The New Road

 

JD Thomas Walking Away from his Burning Home Place, Sprinkle Creek, Madison County, NC 1997
 

I know while JD's momma was still at home, after his dad died, I said, 'Momma, what if that road comes through your land?' And she said, 'Aw, woman. It'll never change. It'll never happen. We'll never have a road like that; it'll never be. I'm not worried about it.' It's just unreal. We used to walk over all those hills. We used to go after school and on the weekends, and we'd walk all the way to Big Knob. We'd play, and we'd go up in the fields and pick apples and grapes and all that stuff off the farm. It never even dawned on me that this was going to happen to that place. He won't admit this, but I knew that night they burned the house I could see tears. It hurt him. It really did.
                                                              Lela Thomas, Sprinkle Creek
                                                              - from The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress in Appalachia 

 

The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress in Appalachia will soon be out of print. This is Book Two of my proposed trilogy of books from Madison County. The book uses photographs, oral histories and narrative writing to tell the detailed story of the largest earth-moving project in North Carolina history. If you have yet to add this book to your collection, now is the time to do so. I will gladly sign and inscribe as you wish. Go to robamberg.com/store for information.

 

People recently in my life

 

Top Left, Cherokee Storyteller, Fred Bradley, Red Clay, Tennessee.
Top Right, Ballad Singer, Melanie Rice Penland, Sodom, Madison County, NC.
Bottom Left, Aniera Ayanakai Brzinski Sleeping on our couch, PawPaw, Madison County, NC.
Bottom Right, Jazz Keyboardist and Sax Player, Steve Davidowski, Anderson Branch, Madison County, NC.

Throughout my life I have had the good fortune to come in contact with and count as friends an amazing group of individuals. Here are four such people who have recently graced my world. Thank you all. You've made my life richer.

 

Dellie Feeding

 

Noted balladeer, Dellie Norton, Feeding Her Pets, Sodom, Madison County, NC 1975

Beginning October 1, and running throughout the month, Mars Hill University will be hosting a celebration to recognize the 100 year anniversary of Cecil Sharp's arrival in Madison County. Sharp was a British musicologist who came to Madison searching for ballads that had origins in the British Isles. He found more ballads, and singers of ballads, in our county than any other place in the country.

The ballad tradition is alive and thriving in Madison County. The University will be hosting an exhibit in Weizenblatt Gallery that looks at Sharp's legacy in the county. Artifacts, photographs, memorabilia, sound stations will be on display. An opening reception and ballad swap, which is a long-standing tradition at the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival, will take place in the gallery, beginning at 5 p.m. The Ballad Swap will feature singers who are descendants of the people Sharp collected from, some of them are 8th generation singers. Please join us for this remembrance of a very significant piece of Madison County History.

 

 

Supervisors Inspecting

 

Supervisors Inspecting site of a recent blast, Buckner Gap, Madison County, NC 1997
- from The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress in Appalachia

A worker stops, surprised to see me photographing among the just shattered rock. He warns me to watch out for unexploded blasting caps that could still detonate, if I were to step on them. 

 

Unidentified Infant Graves

 

Unidentified Infant Graves, Woody Cemetery, Mars Hill, NC 1996
- from The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress in Appalachia

 

I've thought often of these two children
In the twenty years since I pictured their graves.
One boxed. One shrouded.
Shrouded -
It's how I want to be laid to rest. 

But what of these two?
Born, lived, and died
At a time when this place was raw.
Probably the mid 1800s. But who knows?
No markers.
We don't know their names,
If even they had names.
Much less their ages.
Or cause of death. 

They weren't on this earth long,
judging by the size of the holes.
Maybe they died in childbirth.
Many did back then.
We can figure something of their lives,
a close proximation, at least.
From history, and stories, and
The shape of this place.

Birthed in a small cabin made of chestnut logs,
Perhaps with a midwife, but probably not.
Likely, their parents were farmers, subsistence, poor,
growing enough to survive, little more.
Maybe new immigrants, from Scotland or Ireland.
About to be caught up in the Civil War,
Or already lived through it.

The exhuming crew probes and prods and soon
uncovers the graves.
There's little evidence but for the shape of the holes.
A button, a remaining sliver of wood.
No bones or cloth. 
They box what they find with
a few shovels of dirt, to be
moved to a new unmarked grave. 
Away from the new road that's taking their resting place.




 

 
 

On Sheila's Porch

 

On Sheila's Porch, Madison County, NC 07/09/16

I say to students, 
Look beyond the subject to the background. 
See that it's not interfering or
competing.
But rather, enhancing and completing.
Sometimes you'll be surprised
And pleased by what you find.

And so it was on Sheila Kay's porch.
Me, making portraits.
Her, on the swing.
Quiet, pensive, assured.
Dreamy.
Like the background behind,
A reflection of the reality before.
A contemplation of her.
 

 

For Our World

 

Would be that it could always be like this.

Kate and friend at the 4th of July Party, Anderson Branch, Madison County, NC 1993

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren't you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind.
                         
- Langston Hughes

 

Mia Nonna

 

Jenny Galeano with me, her first grandson, Silver Spring, MD 1948.

My grandmother would have been 118 years old today had she lived. She didn't, dying at the ripe age of 96. We think. 
I wasn't her oldest grandchild. That honor goes to my two cousins pictured below, Janice Reed, who passed away earlier this year, and Dolores Oliveri who lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
But I was the first grandson, which in Italian families, carries a certain import that I presume includes wearing little dresses and berets. I do think the outfit served to inform and strengthen my feminist side. 
I've written about my grandmother before on this blog and here I've chosen to repost the eulogy I presented at her funeral in 1995. 

http://robamberg.com/blog/2013/7/4/hero-gram.html

 

Cousins Janice Reed (left) and Dolores Oliveri, maybe in Delaware, ca. 1947.

Time with Donna Ray

 

Donna Ray Norton, Sodom, Madison County, NC 2016

I had the good fortune to spend a few hours this past Sunday with Donna Ray Norton at her childhood home in Sodom. Donna is one of a small group of young people who continue to sing the ancient ballads that Madison County and Sodom are noted for. She is an 8th generation ballad singer and has a voice to die for. You can listen to her on this video that was produced by the Knoxville News Sentinel about seven years ago. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89g5hg-LpJM

In 1916, Cecil Sharp, the British musicologist, arrived in Madison County with his assistant, Maud Karpeles, where he collected more ballads than anywhere else in his travels through the southern mountains.  He famously claimed that people in Madison County were more comfortable singing than speaking. His work resulted in the definitive volume: English Folk Songs from the southern Appalachians, which was published in 1934. This fall Mars Hill University will mount an exhibition to celebrate the Cecil Sharp Centennial as part of their annual Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival, which will run from September 26 to October 21, 2016, with an opening reception on October 1 from 5-6 pm during the Festival. 

 

Doug and Jack

 

Doug (left) and Jack Wallin, Sodom, Madison County, NC 1994

 

As we prepare to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Cecil Sharp's coming to Madison County, where he collected more ballads than anywhere else in the country, here are two of the county's finest singers.

This photograph is an outtake from images I made in 1994 for their seminal album: Doug and Jack Wallin: Folk Songs and Stories from the North Carolina Mountains.