This weekend is Heritage Days, Rogersville’s weekend long celebration of history and culture. What this means for me is COMPANY’S COMING! SHOVE EVERYTHING UNDER THE BEDS!
Each year during the festival, a host of family and friends who’ve long since flown the Hawkins County coop, will return to roost, reunite, and temporarily fill my space with laughter, voices, jokes, laundry, children, tall tales and tons of shared memories with variations on the details. Jacqui, my best girlfriend from college, has even made the trek to Hawkins County from her new spot in Chicago. She hasn’t missed a festival since back in`94 when I had to swear a solemn oath that, despite the notable lack of black folks on the street, Rogersville did not have a secret city ordinance banning brown downtown.
She arrived yesterday and stopped by on her way to the motel to confiscate my Heritage Days Guidebook. I should tell you – Jacqui is a meticulous planner of all things, including fun. Every year, she combs through my Guidebook, every activity or performance which has some appeal. I don’t mind her guidebook filching since I’m too far to busy preparing for company (translation: hiding chaos, buying earplugs, and locking up the valuables) to highlight cloggers and banjo pickers. Plus, after the kids used the last package of highlighters to color the windows – so they’d be pretty like the ones at church – we added those to our list of “Items Not Permitted Indoors.” This list also includes Sharpies, sidewalk chalk, nails, frogs, potato guns, and the water hose.
Besides, my Heritage Days routine never varies. The family arrives on Saturday. We attend the festival. I stay until the kids spend my money, which takes approximately 15 minutes. I go home where I will referee 42 fistfights between feuding cousins, eat, drink, and be penniless but happy. By Sunday afternoon, no longer am I happy and wish everyone would go home so that I can begin the intense genealogical research, which will indubitably prove I am adopted. On Monday, I will miss them all terribly.
In short, I barely skimmed the pages. So, when Jacqui called squealing about Rough Edges, I thought she was having a hairdo problem. Then, I thought maybe this was in reference to a conversation we’d had, which I’d forgotten but should have remembered. Either way, I was convinced somebody was losing their mind – but I couldn’t determine if it were her or me.
Apparently, Rough Edges is a bluegrass band of which Chip McClain is a member. Years ago, Jacqui caught him doing an important bluegrass performance with important bluegrass type people at some important event about bluegrass – which I woudn’t know about because it’s bluegrass. She says Chippy is immensely talented and quite well-known. Really? I was shocked. Not because there’s something terribly odd about a black woman digging bluegrass. I came to terms years ago with Jacqui’s quirks ages ago. I was just caught off guard by the whole process of discussing lil’ Chippy McClain as though he were a bluegrass rock star.
I mean last time I’ve caught Chippy live… he was walking in the local Wal-Mart with his wife, Tina, and their baby. I assume they were probably off to buy something mundane and un-rockstarish like diapers or bologna. And it’s not that I think he can’t be rock-starish in a bluegrass sort of way – it’s just that I’ve known Chippy since kindergarten. His people live next door to my people. Our Daddy’s pick (guitars) togather. Our Mamma’s were in PTA together; she’s the sweetest lil’ thing ever. And I know he’s bright and talented. I also know he never stuck fish sticks up his nose, smelled funny or wiped snot on his sleeve.
And think once you’ve known someone for so long and seen firsthand how their Mama dressed them, memories cloud your vision. You’re not able to ever see them as they truly are – grown and fabulous. Despite the addition of wrinkles, widsom, children, accomplishments, acclaim, and years – to me, he’s still little Chippy in high-waders from down the road.
To others, he’s Chippy the bluegrass bigwig with a fan base that includes a half-crazy black lady hailing from Chicago.
How cool is that?