Thursday, March 29, 2012

pick a little talk a little

my father was a busy man when i was growing up. one of only three doctors in my hometown, he was up and out early, and though he most always was home for supper, often in the middle of it, the phone would ring, or people would show up at the back door, and he was gone again.

i'm child #3, so my alone time with him was limited when i was little. i remember a walk in the woods one day (with my brother and sister), i think because my brother was working on a merit badge. and a day when he pitched the softball to me so i would not embarrass myself during recess. (it didn't work.)

but one of the many things Daddy shared with me in those times when he was home was a love for banjo music. i remember watching arthur smith and hee haw, porter wagoner and other shows, watching Daddy tap his size 13 foot against the ottoman as we clapped along. 

and he loved Earl Scruggs. somehow back then i felt like Earl and Lester Flatt were neighbors, they came so often into our family room. i'd watch as fingers flew coaxing music with the strings and it was pure joy.

Daddy had a banjo, too, and every now and then he and i would sneak away into the living room while my siblings were bent over homework, and i would sit beside him on the dressed up sofa and he would play for me. i'd watch as his own nimble fingers plucked the stiff wire strings until Bill Bailey filled up the whole room. joy again, to have Daddy all to myself, for him to be singing just to me.

my kindergarten class had a play when i was five. it had something to do with Valentine's Day, and i played the role of "a girl." in the picture (which I will find somewhere and post i hope), i stand next do a boy wearing a cowboy hat and a sly grin as big as the waxing moon. i don't remember a thing about the play except that i had to stand next to the boy, and that he sang the theme song to the Beverly Hillbillies because he told our teacher, Lottie Smith Welch, that Earl Scruggs was his cousin.

this morning when i learned that the sweet man who used to visit with us often and play his five-fingered magic had died, i remembered that boy, and my Daddy playing for me, and how much banjo music meant to me once upon a time. 

wouldn't you know that the brother of that boy is a facebook acquaintance? so the news hound in me couldn't resist asking if the story was true.

not true, exactly, he wrote to me. but his uncle played in a band with the legendary banjo picker Earl when they performed live for the radio. and wouldn't you know? he and his brother, along about the time of our kindergarten play, sometimes sat on the stage with Earl and Lester when they performed. so to a five-year-old, of course that means you're kin.

i've thought a lot about my banjo memories today and have even played a little Foggy Mountain Breakdown as i worked. i wish Daddy would play for me again, but the banjo is long gone i think.

if we could all coax our gifts out and into the world like the unassuming Earl, and even Daddy from time to time, what a wonderful world it would be.


steve martin wrote this wonderful story about Earl for the New Yorker in january.

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