Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Taking the Show on the Road

“Ain’t she cute… See her sliding down the chute … Now I ask you very confidentially … ain’t she cute.”
Who recorded this song? Did it sell a million records? I couldn’t tell you. I only heard it when my Dad was behind the wheel of his 1960s era Buick.
The acoustics were better in my Mom’s Volkswagen Beetles, both the 1963, and the 1967 models and the 1973 VW Fastback. Here’s where we formed a family trio, Sister singing lead soprano, and Mom and I providing alto and tenor harmonies. Our selections varied widely, from hymns and choir anthems, to the Beatles and even Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn”.
My oldest son caught the bug quite early. He knew every word to Kenny Rogers’ Gambler at the age of three. The first few times he sang “I wish you could have turned my head, and left my heart alone …”, I was scrambling for a pencil, thinking I had a musical prodigy on my hands. I was just a little disappointed when I heard the Oak Ridge Boys perform the same song on the car radio, and realized that’s where he’d learned it.
My daughter says that one of her favorite memories of summer vacations involve me and her dad assisting Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn on their duets while driving. “Louisiana woman ..” “Mississippi man ..” “We get together every time we can.” The kids in the back seat happily provided the back-up.
The second son also took his old buddy Conway, along with other artists of all varieties, on trips back and forth to Fayetteville. Windows rolled down, stereo turned up, plenty of Mountain Dew for energy- the trip out of the mountains seemed a little shorter.
The next generation of vocalists is thriving, too. Oldest grandson Jordan could sing recognizable melodies before he could form complete sentences. One of his favorite serenades from the back seat started with the words “My Jesus, My Savior”. After that, the words he sang were not intelligible, even though the tune was intact. He was really disappointed, though, that I didn’t know the words either. After several lessons from him, and a few trips around the Christian radio dial, I finally got the hang of it, and we made a pretty good team.
Latest to join the family “circle” is grandson Austin. At five, his favorites are Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, though he also belts out “I Saw the Light” by Hank Williams(senior).
A couple of years ago, a writer friend of mine accompanied me to a conference in Southeast Kansas. We attended the early service at two different churches before starting back home that Palm Sunday. Something about the Ozark mountains must have inspired us, as we sang every hymn our memories could muster from the top of “the hill” in Fayetteville to well past Morrilton on I-40. Though we knew many of the same songs, she taught me some new verses, and I expanded her repertoire with my old-time Church of Christ selections.
So, the logical end of this story would be that at least one family member or friend now lives in Nashville, and a recording career looms on the horizon. Sorry to disappoint you, but hey- none of us has ever been arrested for road rage, either! Enjoy the rest of your summer, and if you see me tooling down the freeway with my mouth wide open in song, just wave!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why the USA?

Fireworks explode overhead. Children make designs in the air with hot, sparkly rods of metal. Bands play songs that are impossible to listen to without tapping our toes to the rhythm. It’s all a part of the annual birthday party that is uniquely American. Looking around in the crowd, we see so many different types of people, each with their own story.
Each branch of our family tree has its own tales. Older family members have passed them along, some as simple narration of facts, others with much embellishment and bravado. All together, they make up the rich fabric that makes us who we are today.
My dad’s side of the family, the McLeods, originated in Scotland. My grandpa’s grandpa and grandma arrived in the US around 1880. Times had been hard in the Scottish Highlands. John McLeod came to America first, and after moving from the Pennsylvania coal mines to Eastern Kansas, he sent for his wife, Mary Whiteford McLeod. She and her four small boys set out across the Atlantic, and in the midst of the difficult journey, their fifth son was born. Once in Kansas, they left the dark world of the mines to become ranchers.
My Mother’s grandfather, Karl Maurer came to America just a few years earlier from Germany. Not speaking any English or having any family in his new home, he enlisted in the Army. His several tours of duty took him through Oklahoma, Kansas, and points west. Because the army was engaged with making the frontier safe for white settlers, much of his time was spent working with the Indians. After a twenty year military career and becoming an American citizen, he married the daughter of an Army musician. Though twenty years younger, she was also of good German stock. They settled near his last assignment, the Presidio in California.
My husband’s family stories all take place in the United States. It seems that on both sides, his ancestors have been in America much longer than mine.
The Carlisle legend centers around four brothers who were shipwrecked in North Carolina. Though I haven’t been able to verify the shipwreck, the location is correct, and for generations, there is a tradition of Carlisle boys traveling and settling together. As to where they came from, or why, indications seem to lead to the importance of their faith. During the Revolutionary war, they were not soldiers, but there is a Carlisle who was a shoemaker that traveled with the Army. Conscientious objector? After moving to Mississippi, they were reportedly Mennonites. In Arkansas, they are listed as founders of a church in Grant County. Doing what is needed for the local congregation is a tradition that continues today.
My husband’s Grandpa Weaver’s grandmother was a survivor of the tragic massacre at Mountain Meadows in Utah in 1857. After returning home to Arkansas, these children made it their life’s mission to share the truth of what had happened to their families. Though the official story involved an Indian attack, the children had seen past the war paint and recognized the murderers as the same Mormon settlers who had earlier promised to protect the wealthy wagon train. Their courage helped bring the story out, and the misguided zealots to justice.
What’s your story? I know you have more than one. Have you shared it with your children and grandchildren? If they don’t seem interested now, write it down. Someday, they will want to know, and they will be proud to understand more about where they came from.
Whether or not you know why your ancestors came here, these stories are so uniquely American. Nowhere else on earth do so many different threads converge into such a rich, warm quilt.
Happy Birthday America! We love to hear your stories!