the Music Stops
old say it is sad when the music stops, when life is suddenly
silent. So say the old ones. And, as I sit here thinking about
it, I am convinced they are right.
remember the young times, the young days, when life was just one
long happy time. We were all a bit giddy with life and everyone
was going to live forever. Mama and Daddy were the backbone of
the family and were ageless. We raced through our younger years,
never looking back, what with school and friends and playtime.
And there was musicaround the house, on the radioeverywhere.
Music was as much a part of our lives as the air we breathed.
our home, Daddy played the fiddle and Mama played the piano, her
long, slender fingers stroking the keys as though she were stroking
a kitten. In their earlier days, they played for square dances
and there were always musicians around the house. I guess that
was when we kids got the bug and realized that we had talent in
that direction, also.
three older sisters were singers. Mildred, Frankie, and Betty
Sue sang on the radio and anywhere else folks would listen. I
have to admit, they were good. I think they took their cue from
the Andrew Sisters, who were very popular during World War II.
My sisters sang just like them, and they would sing at the drop
of a hat. I don't know how they ever decided who should sing the
parts of the three-part harmony, but their voices blended perfectly.
They continued to sing together down through the years. Whenever
we would have a cookout, we would all be singing something together,
but, through it all, you could hear the girls singing their parts,
and it was beautiful and happy. I loved them very much. Not only
were they fun to grow up with, but they taught me a lotas
in "don't interrupt" and "stay out of sight."
Then the younger group came along five years later. I was the
middle child, the oldest of the later generation. My sister, Aileen,
came next, and then Jim. Joe came along and completed our family
could tell there was talent in the later group also, and through
the years, we showed it in different forms. Well, maybe not Jim.
He was the quiet one, but there may have been talent galore if
he had pursued it. His talent showed up and shown like a star
as an athletehe was a good one.
showed her talent in her singing and writing. She could sing up
a storm and sometimes sang with the older sisters. Joe probably
wound up with the most talent of us all. Where he learned to play
the guitar, we never knew, but he took to it like a duck to water
and could put other musicians to shame. He played in bands, and
played lead guitar for Tammie Wynette on her tour. From classical
to country, he could make his guitar sing. I've always envied
him and at the same time, cheered him on like a hero. At cookouts
with the family, he and I would get the guitars out and play.
He played and I diddled. I always looked forward to the cookoutsthe
food, the joking, and the forever laughter. Everyone sang, and
the music was great. We thought it would last forever.
time went by, and we got older, Daddy played the fiddle less and
less. Sometimes Joe and I could coax him, and he would get the
old fiddle out, resin up the bow and begin to stroke the strings.
He would play little bits of the old songs he remembered back
when he and Mama were young and played together, and you could
tell as he made that fiddle hum that he was thinking of the olden
days, their younger times. Joe and I would try to play along with
him on the guitar, and he delighted in suddenly changing "gears"
(as he called it) and then watch to see if we could find what
key he was playing in. Then he would suddenly stop playing and
lay the fiddle aside, as if the dream was over. I guess for me
that was when the music began to stop. Except when I'm alone and
it's quiet, the echo of his fiddle playing "Dry and Dusty,"
Under the Double Eagle," Turkey in the Straw," and others,
still rings clear in my memories.
1965, I moved to Florida, and I never heard Daddy play the fiddle
again. Soon after, he had an accident and was paralyzed from the
waist down and as far as I know, his music stopped.
could play just about anything you wanted to hear on the piano.
She played everything "by ear." To my knowledge, she
never took a music lesson in her life. We could hum a bit of a
song, and her fingers would pick up the melody and go flying up
and down the keyboard like magic. Sometimes she would sing along
while she was playing. As she got older, her voice became raspy
and soft, and as she played and sang, you could tell she was living
the time when she and Daddy played together. It would have been
so good to be a part of that memory she was living as she played,
but the dream was hers alone.
Daddy died, she didn't play much anymore. The piano sat in the
corner, but never got dusty. Every once in a while, someone would
open the lid and bang on itout of tune, out of time. After
Mama died, the piano went to Joe for whatever reason, and it was
okay with everyone because without Mama's hands to stroke it,
the piano was, well, just a piano.
Frankie got cancer and had such a rough time of it, I never heard
my three sisters sing together again. When God saw that Frankie
had taken all that she could take, He took her home to be with
Him. There was a hole in the family that no one could fill. For
the first time, there was a "toehead" missing that would
not be back, and as we had to do after the deaths of Mama and
Daddy, we "circled the wagons" as best we could.
music was fading.
our oldest sister, Mildred, was called home. What a lady she was.
She could write a story with such descriptive phrases you could
swear you were there. She could write about anything. It was clearly
a talent from God. She was a good Christian and I loved her very
that, two harmony parts were gone and the music ebbed as the ocean
tide. We tried, those of us who were left, to keep it going. Cookouts
were never quite the same, but my sister, Betty Sue, would say,
"Get out the guitar, Bob and Joe," and we would sing
the old songs and try a few new ones.
then, too quickly, Betty Sue joined her sisters in heaven. The
harmony stopped, and so did the music. Jim and Joe joined the
family who had passed on, leaving only me and my sister Aileen
to circle the wagons. We both writebringing into our stories
the memories we hold so dear. It is our way of continuing to hear
the music that stopped too soon.
Ridings was born and raised in the Deep South. He is a devout
Southerner and an author of published nonfiction stories about
the South. His sister is Aileen Ridings Bennett, author of the
book The Annie Chase Story.