A mountain music camp adventure

Happy birthday to you… Last week that melody played over and over in my head as I began teaching some talented youth how to play the fiddle. While I have not taught in years, my friend Mark Wheeler of the three-time Dove award nominees – Marksmen Quartet asked me to help with his annual Marksmen Mountain Music Camp near Dahlonega, Ga. where children have the opportunity to get their feet wet playing a string instruments of their choice – guitar, mandolin, bass, fiddle, banjo or piano – or furthering the skills they already have by playing with seasoned professional musicians who work to inspire the musician within.

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The Marksmen – “This Is My Crowd”

Throughout my career in music, one of my favorite acts to hear, watch on stage and to know has been the Marksmen Quartet of Murrayville, Ga. I was part of the group for several years in the 1980s and continue to aid them with promoting their weekly tours in venues around the country. That experience continues to emphasis to me the popularity of this two-time Dove Award nominee now marking 45 years of history, has not waned.

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The miracle of a migraine

With each passing year all of us have dates that we mark in our minds or hearts as important.
As I reach the end of August each year my thoughts reflect on the last days of my late father, Floyd, who passed on Aug. 30, 1987.
In his last days, Dad faced a fierce but short battle with lung cancer. Years of smoking had led him into a skirmish I know he did not want to face at the young age of 54.

On Aug. 29, I arose early to take a school exam. Upon returning from school my father asked me to drive him about 30 miles away to look at a used riding lawnmower.

It had been just six weeks since he had been diagnosed.

They told him if treatments were successful he could have five years more to share with us. As with most people who undergo chemotherapy, he experienced a rough six weeks. His once perfect hair, which as a child I had so many times seen him carefully take his black comb from his pocket and straighten the ridge at the front of his head, now was gone and his body was almost a shell of the strong man I had grown to love and depend on in so many ways.
Dad used the trip for the lawnmower to tell me how proud he was of me and shared some hopes for my future.

We drove and I listened.
He said that he enjoyed the years of helping me as road manager as I traveled on the road playing music. He and Mom took care of the countless details which were needed out there that we never even knew about.
I wish I could remember every word, but I can’t.

Perhaps in many ways I was trying to block what he said because in my heart I knew this was his way of telling me goodbye.
I do not know how he knew his time was nearing. I later found out he had spent much of the previous day doing the same with my Mom. He was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my brother, who lived out of town, so he could also speak with him.
We checked out the mower and of course we did not buy it. We went on our way back to the house.

Upon returning, I prepared to leave for a show. I was performing at the annual Gospel Gold Festival with the Marksmen quartet in Dahlonega.
We did our show around 7 p.m., then I visited with folks around the record table signing a few autographs. The Florida Boys, one of my early TV heroes, were scheduled to perform at 10 p.m., so I was going to wait to see them for the first time.
As I sat at the table, I began to develop a tremendous migraine. As nausea set in, I knew I had to leave and make the two hour drive back home.
I turned to the Marksmen leader, Earle Wheeler, and said “I’ve got to go now, if I don’t I will not be able to make it.”
The symptoms progressively got worse on the trip home but I pressed on through the darkness.
As I pulled onto Warwick Circle, all the lights in my house were on. I rushed in to find nobody home. There was a note on the kitchen table from my mom, which said “Gone to Hospital.” On the phone were two urgent messages from her. I jumped in my truck and rushed to the hospital.

As I entered the hospital I was ushered quickly to the seventh floor. I saw a lady in the distance near the pay phone. I did not even recognize her as my mother. The weight of the circumstances were heavy on her shoulders.

My father insisted on spending his time not in a hospital room but in the patient’s day room.
I arrived just in time to share my father’s last hour before God called him home. Mom and I held his hands as he literally walked into that good night. And he did walk straight into God’s arms.
When I reached the door to our house earlier that evening, that headache and all the symptoms which had beckoned me home were gone.
I was sent a message to come home through God’s telephone.
If God had not placed upon me that affliction, I would have stayed and enjoyed the show and would have missed being with my Dad in those final moments.
That migraine was a miracle to me that helped me to experience what life and death is really about; it’s about the people we love and how we share our time together.

Blue Ridge Mountain Memories with The Marksmen Quartet

What happens when you take 43 years singing and music experience and mix 20 of the most notable hymns of the church and some new material – you get the Marksmen Quartet’s latest CD “Blue Ridge Mountain Memories” from Rural Rhythm.

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