Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Story Untold, Music Unwritten
In Memory of CG
1912 - 1982

Linda Therber


Your Fender Dual Professional lap steel is safe in its velvet-lined, tweed case, the gray-pearled picks, slide bar, and pitch pipe still in the side compartment. A few little rust spots have grown on the slide bar. It's heavy and weighs down my hand with years and loss, but the finger picks, though too big, have a good feel when I slip them on.

I remember when you sized the picks, dropped them in boiling water, took the pot off the burner and let them steep a few seconds. You slipped one over your thumb and eased it to the right spot. You placed the other two picks on your first and middle fingers, fixed the wings, pushed the plastic curl to set the bend, flexed your hand and picked a few air notes in satisfaction.

Your wood-bodied tube amp and folding music stand are nowhere-to-be-found. And the old metal frame, red vinyl kitchen chair, the only chair we had without side arms that got in your way, disappeared to who-knows-where. It wore itself out when the steel rested on your lap, when your foot tapped rhythms, when you called out, "Ah, yeah. Play it now."

There’s carpet over the hardwood floor where we sat at your feet, nodded our heads to your rendition of Steel Guitar Rag, every bit as sweet as Leon McAulifee's, swayed to Red Sails in the Sunset, begged, "Play another one,” when your home sessions ended with a song adapted from your early dobro-pickin' days.

I know why you took up steel guitar in 1946. I know why you stopped playing music, even though you could have kept it up. But I waited too long to ask how it all started, or how a boy from a remote, hardscrabble farm came across the dobro, first patented in 1928 and then in 1932, he packed along to a 1933 Civilian Conservation Corps camp in The Great Smoky Mountains. To find work during The Great Depression, before signing up with the CCC, you hopped trains bound for Texas. Did you find your music there? Or did your Tennessee uncles, the old front-porch-pickers, lead the way? When I finally did ask, no one answered.

Your grandson wrote a paper on the history of the Dobro® for a class on music and culture at The University of Tennessee. As part of his research, he bought a copy of The Great Dobro Sessions, and on the liner notes, where homage is paid to all the great pickers who never recorded a song and whose names aren't listed in the album's credits, he penned in your name. Though he never heard you play a single note and your time with him was short, he knows your history.

We put those liner notes in a binder filled with the staff notation sheets you drew up. While the paper shows its age, the notes you placed on the lines and in the spaces remain perfectly formed, as crisp and bold as if you'd written them yesterday, but far too many pages are filled with the notes of music unwritten.

On the sky-blue September Saturday that would have been your 95th birthday, I loaded up Leon, Jerry, Tut, Josh, and Oswald, and we all headed south to your old hometown. Leon was up with Steel Guitar Rag when I turned on the road to Po-Grab.

"Ah, yeah. Play it now."

***

Linda Therber has published in community and educational newsletters, a parents' magazine, the "Nashville Eye" op-ed column of The (Nashville) Tennessean, and as a contributor in a book on multicultural teaching strategies. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, she grew up in Middle Tennessee, where she currently resides. Her writing is rooted in family stories and oral histories that are culled for unspoken words, unguarded moments, and simple truths.

© Linda Therber

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012