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Archive for August, 2010

Today I’ll just be stayin’ at home
Laugh at Joe’s jokes, crochet all day long. . .

Hey, c’mon, it fits. 😉

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My buddies Lisa and Robin over at Facebook reminded me of this story. Originally published in GHOSTS AND HAUNTS FROM THE APPALACHIAN FOOTHILLS (1993), by James V. Burchill, Linda J. Crider, Peggy Kendrick and Marcia Wright Bonner, it always makes me think of my maternal grandmother. Mamaw was one of those whose floors you could eat off of and yet she’d apologize to visitors for how messy the house was–

and she was SO scandalized when she would, for whatever reason, not make her bed when she first got out of it in the morning. I sometimes wonder if she’d heard the story of what happened when Polly Garnett didn’t make her bed one morning.

Polly Garnett was a widow woman, living in a two-room house at the base of Collier Mountain. (I believe this might be in the Appalachian region of Maryland, but don’t quote me on that.) She was one of those who was up at by five-thirty AM, unless she was so sick she had the preacher praying by her bedside and the undertaker on standby, and was always busy, with each chore she set herself done in a set order.

The first thing on that list was, as her mother and grandmother had taught her, and as they had been taught by their mothers and grandmothers: always make your bed as soon as you get out of it. With that task done, the rest of the day followed as a matter of course.

She had eggs to get in, a cow to milk, a garden to keep in proper order, and her inside work to do, but they’d keep until the bed was made.

Wellllll. . .not always.

One morning in late summer Polly woke, as always, at five thirty. But this morning she woke to the sound of thunder and wind and lightning, rumbling and moaning and cracking as a thunderstorm moved in. She could smell the rain coming, too, and knew it would be a heavy one. She threw on her clothes and ran from her bedroom, knowing she had to get her outdoor chores done fast before the rain forced her back inside.

She completely forgot to make the bed. It lay like a tumbled reproach when she came back a couple of hours later; she was wet to the hide, for the rain had caught her anyway, but, without changing out of her wet clothes, she automatically went to make the bed, giving herself a vigorous scolding as she began to straighten the covers.

Her scolding died off to silence, though, when she looked up and across the bed. . .

for she saw another woman there, helping her pull the sheets into place, and straighten the blankets, and plump the pillows.

Polly was too startled to say a word, and, in any case, the woman simply faded out of sight as soon as the pillows were given the final finishing pat.

Polly remembered, the next morning, to make her bed upon rising; nevertheless, the woman was there to help again. She never spoke a word, although she would, occasionally, give Polly a sour-mouthed look of disapproval, and shake her head as if to say leavin’ the bed unmade. I ASK you, what kinda mountain woman forgets that?

Polly, not frightened but sadly puzzled about the apparition, began to wonder if, just perhaps, this wasn’t the spirit of one of her ancestors, those mountain women who had handed it down like gospel that, always, you made your bed the minute you got out of it, and no excuses.

And the more she wondered, the more she began to be afraid the silent woman would never go away: that she would face her across that bed every morning for the rest of her life.

Finally, one morning, toward winter, when the woman appeared in the lamplight, Polly, in an unusual fit of nerves, covered her face with her hands and asked, prayerfully, “Lord help my time, what have I DONE?”

The woman vanished in that moment. She didn’t show up the next morning, or the morning after that, or ever again.

But then, you see, Polly never forgot to make her bed first thing again, either. She was afraid the woman would come back.

I have to say, though, not being much of a housekeeper myself, my bed seldom gets made at all–

but I haven’t seen Mamaw standing by the bed, giving me the evil eye for not making it–

yet. 😉

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Hampson Swings a Little

Hampson Groupie–a touchy little personality at best, especially if she thinks Professor Fairweather, Her Majesty, Hopeless or anybody else has dissed the big beautiful baritone she calls “Our Man”–is a tiny bit grumpy today, because I didn’t include this Cole Porter piece among the ones I like–

“Begin the Beguine” is the opening song on a CD of Cole Porter works Hampson recorded some years ago.

Happy now, Groupie??? 😉

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Pssssstttt! I don’t say this out loud very often, but I truthfully am not much of a fan of Cole Porter’s music. I love the Sons of the Pioneers’ gorgeous version of “Don’t Fence Me In” from the 1940s, and I like “In the Still of the Night” by pretty much whoever sings it. But “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”–nobody–not even my beloved Thomas Hampson–sings as well as does Ol’ Blue Eyes. This recording, unless I miss my guess, is the 1956 Nelson Riddle arrangement. (And I have one word for the bizarre duet version with Bono. No.)

Sweet dreams–

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Clarence Eugene “Hank” Snow is one of those country singers whose music I knew and loved from the cradle; my dad was a big fan and we had several of his LPs in the collection.

Born in 1914 in Nova Scotia, Snow was on his own from an early age; he ran away from home at the age of twelve to escape an abusive stepfather. Years later, as a highly successful country artist, he would form the Hank Snow Foundation for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, drawing on that ugly experience.

His first job, after he left home, was as a cabin boy on a fishing boat. He bought his first guitar at fourteen and at sixteen made his first onstage appearance. He married Minnie Aalders in 1935; they had one son together, named for Snow’s idol, Jimmie Rodgers.

Signed to RCA Victor Records in Canada in 1936, Snow moved his family to Nashville in the late 1940s, after American radio began playing his records. He remained with RCA for nearly fifty years; he was let go from the label just short of that anniversary in the 1980s, a move that outraged his fans. He joined the Grand Old Opry in 1950, and continued to perform there almost until his death in 1999.

These are some of my favorites of Snow’s prodigious output of recordings.

Strangely enough, the first version of his 1952 hit “A Fool Such as I” that I ever heard was not Snow’s; it was one Bob Dylan recorded sometime in the 1960s. Having said which, I do prefer Snow’s; his voice matches the material better, and is, to Her Majesty’s classic country ear, even more distinctive than Dylan’s.

I’ve posted “Rockin’ Rollin’ Ocean” before, but this number twenty-two hit from 1960 is still my alltime favorite Hank Snow song, not only for his vocal and guitar solo, but for the piano. It sounds, to me, like the ocean I’ve never actually seen or heard.

“I’ve Been Everywhere”, a number one hit from 1962, has an interesting history; it was originally recorded by an Australian singer, and included Australian place names. Snow’s version includes American place names. I’ve never been able to sing this one, which he does with bell-like clarity and perfect diction; I get my tang all tungled up in my eyeteeth and can’t see what I’m a-sayin’! 😉 (Not to mention running lamentably short of breath, somewhere in the middle of each list; I’m also not able to keep up comfortably with the key changes.)

“Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)”, a number two hit from 1963, is another with long lines, a remarkably fast vocal, and very few “swallerin’ places”, but here again, every word is clear as a bell.

Dang. I could just keep on with Snow songs, but many of his best–including a favorite from 1977 called “Breakfast with the Blues”–aren’t available online. A pity– 😦

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Bride of the Wind

The Austrian painter Oscar Kokoschka (1886-1980) was in his youth the lover of Alma Mahler, the widow of the composer Gustav Mahler. Alma was not a one-man woman by any means. Kokoschka, meanwhile, was so obsessed with her that when she finally left him for good he had a lifesize doll made in her image, which he carried around for years. His painting The Tempest (Bride of the Wind) is a marvelous swirl of icy blues and whites, painted the year before she ended their relationship, and depicts both his dependence and her indifference; she sleeps while he stares off into a gloomy dark.

Back when I was attending a poetry group, we fooled around with poems inspired by paintings. I wrote one such based on this painting, a somewhat meager piece:

nothing prepares us
for the end of possession

a tempest
to make strong men’s
bones
wash away in tears and sweat

cannibalized by passion

I become a skeleton

I atomize:
a blue shimmer

blown off
by the fury
of your disengagement

naught can knit me back
into a being

save an angry swirl of paints
bleeding shadows

poem copyright 2005 by Fairweather Lewis

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One episode of the late lamented History Channel series Haunted History featured stories from the Caribbean–stories of pirates, voodoo, murder, epidemics, mythical creatures–and this one little curiosity, based around a guard shack at El Castillo de San Cristobal, one of three forts built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries to protect the “rich port”–the island of Puerto Rico, claimed by Christopher Columbus for the Spanish crown in 1493, and a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War of 1898.

This particular sentry box is quite isolated from the rest of the fortress of Saint Christopher, perched as it is on a rock above the sea. The fortress was completed in 1783, and for some years thereafter all was relatively quiet. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, a sinister legend developed around the little sentry box. On three separate occasions, so goes the legend, a soldier posted to that box was seen to go in for his night watch. Around about midnight, or in the wee hours of the morning, however, there would be a bright and mysterious flash of light from that sentry box, sometimes accompanied by a cry of fear–and when other soldiers would go to check on their fellow, he had vanished into thin air, and was never seen again. There were those who decided that this place was a portal to hell, and the hapless soldiers who vanished from it had been dragged away by the Devil himself. Hence it acquired the nickname la garita del Diablo–the Devil’s Sentry Box.

Alas, there is some truth behind the legend, but it’s a tale of discontent and romance, without devilish involvement.

In the 1870s, or thereabout, a Spanish soldier serving at the fort fell in love with a local woman, and wished to leave the army and marry her. His superiors were not impressed with his plans, and all seemed lost until he and his lady love had a bright idea. They would make it appear that he had disappeared, by supernatural means.

So it was that, one very dark night, he slipped out of the remote post unseen, but somehow, before he left, he contrived a great strange flash of light that came and vanished, crying out as if in fear as he did so. His lady was waiting nearby, and together they made their escape. The deserter was found many years later, living happily in a village not far from San Juan with his wife and a large family.

By then, however, the prank that allowed him to escape had assumed monstrous proportions–including such demonic paraphernalia as the smell of brimstone hanging heavy in the air as soldiers assigned to that box vanished in a flash of light. So frightful did its reputation become that the Devil’s Sentry Box eventually was abandoned as a guard post altogether.

The fortress of San Cristobal, after serving as an American military post in both World Wars, was turned over to the National Park Service in 1961. The little sentry box still sits above the sea, and on misty days it truly would seem to deserve its reputation.

The legend has made sure of that. 🙂

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