Thoughts from Raccoon Valley, Tennessee
By Edna Peirce Dixon
It’s hard to remember how long ago it was; at least twenty years. I was in my early sixties and had this notion of learning to play some of the old-time fiddle songs Jack and I enjoyed at the annual fiddler’s convention down at Townsend in the Smokies. One year we met Fred Beeler, a real old-time fiddler still going strong in his eighties. On stage Fred mentioned that he gave lessons, so we looked him up and discovered we actually lived very near one another. So wish granted, what could be more perfect?
Fred didn’t read music; he played by ear, so in our weekly sessions he patiently helped me memorize more and more tunes from his vast repertoire. I did fairly well, quickly learned the basic techniques. We both most enjoyed when he played his fiddle with me, nicely covering my mistakes, so even though I knew I would never be a “natural born” fiddler, my lessons were fun and satisfying.
Sometimes Fred’s wife, Dorothy, would sit in on our sessions and occasionally we would visit a little after my lesson. In contrast to Fred’s outgoing vitality, Dorothy struck me as a quiet, reclusive, even frail lady. One day we were all walking across the lawn of their home which sat on a portion of Fred’s family homestead. The old home was gone, but the old-timey rose bush and mature trees gave evidence of earlier generations. A huge tree in their yard had shed some twigs on the lawn and Dorothy made a point of gathering them up. Fred commented on her penchant for keeping the debris cleaned up. I never forgot that moment as it crossed my mind that perhaps, for Dorothy, picking up the fallen twigs and branches after a storm took all the energy she had left.
Now flash forward 20 years. Fred and Dorothy have long since crossed over and here I sit, well into my eighties with my own share of the annoying frailties that creep up or crash down on us as we grow old. This home of more than forty years is my whole world now. I have observed that the row of mighty old oaks between our back yard and the creek and woods beyond seem to be shedding ever more lichen-covered twigs and branches with every storm or stiff breeze sweeping down the valley. Our so-called lawn, more moss than grass these days, still requires mowing to hold the persistent return to wildness at bay, so frequently I find myself out picking up sticks and twigs.
When I do, the words, “The last noble act of old women,” repeat like a mantra in my head. Since time immemorial, I think, women everywhere have quietly gathered up the broken pieces when things fall apart. By nature a woman will do her best to hold on and clear the path for those she loves through all the storms of life. Long after her nest is empty and her strength has flown as well, the womanly impulse remains. So maybe, just maybe it’s true, the last noble act of old women is to patiently gather up the broken bits and pieces after the storms of life have passed, even when it’s only sticks and twigs in her own backyard.
Edna Peirce Dixon © September 26, 2021
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