Saturday, September 24, 2011



 Many years ago, Western Carolina University's Mountain Heritage Day truly was a day to celebrate mountain culture.  Before the large Fine and Performing Arts Center was built on the place where we could wander through exhibits or sit on hay bales and listen to music by David Holt and numerous other musicians, we would park on the outskirts of campus, near our house, and walk to the celebration.   Even then, Mountain Heritage Day was changing, though.  I recently found an essay I wrote for the Winston-Salem Journal back in the 90's.  Here's a snippet from it.

     My friend Willa Mae Pressley, who was taught the art of quilting by her mother Delphia Potts, is no longer here.  Nor do I see her sister Annie Lee with her cornshuck dolls exhibit. ( Annie Lee left us last September.  Her family accepted the Mountain Heritage Award in her absence.)
       These days the contents of  most booths tend toward the useless,  the geegaws. 
        The music is still the old music, though, and the Wild Hog Boys, from Mountain Rest, do a good turn with Bill Monroe’s  songs.  
      We sit on our hay bales and listen. Sometimes I sing along.  My daughter looks embarrassed when I throw myself  into Monroe’s “Walls of Time,” the lover hearing his dead sweetheart’s voice in the trees, the wind, singing through the walls of time. 
    The walls of time grow thinner this time of year, as we move toward Halloween, that ancient Gaelic New Year, when what separates us from our world and the one gone before grows thinner and thinner until it becomes the sheerest of sheers, through which we might glimpse the other side.  Today the sky has cleared, the leaves are beginning to turn.  I am glad not to be walking among booths of the standard food (corn dogs and frybread that at last year's tasting seemed not as good as I remember...) and crafts no longer lovingly pieced or woven by women I once knew and loved.    Mountain Heritage Day has become commodified.   Pushed onto a leftover field behind the school  my daughter once attended.

The walls of time separate me from Willa Mae, Annie Lee, David Holt, that haybale on which I sat and listened to hammer dulcimer music that sucked my spirit right out and into a timelessness that I can't begin to express.   I wonder where the Wild Hog Boys are now?  Are they still singing, "Come back to me, is my request"?    I hope so.  I hope the old songs, the old weavings and patterns come back to us in the midst of our busy contemporary, internet-driven lives.

I would not want to live without them.  To be honest, I could not.

I do the best I can.  I listen online to David Holt and Doc Watson sing "Shady Grove."   I read the poetry of Jim Wayne Miller and Nancy Dillingham.  The fiction of Lee Smith and Pam Duncan. I plug in my cd player, pull out  Dolly Parton's "The Grass Is Blue" and "Little Sparrow."   I stay home, out of the tourist crowd, watching the clouds shape-shifting over the mountains, listening, letting the leaves fall round me, remembering.

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean. Too much 'heritage' has become self conscious and/or commercialized. Not all, for sure, and sometimes heritage pops up where you least expect it.

    I love your words about the walls of time growing thinner this time of year. I think too that the older we get, the thinner they are.