New Year, Small World
Young friends out enjoying the countryside.
Happy New Year! I know I'm a little late, but those of you who know me will find it reassuring to know that I haven't changed...much...I'm still always at least a little late. Call it fear of being early, I surely will arrive late for my own funeral (at least my mom always told me so!)
This New Year begins with thanks for friends and family who make life so much richer - and all those strangers you meet on the way who deliver unexpected wisdom and things like that. Life could only be better if I had a younger body that would do all the things my mind would like it to.
New Year's Eve was fun starting way up the hill at the Ox where friends gathered for pints and good cheer. They had a "disco" there, though, and though we moved to the furthest table in the pub from the source of the noise, it wasn't far enough. By 11:00 I'd had more than my fill of loud sounds in certain keys and boom-boom and insisted on heading downhill to the safe and relatively quiet ambiance of the Harp, my favorite local. There friends and neighbors were gathered around small oak tables, their feet on large flagstones and their weathered hands clutching pints of cider and real ale as they took a night off from life's worries and laughed among their community of friends around the rich crackling fire. At about 2 minutes to midnight, everyone stood up (some more easily than others) and snaked around the two main rooms of the pub, crossed their arms and reached for the next person's hand, grasped it, and, when the New Year was proclaimed, the arms started pumping and even the old and infirm found rich and jolly voices deep within and "Should auld acquaintance be forgot..." boomed through the centuries-old pub, shaking the fresh hops dangling from the oak beams and moving the Christmas cards on the windowsills. There were many happy eyes dancing in the room, despite those there battling cancer, depression, bad backs and whatever other ailments plague those who have spent their lives toiling over land and sheep.
As Auld Lang Syne drew to a close (and I propose you haven't truly experienced the song until you sing it in a merry crowd in a 600-year-old pub in the Old Country) the local insurance man who happens to live nearby, loves the Harp, and enjoys singing, launched into the Welsh national anthem, in Welsh of course and a few others joined him. Most of us who haven't a clue how to sing in Welsh stood respectfully listening, then at the conclusion, the kissing party began. Or should I say snogging party? Anyway, I can't say I've ever collected so many kisses in my life in such a short time - and these from normally very undemonstrative folks to boot. Here you don't talk about your troubles or winge (complain) about hardships. You just pull a stiff upper lip and get on with life. So this stoicism was set aside for a few brief moments around 12:03 a.m. when the singing had concluded, and I found myself kissing and being kissed by 3 dozen folks (a good crowd in the small pub). It was rich and I'll treasure the memory. Two a.m. rolled around much too soon and a mince pie or two later, I was headed for home, still relishing the warmth felt there at the old inn among neighbors, the stories shared, and the heat of the fire (with added warmth from too much port!) * * * *
The small world part seems to come in just about whenever you think about it. For me it happened yesterday while watching a local fox hunt out exercising their hounds in a nearby dingle and the surrounding hills. The eagle owl, manned by none other than the lovely Miz M, made his appearance but there wasn't much work for him yesterday. He kept his eyes open for signs of trouble but none appeared; maybe it was the 100 mph winds (I exaggerate only a little) especially up on the top of the forestry. The hounds and horses had a crackin' time charging up and down the dingle, several steep hillsides surrounding the valley, and we car followers, well, we mostly just hunkered down in our vehicles and tried to stay out of the icy wind and rain. It was a lovely place to have to sit in your truck, no doubt, but my photos don't do it justice...the light was just (as it has been mostly for weeks now) flat and about as dreary as it gets aside from pitch black night!
Back to the small world...I was out following the hunt yesterday in the wind and rain (will the sun ever visit again?) and a 50-ish man whose name I don't know came up to me and handed me a videotape and urged me to watch it. A few weeks back we'd been standing in some field across the border and he began telling me how he loves bluegrass music. My jaw dropped to the floor (ground) especially when he started telling me that Roy Lee Centers was his favorite Stanley lead singer. Geez, someone over in the rural border country knows about Roy Lee! He said he had a bunch of bluegrass videos and would I like to borrow them? I replied that I might well have most of them, but go ahead.
Yesterday he hands over a VHS tape of Ralph Stanley's 50th anniversary playing bluegrass music, held at the Old Home Place. I started laughing. I do have the video (but it's back in America) but haven't seen it in a long time and I accepted his loan telling him "I was there." He looked incredulous, yet it was so true. Yep, I said, I was there for the 50th anniversary....and went on to tell how Dwight Yoakam was there and did a great show....but all his amps and electric setup took something like 3 hours to arrange, and that prime-time on Saturday and folks in the crowd were more than a bit miffed (the show was really good though, to Dwight's credit).
Anyway this man then shared that he'd actually HEARD Roy Lee Centers sing with Ralph, in person, and I had to say that I was one-upped in a large way. Soon the horses and hounds were off and our conversation ended, but I just wanted to say that in the small world of bluegrass music, you just never know! During our conversation he ran down the list of Ralph's lead singers - Ernie Thacker, Charlie Sizemore, Keith Whitley, Kenneth Davis, Sammy Adkins....but come to think of it I never heard him say a word about Larry Sparks....wonder how he liked him? Ralph has had some fine, fine lead singers over the years. I still like the Stanley music the best of all.
I'm proud to be here where I can enjoy a pint at the Harp, the communion of friends...and even my beloved bluegrass music.