Friday, October 14, 2016

Going "Illiterary" on the Farm

Previously in this space, in extolling the virtues of bluegrass music even for those who may be averse to it, I called it the “music of the front porch.” I hope that all of us have had, at some point, the sublime experience of music making with friends and family; my own grandfather and great uncle were the performers for many nights spent on back porches in my childhood. Beyond the acts who take the stage each year at Andalusia’s Bluegrass Festival, my favorite part of the evening is invariably the musicians who bring their own instruments to our porches to “pick and grin” with whoever may be nearby. Last year, an ad hoc band of two guitars and a fiddle cropped up on the Hill House porch and provided welcoming, sweet “entrance music” for so many first-time visitors. (That hour is also a fond memory of the staff at Andalusia due to the warmth and talent of our friend, the late Russ Edwards, the performer pictured on the right below, whose presence at this year’s festival we will sorely miss.)

One of the refreshing things about the festival is its opportunity to bring in so many visitors who aren’t hard-pressed to brush up on “O’Connoriana” before coming. On a “normal” day at the farm, the conversations we have with our visitors turn, at some point, to their experiences with the fiction. We get all the answers: yes, no, and somewhere in between. All of which are correct, of course; we’ll make the visit of the uninitiated a pilgrimage on its own and turn our space into a unique look at rural, agricultural life in the middle of the 20th Century. (And maybe do a little “mission work” on behalf of O’Connor’s prose along the way.) Indeed, many visitors on these normal days remark on how the kitchen in the main house will remind them of a grandparent’s house. For other visitors, the farm its own unique quiet spot away from the traffic of Highway 441 and the “guided tours” of other spots along their itinerary.

There’s a wonderful line and sentiment from the last paragraph of Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” An African-American mother has just seen one daughter, Dee, go back to college via a rather tense exit, and she’s enjoying the quiet with the remaining daughter, Maggie: “[The] two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.” Sitting and enjoying as an end unto itself is an almost unheard of sentiment in 2016, and maybe even in our own line of work we can occasionally forget to make room for times of reflection. I remark of education frequently in this space, and our attempts to create lifelong readers and lovers of learning. Sitting and enjoying puts us in the right mind to broaden our horizons, from picking up a reading copy of the Collected Stories in Uncle Louis’s room in the main house or, for the evening of November 5, coming to a new appreciation of the unique harmonies and melodies of a style of music that modern radios seem not to have room for anymore.

Daniel Wilkinson will serve as host of the Bluegrass Festival on November 5 as part of his duties as Bon Vivant.

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