A Woman’s Last Noble Act

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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Published by Sings Many Songs

I'm an 80-something child of the great depression and WWII. Throughout my life I have been a seeker, an outsider, never quite belonging anywhere, still always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. A lifelong student with many interests and a love of writing and editing, my elder's path led to encouraging and assisting some remarkable people to write out their amazing stories. This calling became the magic elixir that keeps me growing, keeps me alive.

7 thoughts on “A Woman’s Last Noble Act

  1. Edna, when I was living in the Reems Creek Valley, north of Asheville, NC, in the late 1970s and 1980s, almost any Saturday or Sunday afternoon when the weather was good, was accompanied by Mountain Music drifting through the Valley and its coves. They tell me that is no more. Few young people in the North Carolina Mountains are learning to play musical instruments and even fewer spend their weekend afternoons playing songs with their neighbors. There is also practically no “neighboring”. We would have potluck dinners, volley ball and folk dancing at least once a month year round. They say that the people up thar, mainly keep to themselves these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very sad, Richard. But take heart. During the past 25 years I have seen a great resurgence in interest among young people in learning and preserving the old time music. East Tennessee State University has an entire program dedicated to that very thing. Also here in east Tennessee, local festivals such at the one in Townsend, our uniquely wonderful public radio station, WDVX, and the Laurel Theater have helped keep the the music alive.


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