I guess we all have pictures in our heads that reflect some childhood era in our lives. One of the pictures in my head is not really a picture but a vision.....no... not a vision, but more of a scene that rings in my head often and soothes my soul with the comfort of a glowing fire in the living room of my childhood.
I lived in the mountains of North Carolina for 7 years from age 9 1/2 to almost 17. These were formidable years. Even in 5th grade all the boys kept a pocket knife, even at school. Students were paddled and I had to learn to fight, not battles to the death or to seriously maim someone. These battles, sometimes bloody, were to establish a pecking order. Even if you lost most of your fights, to stand up for yourself and be willing to defend your honor was enough to keep most from wanting to challenge you. And I'll tell you, the farm boys I went to school with, were tough. I was left with an indelible impression and love for old time mountain life. This enchanting time of life is when I formed a connection to old time mountain music, Bluegrass, and yes the banjo.
So this vision, this scene, that stays with me from those mountain years is this:
You walk up the three steps, and onto the porch which is slightly leaning with a few puckered boards rising from the otherwise flat porch like the blue mountains in the distance. You open the screen door which gives the familiar creak from age and just plain tiredness. The day is waning and the lighting inside the old general store is a warm, yellow and glowing partly from the lights and partly from the wood stove which has some locals, men folk, gathered round it in straight back chairs. The chairs, are not being used for their original straight and upright intentions, but leaning back on two legs, their occupants' own legs outstretched and propped up on some wood barrel or split firewood stacked and at the ready. Two older gentlemen are over by the hoop cheese display and candy by the pound. They sit, both in overalls and flannel shirts, facing each other in a friendly dual of checkers. As you walk in, everyone looks up at you, and seeing you are familiar and friendly go on about their own business. You hear music drifting in the room from the back porch. You make your way toward the back. You stop along the way, grab a Moonpie from a shelf and Cheerwine from the dated, red, Coca Cola cooler. You go the counter and pay the clerk who is wearing a white knee length apron and a newsboy cap. You find yourself lured to the music and you go to the back porch sit down and listen to the four gentlemen playing Bluegrass music. The fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin sound soothing, comfortable, ethereal. You sit and listen to the music as you enjoy your Moonpie and Cheerwine, while gazing at the foggy mountains in the distance. And you smile. Because everyone knows you can't listen to this kind of music and not smile.