Pickin' on the Porch
by Pam Hauck
Old Man's Beard and Pink Lady Slipper come together, resting side-by-side on the forest floor, preparing for their long winter's sleep. Variegated green leaves of poplar and tulip trees begin to turn. Hues of orange, yellow and red splatter the mountain's majestic backdrop. Blackbirds chatter and plan their pilgrimage to migrate even father south. Autumn's gentle transformation brings subtle changes to Sand Mountain.
The evening's cool breeze invites us to fill the air with music. After supper dishes, my fifteen-year-old daughter Barbara and I sit on the front porch with our instruments. She is a native musician, born with a music gene, and tunes my guitar and her fiddle by ear. She stretches and releases the strings till the tone of each one satisfies her. We play bluegrass, folk, ballads, hymns, and Southern blues songs. When we moved here to from Las Vegas two years ago these melodies were new to us. Now, they're a part of our everyday lives.
Friends we met at a local music store drop by and join our jam. The lilt from Larry's resonating Dobro competes with the droning harmony of tree frogs and crickets. Barbara stands and saws a solo on her fiddle, loose hairs from her bow jerk around like kite tails on a windy day. The bass player thumps the doghouse. I strum repetitious rhythms. The mandolin chops on the back-beat. Boom chuck. Boom chuck. Our rustic harmonies blend to create the familiar high lonesome sound of sorrow and lost love. Between songs, off in the distance, swarming cicadas offer their evening prayers.
To the west, the setting sun plays hide-and-seek with the mare's tails clouds that envelop the mountaintops. Pastel pinks and soft blues fill the evening sky. Later, a show of stars will scintillate across the Southern sky.
Sand Mountain is at the foothills of the Appalachians in the extreme corners of northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama. Somehow, knowing it's part of a larger chain gives me a sense of comfort, allows me to feel connected to the rest of the world. This is a remote, isolated area that often prides itself for holding onto old ways, especially old-timey ways of thinking.
People take great pride in owning and harvesting land here. Fields that once grew cotton now grow potatoes. Almost everyone I know here has a vegetable garden. And there are snakes; broadbanded copperheads, timber rattlers, and rat snakes slither the mountainside as well as cornfields and back yards.
Faith healers at the "Church of Jesus with Signs Following" handle poisonous snakes, dance in the spirit, speak in tongues, and cast out demons. They drink "salvation cocktails" from mason jars-strychnine mixed with water, and run blowtorches up and down their arms. The mountain mystics say, "If you're saved, truly saved, you have nothing to fear."
"And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." Mark 16:17-18.
I am saved, truly saved, though I have yet to take up snakes in the name of Jesus. I do, however, have a rattler's tail inside my Martin- D28. Mountain legend has it if you're brave enough to sneak up on a rattler and snatch his tail, surely you're brave enough to play and sing in front of folks. My fellow pickers tell me it's true as they play song after song that's been handed down from generation to generation with great care and deliberation.
We close our jam with "Amazing Grace." Barbara and I stand on the porch and wave good-bye as the tire's on Larry's truck crunch down our long drive. She points to the ground several yards in front of us. A slender glass lizard ranges across the gravel then disappears into blades of tall grass.
Maybe that's what I did when I moved up here from the Nevada desert. Maybe I'm hiding out, where it's green, in my autumn of life.
This essay was originally published in storySouth (Spring, 2002).
Pam Hauck lives in Georgia with her daughter Barbara. Her writing credits include flashquake, The Emerald Collection, The Phoenix, The Dead Mule, Blue Magnolia, storySouth, The Tactile Mind, and Muse Apprenticeship Guild. Her most recent publications include an essay in From the Heart: More Stories of Love and Friendship and in Artella. You may reach her at email@example.com.
© 2004, Pam Hauck, All Rights Reserved