Memory, Movies, Music, Musings, Writing

Here be heaven

Last night I watched a movie that made me cry. The movie was Songcatcher, about a musicologist who visits her schoolteacher sister “up the mountain” in Appalachia and falls in love with the people and their music.

I am a descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants who, long before the American Revolution, settled in the Appalachian Mountains in what would become West Virginia. As the frontier moved west, so did my ancestors, but no farther than Eastern Kentucky.  Some of my best childhood memories are of visiting my grandparents’ tobacco farm.

My grandparents.
My grandparents.

The film starts with a woman sitting at a piano singing an old English folksong, “Barbara Allen.” She’s the music professor who soon finds out she’s been passed over for a full chair in the school again, presumably because of her sex. And in anger, she leaves the school to get “as far away as possible.” Next, we see her climbing up into the back country.

I tear up at the first shot of a cabin in the woods at dawn. Olfactory memory snatchs me away to my childhood. The morning scents of dew and earth and greenery waft over me as I sit on the stepstone outside the door to the summer kitchen. My feet are bare and I slide them over the cool, smoothness of the stone worn down by the feet of all who have entered this door for over a century. From behind me comes the sounds and smells of breakfast being cooked. Smoked jowl bacon, cream gravy, and biscuits, made from a heart kept “recipe” passed from mother to daughter for generations, will be served with butter I helped churn and blackberry jam like none you’ve ever tasted.

I am in heaven.

The house that grew from the cabin.
The house that grew from the cabin.

And now, I’m walking through the woods. I look down and see mayapple pushing through the thick carpet of leaves slowly decaying into rich, black loam. I hear the bob-white calls and the rat-tat-tat of the woodpecker. My feet slip on the shale as I step into the crick and then the mud squishes up between my toes. There’s a movement on the other side and I freeze. A doe steps out of the tree line and gazes at me, then inches forward to drink before she turns and disappears back into the cool green.

I am in heaven.

The best is yet to come. I sit on the porch in a cane rocker, sweetly creaking. The heat of the day seeps away, the cricket chorus rises, and then someone starts to sing and Oh! It’s “Barbry Allen” in the way it was surely always meant to be sung. But this is just the beginning. We’re going to a barn dance. Listen to the music … banjo, guitar, fiddle and dulcimer. Look at us, we’re dancing … clogging. And there’s more singing. We’re a pure distillation of our Ulster roots.

From somewhere deep inside, genetic memory, past life recall … something … feels the pain and grief and joy. I weep, with great gulping sobs.

I am in heaven.

Linda

3 thoughts on “Here be heaven”

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