Just about every time I go to the grocery store, I think of Bruce Dellinger--especially when I pass by "organic" food. Bruce was not an overly talkative man, but when he did say something, it was pretty direct and you had better listen, because whatever he said had a weight to it. Once day, Bruce his brother Ray and I were riding up to Avery County, probably to visit their cousin Floyd Gragg out on the Grandfather. I had got them talking about "the old days," about how they'd gardened and what all they planted up at the old homeplace at the end of Green Cove. After discussing the merits of various methods of hillside farming, Bruce straightened up in his seat and announced "Shit, we was organic before organic was organic!"
I still get tickled about that.
Saturday I went to Bruce's funeral at the Liberty Hill Baptist Church. There's something terribly lonely about driving to a funeral by yourself, but I had a long time by myself to think about Bruce on that boring stretch of interstate between Winston and Marion. He was so supportive of my music, especially my fiddle playing, even when I could hardly squeak out a little bit of "Soldier's Joy." He'd look me in the eye, and with all seriousness in the world say, "Don't you never stop playing the fiddle."
When I pulled onto Hoot Owl (well actually I missed it the first time because of all of the road work they've done though there), and parked in Liberty Hill's lot, I was grateful to get a quiet moment surrounded by one of those gorgeous WNC parking lot views. I thought about how the mountains sort of hold you when you're there, and also hold onto you when you leave. I'm grateful that I get to hold onto a little piece of Bruce Dellinger every time I sit down and have a little old tune.
I was happy to see Bruce and Ray's nephew Dennis at the church, he came and sat by me and we talked about straw gardening and the old 40's J45 that Bruce, Ray, and all the Dellinger boys had played so much that they nearly wore a hole in it. Then he said,"Bruce always told me, 'when they lay me in the ground, I don't want no long faces, I want singing, and dancing, and I want somebody to play the 'Black Mountain Rag.'"
It really stuck in my mind, and was such a Bruce thing to say. I had my "magic" fiddle out in the car, the one Ray had given me, but it didn't really seem to be the right time to jump up behind the pulpit out of the blue and rip into a breakdown (but I sure wanted to). Afterwards we went to the fellowship hall and had a good dinner, with home canned beans that were the real deal, (and probably "organic!").
I had to hurry back down the mountain, which pained me. All I wanted to do was go back to Bakersville and try to visit with Ray, and Jeannette, and maybe stop in and see Mom and Dad, but I needed to get back to play for a concert at Wake Forest with some dear friends. It was a fundraiser for the Shalom Project, which addresses poverty in Winston in meaningful and beautiful ways. I was only supposed to lead one song, "Groundhog," but I asked the boss (thanks Martha!) if I could work in a quick bit of a special tune last minute. (quick thanks to Kyle Bridges for being kind and brave enough to give it a shot on the guitar with no practice).
So I got up there with Ray's fiddle and talked about Bruce, and Ray, and being organic, and we played the "Black Mountain Rag." I'm pretty sure I saw dancing, and there was definitely a lot of singing, and there were no long faces.