Archive for December 2009

Wild Bill

December 30, 2009

        There is a bluegrass song called ‘Wild Bill Jones.’  I didn’t know the man, but it could just as easily been Wild Bill Smith.  Wild Bill lives at a place called the Bomb Shelter and seldom gets out.

        God gave everybody one gift, and Wild Bill’s is a backhoe.  They say Bill could lift a baby off a sidewalk and deliver the child into his mama’s arms and not leave a scratch on its butt.  Bill specializes in heavy machinery.  He can run a BobCat or a forklift better drunk than I could sober, and does so every day. 

        Bill loves his music.  He’s in charge of stoking the fire at the Bomb Shelter.  He might sit there all night and not say a word.  Sometimes when you play a torrid tempo breakdown Bill listens real close and then hollers, ‘Play something peppy!”  Every so often he’ll sing one, and he’s not  a bad tenor.   

        One Sunday after church my daughter and her friends were at Walmart.  Marie was a proper upper middle class suburbanite kid, but after years of hanging out with me, she knew the rest of the world, too.  She was still in her Sunday best that day; a little pink dress her mama made for her.  Lord, she was a cute young’un.

        All of a sudden there was a commotion.  Marie!  Marie!!!

        It was Wild Bill.  He had spotted her from the grocery section, and came charging her way.  Bill’s four teeth look like he’s been gnawing on walnuts, and his greasy black hair and gray-ish beard are both forever unkempt.

        His blood-shot eyes are; uh… let’s just say I always thought he got his name from the way those tiny specks of coal dart around.  They are jet black except for the gray rim around the outer part of the iris the old folks at home sometimes get  (arcus senilis) and they beat back and forth in a constant rhythm.  Doctors call it nystagmus.   

        Bill rushed over.  “Marie, so good to see you!”  Her little friends were terrified.  When he reached to hug her, one of them wanted to call security, but was frozen in fear.

        “Why Bill, how in the world are you?”  She bear-hugged Bill like  a long-lost uncle.  They exchanges pleasantries and a few music stories and then Bill was on his way.

        “Make ‘em play it peppy,” she said.

        “Yes ma’am, Miss Marie.  You tell your daddy hello.”

        “I will.”

        The girls were all the way to the check out line before one spoke up.  “How in the world do a you know a man like that?”

        “Bill?  Oh, he looks rough but he’s harmless.  Sometimes he sings with Daddy.”

        They didn’t ask any more questions.  It might as well have been a visit from a Martian to them, but to us Bill is just a regular guy.  We’re all a little odd, just in different ways.  He’s a heck of a backhoe man if you ever need someone to dig a septic tank for you, and his rates are reasonable too.

        My Marie has now moved to a big city in the Tobacco Triangle.  The girl went to Chapel Hill and took ’bout everything they had before she began to teach what she’d learned.  I’d loved to have kept her at home, but I understand.  These are hard economic times, and there isn’t any work for her here in Harvey County. 

        But she’s still the same. Sometimes when her friends are over for dinner she’ll tell ‘em stories about her childhood. Every so often she’ll call me and tell me of their looks of disbelief.  Much like some of the publishers who have read my book, they think she’s making it all up.  What they don’t know is except for the fiction part it is all true.

        One of these days I’m gonna run into a publisher who wants to take a chance on physician bluegrass fiction.  One declined ’cause he feared bluegrass people didn’t read.  I started to tell him about Bill, but I decided to let it go. Like Marie’s little friends, I was afraid his world view was a tad too sheltered to understand.

        You see, Shakespeare is Bill’s favorite.  (“We got the same damn name, don’t we Doc?”)  Oh well, one day someone is gonna understand what I’m trying to say, and then we’ll see if bluegrass people read or not.  My agent always says to show, not tell.  I can’t wait till there is a picture of me and Bill with a signed copy.  That’ll show ‘em.

        I bet if they got to know Bill and needed a good backhoe man they’d hire him in a heart beat.

Dr. B

Flipping Burgers, Doctoring, The Writer Gig and Stephen King

December 28, 2009

        My daughter got me Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ For Christmas.  I started right after the evening news, and finished before ten o’clock.   (Mama put me in a speed reading course years ago which is how I wound up in medical school.)  Now I plan to go back and digest it.  It is worthy of more than one cruise through.  As I read back through again I’ll tell you much more about his book.

        In medicine, we say things come in threes.  Before I read this I had two writer books I considered essential.  One was ‘The Elements of Style.’  The other was ‘Self Editing for Fiction Writers,’ which my agent made me do a book report on before he would agree to take me on. Now I have three.

        ‘On Writing’ is not a ‘how to become a rich and famous writer’ self-help book.  It could not be that because Mr. King writes the truth, and insists we do the same.  Instead it is a detailed story of the process he went through to learn his craft.  It was so similar to my own saga it was eerie.  I bet the same holds true for every writer ever published.

        Not long ago I watched a documentary on Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s.  Mr. Thomas didn’t learn his profession to become rich.  He just wanted to be his best.  He started out as a teenager and got his first job because he impressed a restaurant owner he would start with the basics and learn it from the bus boy position on up.  He never forgot the fundamentals.  If you cook a lousy hamburger no one will buy it.  If you write a lousy story no one will read it. 

        When I started med school, I was determined to learn every possible nuance of the profession and be my best at that too.  Getting rich never was part of the equation.  (I also made that goal and didn’t get rich.)  Like Mr. Thomas and Mr. King, I stuck with the basics.  To this day I try to hear out every patient’s story.  If I don’t understand it 100% then I try to find them some more help. 

        Who’d want a doc that looked at it any other way?  I’m proud to say I don’t consider my patient as a financial opportunity.  If I ever do, I’ll quit and pray for forgiveness right away.  I’d be scared I might die before I settled up on the score and wind up in hell for such a sin.

        I want you to know I don’t consider my reader a financial opportunity either, although I hope enough of you buy my book to where they’ll let me write another one.  I view my reader as someone to bounce ideas off of; someone to laugh and cry with and try to make some sense out of this crazy a^^ world.  Mr. King talks in ‘On Writing’ about the IR, or ‘Ideal Reader.’  As he writes he tries to envision how some passages might bring tears to the IR while other words bring hope.  He wonders if his work will resonate with the IR and if they cry at the same places in the story he does as he writes it.  I wonder the same thing.   Like the doc gig, it ain’t about money, it’s about communication.  I hope I did my job.  If I didn’t, I’ll work some more.

        Mr. King has made a bunch of money but in his book he says not a single word was written with that as his motive.  I believe him.  His story rings too true for it to be otherwise.

        In music we have a phenomenon called cross-over appeal.  It is a great thing to have a fine bluegrass record, but if the project has the potential to attract other genres, then there is always an extra buzz at the record label.  “Hey dude, this one is special.  I can hear it on public radio and Sirius, but also commercial country, Americana, and gospel.  Who are these guys?”

        Of course, Mr. King is no unknown, but his book has a similar cross-over appeal for other disciplines.  Not only is it a good book for writers, but the same lessons are applicable for flipping hamburgers or the doctor life.  I suspect they hold true in most artistic endeavors, and many business ones.  I know it applies to the music biz.

        I came away from my first read encouraged.  Other than some fifty best sellers and millions of dollars, I’m not one bit different from Mr. King.  I can see myself in every milestone of his journey even though I’m still only a step past the stack of rejection letters he used to keep on a spike by his bed.

       Even though I finished his book, in real life I’d say I’m only about half way through the process, but I’ll get there.  I ain’t Stephen King.  I’m only Tommy Bibey, but like Mr. King I have a story I have to tell, and there is no way I could ever stop.

        Mr. King’s book does show the process takes a lot of time.  I consider myself lucky.  I’ve got a day job as a doc I love, so I don’t figure I’ll be flipping burgers any time soon, though Mr. Thomas showed there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I suspect Mr. Thomas did better than me and Mr. King put together.  I’m certain he dispensed a whole heap more burgers than I did medical advice.   That’s okay, and I’m not jealous or envious.  We all gotta be what we are and I got to be me the whole way.  I wasn’t perfect but I liked me okay.

        I’ve reached  the stage in life where all I do is walk around and be Dr. B, and at the end of the month someone sends a check.  I’m that way with my music too.  I’ll do the same with my writing and see what happens.  It’s like my Dad told me.  “Son, don’t get into anything for the money, but because you love it.”  I better stick with the doctor gig, picking my mandolin, and physician bluegrass fiction.  Old Dad was right, I love that life. 

        Besides, it is all I know.  Mr. King said what you know was the best thing to write about, at least if you are a novice like me.  My agent told me the same thing.  As Jerry Clower said, “if you hear it twice it’s scripture.”

        So there you go.  Mr. King says it is true, and so does Jerry Clower.  My agent agrees with them.  If it’s scripture it can be traced back to the King James and the King James is the bedrock of Southern Literature; my agent told me that too.  

        A good Southern boy will never go against the Bible, so I better keep on writing.  But for now on this Monday morning it’s back to doctoring.  Gotta write about what I know, and the doc gig is a big part of it.

Dr. B

Three Chords and the Truth

December 26, 2009

        Just a short post today.  My boy is a paramedic and had to work yesterday, so today is our family Christmas.  Like all of us, he has to work for a living nowadays.  It can never be like the old days with him right here at the house to hit golf balls as soon as I hit the door from work, but we still have a lot of good times.  He’s on his way.  The boy is never gone for long but when he walks through that door we’ll hug on him like the prodigal son.  

        Today I want to tell you about  a new blog I found, 3 Chords a Day.  The link is below, and I’ve added them to my blogroll.  There is an old saying in Nashville- ‘Country music is three chords and the truth.’  I try to write that way too, as I believe the truth is simple. As my daughter says, “Daddy, you’re so simple you’re complicated to people.”

        Sure, I understand about money and that we all have to make  living, and I hope to sell a few books someday.  However, I told my agent I didn’t care if I sold three thousand or three million as long as I wrote what I believe to be the truth.  (So far we are far closer to three thousand but several publishers have it under review)

       I think this fellow writes what he believes to be true about country music just as sure as I try to be the most honest physician bluegrass fiction writer I can be.  If you love classic country, and believe it and bluegrass should be back on the radio in full force, check it out. 

        KNP.  Hold to the dream and have a fine holiday.

http://3chordsaday.wordpress.com

Dr. B

My Christmas Thoughts

December 25, 2009

        Harvey County might be small, and perhaps we are not that sophisticated, but my heart aches for those who do not hope and pray for a life of grace and dignity for all people.  To me they are as cynical as the mean people what dissed Santa Clause to little Virginia years ago. 

        I realize all your little friends will not believe in Harvey County.  To them I harbor no hate or ill will, but I do ask they listen to the music of Darin and Brooke Aldridge, or read the work of Dr. Tommy Bibey, then open their hearts and try to understand.   Here in Harvey County we believe if humans pray hard and do their best they can overcome hatred and prejudice. 

        There is a better way in this world than hard-hearted and greedy.  It will all be perfect in Eternity, but I believe we do not have to wait till then to at least try to approximate the love God offers us.

                All the best and Merry Christmas,

Dr. B

The Donkey Coat

December 24, 2009

        My daughter has a coat we call the donkey coat.  I didn’t know until now she still wore it.  She is a hip young lady, and says all her friends find it very chic.  They don’t know we call it the donkey coat and we won’t tell.

        It is a brown wrap-like thing.  Maybe you’d call it a shawl. I’m a dumb man; I’m not sure.  Her mama knitted it years ago.  When my daughter first wore it, it went all the way down to her ankles.  She was in the church Christmas pageant, and it was the coat that served to dress her up as a donkey.  (She graduated to being Mary the next year)  The outfit had a hood with some floppy ears too, but I don’t think she wears that part of the get-up now.

        For years I got out the video of her as the little singing donkey.  You know the line; “I said the donkey, shaggy and brown…”

       We had an open door policy at the house, and I forever had friends show up to visit. Sometimes it was to ask about a tune they were looking for; sometimes it was a blood pressure question.  I didn’t mind, but the down side for them at Christmas was they had to suffer through the donkey video.  They didn’t seem to mind; she grew up in music and wasn’t a bad singer.  About the time she turned thirteen she began to protest a bit so I put it away.

        I remember one of the last times I shared it with anyone.  One winter Wednesday it was bitter cold out.  It was off work.  It was way too cold for golf and no one was picking any music, so I was at home. We had a lady who helped us some in the house back then.  My wife and Marie had gone out shopping.  When they came back home me and Ms. Violet were sitting on the couch watching the donkey video. 

        “I said the donkey shaggy and brown…”   The ears flopped down over her eyes.  Marie flipped them aside and never missed a beat.  “I carried his mother up hill and down…” 

        “Mr. Tommy, Lawdy if that ain’t the sweetest thing I ever saw in my life.”

        “Ain’t it, though?”

        Marfar and Miss Marie came home and found us there.  Marie rolled her eyes.  “Daddy, you’re hopeless.”

        “Uh… well… yeah, uh… my contacts are bothering me, that’s all.” 

        I hadn’t shared the donkey tape with anyone in years, but when Marie came in wearing that shawl, I knew what it meant.

        She brought it up tonight.  “Daddy, don’t you want to watch the donkey video?”

        “Sure kid.  Let’s see.  I wonder where that old thing is?  Hm.”  I went over and opened a few of the drawers of the end table near my seat in the den.  “Hey.  Look here; it’s on DVD now.”

        She smiled.  “Just don’t tell anyone you still watch it, Dad.”

        “Okay, sweetie.  I won’t; I promise.”  

        “I said the donkey, shaggy and brown…”

        “You know kid, you always did have a nice voice.”

        “But don’t give up my day job?”

        “Right, right.  But I tell you what’s the truth, that’s some good singing.”

        “Yes, Daddy.”

Dr. B

Christmas in the Trenches

December 24, 2009

       John McCutcheon tells us this story in a song.  Like many of the best ones it is based on a true story.

        It was a cold winter night in WWI on the western front in the year 1914.  The British and the Germans were in their respective trenches.  An open field lay before them.  They had been killing each other all day. 

        The rifles were quiet.  A German soldier began to sing.  His clear voice pierced the cold night air.  Soon he broke into ‘Stille Nacht.’  The British began to sing along in English;  ‘Silent Night.’ 

        In a minute a sole German soldier climbed out of his trench.  The British trained their rifles on him, but he carried a truce flag.  They held their fire.

        Soon they all emptied out onto the open field; the no man’s land which had been a killing ground only hours before.  They traded cigarettes and chocolates and showed each other pictures of family from back home.  Someone started a pick-up ball game and they played cards.  After a few hours they went back to their trenches.

         In the morning they resumed killing each other.

        To me those poor boys were the same on both sides; just kids who wanted to somehow get back home who had been manipulated into a hopeless situation by some old fat a^^ ‘leader’ who either got picked last in ball as a kid or his mama didn’t love him.  (or both) 

       My thoughts and prayers this Christmas are with our service people.  I pray they get home safe.  God says we should pray for our enemies.  I try to listen to what He says, so I pray for the ones on the other side of the conflict too.  I suspect the vast majority of them are but pawns in the deal who are just trying to get home themselves.  It ain’t the fault of the ones in the trenches, and I pray for peace so they can all just go back home.

Dr. B

You Heard It Here First (Okay, maybe 2nd) – Darin and Brooke Aldridge CD release

December 21, 2009

        Darin and Brooke Aldridge’s new CD was expected right after the first of the year.  It came in ahead of deadline. I have it on good authority that CrossRoads music just released it.

        If you love good music don’t miss these kids.  Don’t just take old Doc’s word for it; ask the Nashville crowd.  They are in the business and want to find all the best new music.  When I was in Nashville I went to Darin and Brooke’s IBMA Showcase.  Eddie Stubbs was impressed enough to put them on a live feed to WSM (Grand Ole Opry) radio.  I figure he knows a little about it. 

        I invited my Lit agent to that event because I wanted him to see first hand what all the fuss was about.  When he first got involved with me, he knew nothing about this kind of music.  He found their vocals and instrumentation spectacular, and took in every one of their shows.  When a newcomer stays up to catch the last one at 2:30 in the morning it has to be good.  While new to our music, he’s been in the talent search business a long time.  He took notes of who was who all day.  At the last session, he turned to me and said, “Doc, I notice all the movers and shakers are still here.”  He was right.

        While their music is based in a traditional style it is also new and different.  They sound a bit like the Everlys or the Louvins except one voice is female and one is male.  You’ll feel like you’ve never heard anything quite like them and yet feel you’ve heard them all your life.  

        They now have a booking agent, Andrea Roberts Agency out of Nashville, and have begun to secure gigs on the national circuit for 2010.   North Carolina will always be home though, so I want to tell you about their upcoming show.  Remember; you heard it here first.  (okay, maybe 2nd; they have released the date on their website.) 

        The CD release party and North Carolina debut for the project will be at the Don Gibson theatre in Shelby, N.C. on Friday night January 22, 2010.  Shelby is the home of Don Gibson.  It is also the home of Earl Scruggs.  The Gibson Theatre is brand new, but has all the earmarks of a potential historic venue. 

        I believe this will prove to be a historic show.  After all, Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson are both Shelby natives.  Darin grew up right down the road from Shelby in Cherryville, and Brooke is also a North Carolina native from Avery County.  One would have to interpret that the folks from Shelby not only recognize the beauty of traditional based music, but also the value of booking homegrown talent when they break into the national scene.  It’s no surprise to regional music insiders the Gibson theater was the chosen venue.  

       Still, I must tell you there are some folks who contend bluegrass based bands, regardless of how talented, will never have a mass commercial appeal.  A lot rides on this show, not so much for Darin and Brooke, but for the North Carolina music scene.  The people who love good music and also want to see it (and play) at bigger venues will want this to be a big success.  Darin and Brooke are already booked up and down the east coast.  The only question that remains is whether the folks in their back yard will understand what is about to happen and get out to support it.   My bet is they will.  One thing is certain.  If we don’t, we’ll have no basis for complaint if the regional powers that be who book music acts decide later they won’t take a chance on our kind of music. 

        If you know this music I don’t have to convince you to go.  If you don’t, give it a try. You will not regret it.  This is not your father’s bluegrass. (although I love that t00)   If you’re like me and love music but have grown weary of the canned ‘music’ that is put out nowadays with no other mission than to turn a profit, try this instead. 

        When the Dillards were an unknown Ozarks band (before you knew them as the Darling family on the Andy Griffith show) they decided to test the water and book a show at an area college.  It was a big success, and gave them the confidence to strike out for California.  I hope we will treat the Aldridges the same way.  We need to support our own.  If we do, when they get to California they won’t forget us, and they are headed that way. 

          I am certain they would want you to know 25% of proceeds for this show will go to local area ministries.  For the Aldridges, like most bluegrass bands, the gospel is a big part of what they do.  These folks don’t just sing the gospel, they do their best to live it.

        Here’s how to get a ticket to the show or order their CD.  The easiest way right now is to go their website. The link is here: www.darinandbrookealdridge.com.  Tickets will also be available at Shelby Music Center.  I’m certain they will announce other locations in the near future. 

        Harvey County is small town America, one of those places where the City Hall is in the back of the Dairy Queen.  Even though small in numbers, we have our music ear to the ground in a big way.  We hear what’s coming, and want to be a part of it.  I’ll have a few tickets at my office.  If I’ve ever visited your blog or e-mailed you then you’ll have my personal e-mail.  Contact me if you can’t get a hold of a ticket.  Johnny’s Jewelry and Pawn will have ‘em too.  Harvey County might not be big enough to host a show like this, but we’re progressive enough to see where this is headed.

        I’ll see you there.  Look for the gray-haired guy.  Where there is good music in North Carolina Dr. Tommy Bibey is very likely a face somewhere in the crowd, ’cause no one loves it more.

Dr. B

The Bluegrass Way

December 20, 2009

        We had snow Friday.  Saturday morning Max called.  “Hey Doc, you on call this weekend?”

        “Nope.  How come?”

        “The Crowe Brothers were due in tonight.  They’re snowed in.”

        “My boy lives up there.  I understand they had more than a foot.”

        “Sure did.  I gotta put together a show.  Can you come and play mandolin?  Need a part singer too.”

        “What time?”

       “Seven.  Come at 6:30.  Come in the musician’s door.”

        “Will do.  Tell the Crowes I hate to miss them.”

        “I will.  They’ll be back in the spring.  Come pick with ‘em then too.”

        “Okay.”

        Our roads were clear by mid-day, so it was an easy drive.  When I got there someone had put up one of those magnetic signs.  A spot-light illuminated the line-up.  It read: ‘Crowe Brothers snowed in tonight.  Max and the McKee family, Timber Ridge, and Dr. B on the mandolin.’  I had to smile.   I hadn’t seen my name in lights since Neuse River made the marquee at the Walmarks.  (That was big)  

         It’s called the Bluegrass Inn #2, in honor of the original one in Nashville.  I understand they got permission from Pee Wee Davis to borrow the name.  A blue/gray board and batten building with a gravel parking lot, it is far off the beaten path.  When you walk in, you’ll see an assortment of old photos on the walls.  Both the famous and the obscure have played there, and are equally welcome.  There was one of Earl at about age thirty, and another of Bill Monroe’s baseball team. Fliers tout everything from GooGoo Clusters to Ex-Lax, and of course there were a number of them for Martha White flour.  An old poster advertises a Sandy Springs Flatt and Scruggs show.  The ticket price reads $1.50, and $1.00 for children.  Kids under six were free.

         We warmed up for a minute then took the stage.  Max has a switch right next to the popcorn machine.  He calls for ‘lights’. They flip the switch and the house lights go down and the stage lights go up.  The show is on.  It is mostly standard material like ‘Cabin Home on the Hill’ or ‘The Old Folks at Home.” 

        Another band came on. Their guitar man had been snowed in, so I switched over to flat-pick guitar for them. (I’m rough style on guitar but got by)  The mandolin player had been through some tough medical problems and thanked me from the stage.  I really hadn’t done anything for him other than line him up with the oncologist I would go to if I had cancer, but it was nice of him.  There is something spiritual about playing music with your patients.  Standing next to him it hit home how much it all means.  One fellow in the crowd got up and did ‘Father’s Table Grace.’  You don’t hear many good recitations anymore, and it was excellent.  

         At the end of the show,  Max called everyone back up on the stage for an old-fashioned grand finale.  It was a small crowd, only about fifty people; but Max played as hard as he could the whole way.  He laughed and joked with the crowd and entertained with his all in spite of the fact the weather made for an off night.  After the show he offered to pay me, but I told him to let it go.  “I get more out of the music than I give it, Max.  Consider it a Christmas present.  Professional courtesy. It’s the bluegrass way.””

        “When the Crowe Brothers come I want you to pick one with them.”

        “I’d be honored to.”

         On the way out of the parking lot, I took another look at the little magnetic sign.  ‘Dr. B on the mandolin.’ It struck me how far away my music orbit circles from someone like Taylor Swift.  But, if my name helped Max sell a dozen tickets, that was good by me.  I might not be much in the music biz, but I am glad I get to do what I can.

Dr. B

The Fastest Sled in North Carolina

December 18, 2009

        “It’s cold,  Dad.”

        “Come on.  It’ll be worth it.  This is the fastest sled in North Carolina.”

         His mama put on his boots and coat and he followed me out to the garage.  I pulled the attic stairs down and climbed up.  I shuffled around some old camping equipment.  Hm.  I hadn’t seen that school desk in years.  There was a bike or two, and then there it was:  The old Yankee Clipper.  I hauled it down the stairs.

        “Boy, dad. It looks old.” 

         “Hush.” 

          “Look, it’s broken.”  He pointed to a cracked board.  It was once wrapped with some electrician’s tape but it had long since unraveled.  “Maybe we better go get a new one,” Tommy said.

         “No, no.  It’ll be fine.  When I was a boy we couldn’t get a new one when it broke; we had to fix it up.”  I opened the door to the house.  “Mama?  You got any duct tape!?”  She brought me a roll, and I spliced the broken board like a Board Certified orthopedist.  “See? Good as new.”  He seemed skeptical but didn’t comment.

        I scraped off the runners with steel wool, and slicked them down with candle wax.  “Ready to race, boy.”  He trudged up the hill behind me.  “Yes sir, son,” I said.  “This is the fastest sled in all of North Carolina.  No one ever beat me when I raced it.”

         We made it to the crest of the hill right by the Robert’s house. I stopped to catch my breath. Hm. It was a bigger grade than I remembered.  “You wanna ride?”

          “You go first, Dad.”

          “Okay.”  I tugged it back and forth like a guy on a bobsled team; just like I remembered as a kid.  “Ah one and a two, and go…..”

           I flung myself onto the old sled and the runners dug in all the way down to the dirt.  It didn’t move forward even an inch, and threw me off the front end and into the snow.

          “What’s wrong with it, Dad?”

           I got up and dusted the snow off my jacket.  “Uh …nothing… nothing.  Here, you get on.  I’ll push you to get started.”

           The sled worked much better with a fifty pound kid than a two hundred pound man.

           He rode for an hour.  We took turns pulling it back up the hill.  After a while we got cold, and headed back for the house.  He tugged the sled home.  “You’re right, Dad.  This is a good sled.  It’s the fastest one in North Carolina.”

          “You take it son, I think I’m about too old to ride.”

          “Thanks.”    

            I still have the Yankee Clipper in the attic.  I might get it out and clean off the runners.  I’ll let some of neighborhood kids ride it, but then I’ll put it up.  Whenever I have a grandchild I don’t want them to miss a chance to ride the fastest sled in the state.

Dr. B

A Mandolin Lesson for Doc: The Circle Unbroken

December 16, 2009

        One damp, cold, Tuesday morning several patients cancelled.  I guess it was too bad out to go to the doctor.  We finished up early so I went over to Johnny’s Jewelry and Pawn at lunch.  They have an easy chair over there I’m fond of.  The stuffing is about to come out of it, but it is very comfortable.  Sometimes I try out  a new mandolin, and some days I take a nap.  Johnny knows what time I start back at the office and he wakes me up in time to get back and see my afternoon patients.

        That day he had a used Gibson F9 on consignment.  I picked it up and sat down to try it out.  After a minute an elderly man came in the store. He wore a heavy overcoat and a rain hat and carried a battered mandolin case.  He hung his hat on the rack.  Johnny helped him get his coat off.  He walked over my way.

        “Ain’t you Dr. B?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “I saw you on the cable T.V.  I like the way you pick that thing.”

        “Get it out and play one with me.”

        He laid his case on the counter.  He had a noticable tremor.  I was afraid he wasn’t even gonna be able to open it up, much less play.  He finally got the mandolin out of the case and handed it to me.

        I checked it out.  The mandolin was at least as old as the man.  The finish was worn down to the bare wood in spots.  This was an ‘auto-distressed’ ‘A’ style complete with coffee stains and a variety of scrapes and scratches.  I sighted the neck, and it was fairly straight.  I held it up to my nose. It smelled like an antique piano. “Hey brother, you’re missing a string.” 

        “Really?”  He peered over his glasses and stared for a moment.  “You sure?”

        Johnny walked over and handed me a pack of strings.  “How ’bout fixing him up Doc?”

        “Sure.”  I put on the missing ‘E’ string, tuned it up, and handed it back to the man.  “Ready to rock and roll, my friend.”

        “Thanks.  I’m going over to the nursing home to play for the old folks.  I want to get it right.” 

        I was impressed.  This man was every bit of 85.  “Pick one with me before you go.  How ’bout ‘Home Sweet Home?'”

        “I only strum, Doc.  I can’t pick it like you.”

        “Don’t matter.  I’ll play the lead, you back me up.”

        We played it about 80% pace and he held his own well.  He sung the lead in a shaky voice and I took the baritone line.

        “Enjoyed, Doc.  Gotta go.  Don’t want to be late for my gig.”  He laid the  instrument back in the case, closed the lid, and fumbled with the latches.  His hands trembled so bad it was almost painful to watch but after a while he got it shut and secured.  Johnny helped him get on his overcoat.  He put on his hat.  I followed him to the door, opened it, and the cold slapped us in the face.  The man put his head down to make his way into the wind, and waved good-bye. The rain streaked down the glass of the showroom front window as we watched him pass by.  I’m pretty sure he whistled ‘Home Sweet Home’ as he shuffled down the sidewalk.  A memory of Indie flashed up in my brain.

        I went back to the easy chair, sat down, and cross-picked a bar or two of the tune.  Johnny walked over.  “Do you know Wilbur?” he asked.

        “I’ve seen him in the store.  I don’t recall that he ever played with us.”

        “Unlikely he did.  Mostly just plays at his apartment. He’s in here every week.  He tries to change his strings at home but he always breaks one or two.  He can’t tune it up any more either.  He brings it in before he plays over at the nursing home.  We always oblige him; sometimes one of the customers does.”

        “Hm.  I’m glad I was part of that. That man is my hero.”  I played a few bars of ‘The Circle.’  “I hope someone plays for me at the nursing home.  I want to be like him when I grow up.”

        “Me too, Doc.”

        “Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by…..”

Dr. B


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