dancing in the garage!

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