103 Years and counting – an American treasure Violet Hensley

I just got off the phone doing something that only a handful of folks get to do in life. I wished “Happy Birthday” to a friend – Violet Hensley – who was celebrating her 103rd birthday.
There are moments just such as these which bring people together. Common experiences such as championship wins of athletes or sporting teams, pivotal events which shape our nation or the world, iconic performances or awards by those who inspire us through performance.
I spent a couple years of my life helping Violet bring together her life story for the book “Whittlin’ and Fiddlin’ My Own Way: The Violet Hensley Story” a few years ago.
She has entertained countless millions both live and on television through appearances on American standards such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Captain Kangaroo,” “To Tell the Truth,” “Regis and Kathie Lee” and countless other shows through decades of performing. She even reached her dream of playing the Grand Ole Opry, a show that came on the air when she was 9 years old and was initially heard on a battery powered radio in the rural Arkansas farm area of Alamo where she grew up. She has appeared three times since her 99th birthday.
She is one of America’s first nationally known female fiddlers and fiddler makers who had inspired generations of girls and boys on every imaginable children’s show from coast to coast to know they could play American music and even learn to build a fiddle if they desired. Someone who became the image of one of America’s most iconic theme parks and thus an American folk legend.
Much like Dolly Parton for Dollywood and Mickey Mouse for Disneyland – Violet Hensley’s smile, laughter, wit and uplifting spirit, helped shape the family memories and experiences that fueled Midwestern American culture. As she continues the path before her, this season she is working at Fall Festival in Branson at Silver Dollar City where folks have seen her for 53 seasons. They are still giving love back to her for a lifetime of entertaining, teaching, and encouraging and thanking her for all the struggles and hardships that went along with it and fueled her life experience.
Last year, the Arkansas Living Treasure was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. Thank you, Violet, for touching America and the world with your talents, your strong-willed work ethic and never-faltering faith! To learn more about her visit VioletHensley.com or like “Whittlin’ and Fiddlin’ My Own Way” on Facebook. There is much to learn about life from someone who lived 103 years, who raised a large family while living as a farmer/migrant farm worker, and all the time keeping the tradition of Ozark music alive and thriving.

Rawel and the dreadful snake

As Rawel reared up, the buckboard came to an abrupt halt, tossing Pearl and the other children riding in its back to its bed.
Rawel, a gentle-natured red mule, seldom became agitated, but in this instance he just couldn’t help but get his back up as a rattlesnake coiled up in front of him tried to strike at his legs.
Rawel used all he had to try to land on the snake’s head as he bucked, but it was a shot from Grandpa Bill’s Colt .45 that laid the snake flat.
Grandpa quickly jumped down to comfort Rawel and see if any of the rattler’s strikes had hit their mark.
He carefully followed up and down Rawel’s legs, and thankfully the snake’s aim was in vain.
Grandpa then went over and checked out the snake, and found he had not lost he touch as the bullet had passed gracefully through the snake’s head.
He walked back to the buckboard and pulled out a burlap sack, he then carefully placed the snake inside and told Pearl and the other kids to keep their arms and legs away from it.
“Why?” Pearl asked.
“Well, those critters have a way of biting you even after they’re dead. Once we get home and I get him skinned and cleaned, I’ll bury the head so it will no longer be a trouble to anyone,” he said.
“They’ll bite you after they’re dead?” Pearl asked.
“I guess that has something to do with the fact that it was the serpent that the old devil used to trick Adam and Eve,” Grandpa said.
“How’s that?” she asked.
“I reckon that those poor critters are meant to be as mean in death as they were in life, and they just never get a chance to be nice to no one,” he said.
“Oh,” she said. “There sure are a lot of folks that are like them critters. I mean they are mean. Just take Wendy Sue McAllister up in seventh grade. She is always picking on all the girls who wear homemade clothes, making fun of us and calling us Homesewn Sallies.”
“Now Pearl, you got to realize that some folks just aren’t as well off as we are,” he said. “They don’t have someone who can take a few pieces of pretty cloth and some string and make a tailor-made outfit as beautiful as you have on. They have to go all the way to town and try on clothes right off the rack. Why them things don’t have a stitch of love sewn in them anywhere cause the people that sewed them didn’t know who they were for.”
“So, I have a better dress than what she has?” Pearl asked.
“Much better,” he said.
“Does this mean that Wendy Sue McAllister really isn’t like one of them there mean, creepy-crawly snakes?” she asked.
“Just cause her folks don’t care enough about her to make her clothes, she wants to take it out on all you that do. I would say that makes her a little mean, but there is always a root to every bit of meanness. If you work hard enough to overcome it you can find that there is some good down in there, too,” he said.
“It must be way down there,” Pearl said.
“Maybe, Maybe,” he said as Rawel’s hooves guided the buckboard back towards the old farmhouse that sits below the Gravelly Spur Mountain.
(A story from Randall Franks’s book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”)

Old time country music is alive and well in Nebraska

Many across America recently sat watching PBS as Ken Burns walked us through his perspective of the history of country music. It was an amazing effort in taking a wide-ranging American experience that encompasses more than a century of talents who shaped music locally, regionally and ultimately those who shined nationally and internationally. He shaved it down to a multiple-hour documentary which reflects greatly upon our genre.
But for me, I recently traveled across 7 states to attend the 44th Annual Old Time Country Music Festival in Fremont, Nebraska. I was among fans who traveled from around the world – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all across the United States to hear and see artists of all types.
The performers shared folk songs and tunes brought by Irish, English, German, Scottish pioneers as they settled in the Americas. Songs and tunes created by the cowboys and cowgirls, from the deserts, from the mountains, performed by old and young. Bluegrass, folk, Americana, gospel, western, country, blues and even a touch of country-flavored rock and roll encouraged attendees to clap their hands, mouth the words, and kick up their heels.
Performers from around the world who also perform traditional country were part of the lineup. From the earliest fiddle tunes to the country songs the audience sparked to in the 1950s to the 1990s, no attendees went away without a musical memory to make them smile.
The event offered three stages from the intimate acoustic stage where artists performed for an elite group of 40 fans to stages to the main stage which featured well known artists from all the genres. Youth performed alongside legendary stars reflecting a tradition of its long history perpetuated by organizers Bob and Sheila Everhart and the National Traditional Country Music Association exposing new talents to audiences who seek to see their favorites.
As part of the event, the association presented its music awards and inducted America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Famers which they have done since 1977.
Some among this year’s honorees were Grand Ole Opry star Jeannie Seely, and country singers Jeannie C. Riley, Gail Davies, Jimmy Bowen, and Doreen Brown of Canada. Arizona Hall of Famer Ed Gary was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. I was also privileged to be in this year’s class of Hall of Fame inductees.
I encourage you to visit https://www.music-savers.com/hall-of-fame to see a full list of inductees and their CD awards for this year and learn more about how to support the organization, its Iowa museum, and when and where you can support future events. Check out some of these amazing acts and get their music.

The trip to town

I remember as a boy, I always looked forward to Saturday when I was visiting with my grandparents. That meant we would be taking a trip to town. It could mean some time in the 5&10, the grocery store or a stroll around the Courthouse Square or visiting with folks at the farmer’s market.

Going to town was special and meant the folks would put on their best clothes and their best manners.

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Candidates around the cracker barrel

It is the time of year when towns across America find political signs for local campaigns filling the right-of-ways and yards as fundraising barbeques and door-to-door canvassing is in full swing.
For many years, I have had the pleasure of living in small town America, in a community that up until this decade enjoyed amiable competition on occasion for the available council seats. You had men or women give their vision of what they wanted to do and then the voters came out at the polls and picked the vision they preferred.
Our little town was even less competitive than Mayberry in the episodes where “The Andy Griffith Show” centered around the council and sheriff’s races. I remember years ago as a newspaper reporter gathering three council candidates with bottles of Coca-Cola in or near their hands as two faced each other off in a game of checkers on an old cracker barrel while the other one watched. All laughing and joking throughout. That is the way it was for decades of our history.
Sadly, the advent of social media and those that use it has transformed many uplifting positive communities into a sea of dissatisfaction fueled by the egging on of candidates who are seeking any opportunity to gain a bit of attention for their campaign. Negativity, slights, one-up-man-ship seem to now be the approach of this decade’s group of candidates.
There was a time in our community, if a candidate went around bad-mouthing their opponent, that was a sure loss in the making for the bad mouther. Our great folks were just not going to stand for it and did not wish to be led by those who would do it.
Now though I am seeing candidates who make a sport of trying to destroy or hurt others through social media or other means who are applauded for their efforts. They are given pats on the back for the evil done. While this is certainly a norm in national and even some state elections, our small towns do not need this type of behavior among our leaders.
We should be the beacons of civility, the populace of principles, the sages of political strategy, by allowing only the best to serve us. Small town offices often are little more than volunteer positions that require hours of dedication, training, reading, creating relationships all to benefit our communities. Other leaders want to partner with leaders they can depend upon to follow through with regional and state led efforts at the local level. That takes character and solid leadership.
I have heard said “Well. it’s just campaign rhetoric,” but it seeps into governing as well.
As the elections are in full swing, and you pick the candidates you want to lead, look beyond the nice family photos, the slick election mailers, and look to the actions and the heart of the candidate not as they portray their actions in social media and commercials but as they conduct themselves in real life.
I long for the day of three men or women who state their visions and let us decide without running the other candidate down.
I lived it before not so long ago. I miss it. If I could trade this social media world for that again, I would flip the switch in a heartbeat.
Maybe we all can flip the switch ourselves in our respective towns by earnestly choosing the candidates that are not trying to win a social media popularity contest but will actually do the job to serve. When we go in our voting booth and cast our ballot for good decent civil people who have our interests at heart, maybe in our little way, that will be taking us all to a better small-town experience, no matter the size of our community.