Yesterday evening I hung out with some members of the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild and didn’t get home til late, by Tennessee standards. It must have been close to 11:30 when I left the party. I thought about posting a blog entry then, but the fireflies were blinking, so I sat in the back doorway and treated myself to prime time in the meadow.
There’s a cemetery up the hill behind my llittle house. It’s all tumbling down, broken headstones, turf churned up by tree roots, wrought iron gates twisted. It’s oozing and seeping with atmosphere. Tim Burtonesque. Sinister, but in a warm fuzzy way.
I’ve been told, by two of the guild members who do historical tours, that this was the first integrated cemetary in town. I didn’t pick up whether or not it was also a first for Washington County, or for the proposed State of Franklin, or for the whole State of Tennessee. Anyway, it was the first time people in this zip code were buried together irrespective of race. That happened in 1873. That was the year of a great cholera epidemic.
One of those historical tour guides told me 3000 people were buried here. I didn’t see nearly that many headstones and markers. A couple hundred is all I saw. Maybe. She told me most of the dead were in trenches. People were dying in droves, and they didn’t have time to be picky about who was laid to their eternal rest next to whom.
One of the reasons I stayed out so late last night was because I was hoping one of the guests would give us just one more song. Peppered throughout the conversation among us storytellers last night, there were tales told and, in one case songs shared. I wish I knew that woman’s last name — her first name’s Marcy — so I you could Google it and buy her CDs. She’s a storyteller / singer-songwriter / musician (besides her day job as, I think, a reading specialist). Her musical genre is what she calls “Bluesgrass” and what a friend of hers calls “Appalachian Soul.” She didn’t have her guitar with her, so she sang a capella.
It took me back to a time when I was playing hostess to a friend who taught adjunct at the university up the street from me in Fredericksburg. One time when she was visiting she was working on transcribing for piano one of Astor Piazzola’s tangos. She played it for me. On my out-of-tune spinet. And I still remember how I felt washed and filled, hammered and caressed with that music happening, warts and all, right there in front of me. That’s what it was like last night hearing Marcy sing.
This place is positively lousy with history, with heritage, with culture — and with artists who know how to give it life. Makes me wonder why they exert so much energy bringing us out-of-towners in when there’s all this talent right on the doorstep. I’m delighted to have been offered this gig; and I’m having a blast with it. And I know it’s good to reach beyond your boundaries and your comfort zone. AND I am struck over and over and over again at the way we human beans tend to overlook the gems right there in our own back yards. (Peddler of Swaffham, anyone?)
Today I’ll be doing my own historical interpretive piece about the First Battle of Fredericksburg — the very one that the City of Fredericksburg and its historians were never interested in. At least not while I lived in their backyard. And yes, I do believe it is a gem.