I’m not exactly sure what day it was last fall (I don’t keep track of the days much anymore) that Dooley came running up the hill with a note tied around his neck. The note said, “Come on down the hill Kessinger boy. I’m too old to climb up to ya. Clyde.” I walked over to the ridge that looked down on the river and there was a man that, indeed, looked too old to climb the hill. I gathered a few things including a pack of Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Rum Outlaw Cigars and headed down the hill to meet the man.
“Are you the Kessinger boy?”
“I’m not a Kessinger but I’m related to a few”, I answered.
“You kin to Clark?”
“Clark Kessinger was my great uncle,” I revealed.
“Play the fiddle?”
“Well, I heard there was a kin to Clark out here and I wanted to meet you…I’m Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper…me and Clark were friends. Played fiddles together some.”
That was the first time I met Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper. It was getting a bit chilly so I started a fire in the old fire ring next to the river and the old man and I sat down to talk. Clark Kessinger was a bit of a legend among Appalachian musicians. If you Google the name you can read all about him. I only got to see him play once and didn’t really know much about him personally. Clyde had heard from Firewood Kenny that someone related to Clark lived out here and he just had to come out say hello.
Clyde is a traditional rural Appalachian man. Having lived in this area most of his life he knew more about the history of my land than anyone I’d spoken to up to this point. He spoke plainly and compellingly with a fine storyteller’s brevity and with the wisdom of a very old soul. When I asked if he had any stories about great uncle Clark he said, “I don’t tell no stories on a man that he don’t tell on himself. His music storys everything you need to know...and then some I ‘spect.”
Clyde loved, however, talking about life here and the changes he’d seen in his 93 years. (I have already written about his observations on social programs in an earlier blog “Speaking of Blackberries”). He had lived and worked through the timber, mining and wildcat oil booms and busts, the migration of West Virginians out of the state on the “Hillbilly Highway” and the ever increasing political corruption and exploitation of mountain people. I never sensed bitterness or self-pity from him, he just told of life as he’s seen it. A real treasure had crossed my river that night.
At one point near the end of the evening I asked him if he thought traditional rural Appalachian life would soon be gone forever.
“….naw,” he said, “the roots are still here, strong, deep and a’growin’ on the hillsides…there ain’t no people-made evils that can touch them roots,...you, son, comin’ back and livin’ here is plain example of that.”
Thank you, Fiddlin’ Clyde Harper, thank you.
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