Sunday, June 05, 2005

Daddy's Dulcimer


Back in about 1989 I purchased a McSpadden dulcimer for my Dad.  He had
had an old electric guitar for years and plunked around on it.  Daddy
admitted to everyone that he was a terrible guitar player.  Never took
lessons, just sat and plunked and sang to his old dog he called "Red
Dog".  I thought the dulcimer would be easier for him and it was something
that would tie him to out mountain roots back in the hills and hollers
of eastern Kentucky.

He played the dulcimer some, not as much as I would like.  He still
loved to plunk on that old guitar.  Daddy and Mama lived on Cherokee Lake  - around
Bean Station, TN from 1976 till about 1996 when they moved to the Dayton
area to be closer to me and my brother.  When he was living by the lake
he would gather goose feathers and play his dulcimer with them.

My Daddy died last year on May 15 of lung cancer.  He was 79 and had
been smoking since he was 8 or 9,  We found out on April 4 he had cancer
and he lasted only 41 days.  My Mama gave some of his things away
pretty quickly - his clothes mostly.  She gave me my Grandpa's pistol he
used as a guard at the Bluegrass Depot in Lexington, KY since I am named
after my Grandpa.  Here and there she would come across something and
give it to me or my brother.
I didn't say much about the dulcimer, but I let my brother know
privately if something happened to Mama I wanted our Dad's dulcimer. (I bought
my brother one last year about the time my Daddy died, so he does have
one)  Mama played the dulcimer a little sometimes and I didn't want to
ask her for something she might want to keep.

I was over there last week visiting and my Mama brought the dulcimer
out and handed it to me as I was leaving.  She said she
wanted to make sure I got it, had been meaning to give it to me but it was
hard to part with things sometimes.  After a hug and some tears on both
our cheeks I went home.

When I was home and alone I opened the case and pulled out the walnut
dulcimer.  Under it were 3 goose feathers trimmed by my Daddy so he could
play with them.  I had changed the strings 2 years ago and the old ones
were still in there, wound up.  He had written on a piece of paper how
to tune the dulcimer by ear.  Mama gave me his 4 dulcimer music books

I got out my tuner and started to tune it.  I noticed something on the
fretboard and had to put my glasses on to see.  Daddy had used an ink
pen and written the number 7 at the seventh fret, an 11 on the eleventh and 13 on the
thirteenth in ink!  I was mortified at first, then laughed to myself.  Daddy
was plain and simple.  He didn't have fancy mother of pearl dots or
anything, so he marked the frets himself.

I love that dulcimer better than meat loves salt, cousins.  I tuned it
d-a-a-d, I like the soulful sound it makes tuned like that and played
for over an hour...My Old Kentucky Home, Farther Along, Amazing Grace,
Tennessee Waltz (the lullaby my Daddy sung to me as a baby.)

I am glad it has his numbers printed on the fretboard.  It is
him...just like him to do that.

I have it now right beside my treasured dulcimers, one Bob Mize made
for me out of wormy chestnut, the Homer Ledford with the swan head.
(these are both treasures by the finest dulcimer makers of this day, though
Bob Mize died 2 years ago)  If I had to give one up, it wouldn't be
that old McSpadden for it is truely a treasure.

It is one of those things you keep, things you treasure.