Monday, October 8, 2012

As the scene changes

Dorky title, huh? 

Sure, it’s a play on that old soap opera title, the one where the globe went spinning across a starlit sky at the beginning of each episode and the writers had the power to hold viewers spellbound five days a week for more than forty years. 

But after more than forty years in Illinois, our scene has changed – my husband’s and mine. We left the prairie where we spent all of our years together and moved to the hills of Missouri, a couple hours from the rocky, tree-filled, creek-crossed landscape my grandfather left behind almost a century ago. 

There was a lot I looked forward to in moving down here – the slower pace of life, great neighbors waiting to welcome us, wildlife who believe they’re neighbors, a lake we love, and rocks, trees and creeks like those my grandpa left behind. 

And there were things I knew I’d miss – family still in Illinois, friends from work and the community, events related to the history and literature of Illinois and to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. 

Illinois has history
The Bloomington, Ill. area where we lived the last decade and a half is in the heart of the Eighth Judicial Circuit in which Lincoln practiced law and was encouraged to run for the Presidency. It’s close enough to Springfield that I could attend daytime events and evening lectures at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln’s Home, the Old State Capitol, or the University of Illinois at Springfield, and near enough to Galesburg for me to make Sandburg Days activities most springs. 

I knew I’d miss those things – the intellectual stimulation, the camaraderie, the sense of pride in those communities rich in history. 

Over the past few weeks, though, as our scene has changed – from that of the prairie to the hills and waters of Missouri and from the green of summer to the panorama of color I’m capturing in my journal each day – we’ve found our cultural enrichment scenery changing, too. 

Twice in the last few weeks, I journeyed south a couple hours to Mansfield, Mo. to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum. The first time was to take a friend, a fellow writer, so she could get a sense of where Laura was when she wrote her Little House books.  The second time, my neighbor joined me for the community’s Wilder Days festival. The day’s rain could not dampen our enthusiasm nor make flat the sounds pouring forth as Mansfield native David Scrivener played Pa Ingalls’ fiddle and a seasoned local performer accompanied him on the guitar. 

Missouri’s got talent
Last week, my hubby and I traveled to Eldon for the community’s Turkey Festival. There, we listened – for free – to local musicians playing blue grass and gospel music. We heard an inspirational singer from Kansas City, a great classic rock band, complete with trumpet player, and 15-year-old “America’s Got Talent” quarterfinalist, Jake Wesley Rogers of Ozark, Mo. This young man is amazing. He may not have taken top honors in the television competition, but Jake is a winner. We’ve surely not yet heard the end of this young man, who made his parents ever more proud that Saturday afternoon as he entertained the crowd in the small town where the couple grew up. 

Are you wondering if we were becoming tired of music after a day traversing a small town with stages at each end and in the middle of one of its main streets? 

Nope, not at all. 

We went directly from there to the Octoberfest at a Laurie church, where one man played accordion by the outside beer tent and a band inside (with another accordion, of course – and a sax) played polkas, German tunes, some classic rock and the chicken dance, with many of the dancers donning chicken hats.

This week, we headed out again on a Saturday morning, for the Apple Festival in Versailles. I had but one thing on my agenda for this weekend adventure – attending the fiddle contest at the community’s Royal Theatre. 

When we arrived in Versailles, we first hit another Octoberfest, this one without music or a beer tent, but with a gooseberry pie so good it made up for the lack of auditory and alcoholic accompaniments. 

Once downtown, we made our way up and down the streets and around the square. We were pleased to see the same Kansas City singer that we’d heard the week before beginning to warm up on one stage. Warming up on this Saturday was just that. With temps in the 40s, it wasn’t just the singer’s vocal chords that were cool. The audience, hands in pockets, huddled for warmth, felt the chill too – so much so that they ran most of the vendors out of hot chocolate as the day danced forth. 

Spreading good news with blues
As we waited for the fiddle contest, we made our way to one street-end stage, where a blues band played, but not just any blues band. The t-shirts on the table near where Springfield Blues played read, “Using Blues to Spread the Good News.” These guys were good – from the lead singer to the harmonica player – and I couldn’t help but wonder if the four Harleys parked near the band weren’t one more way they reach out to an audience sometimes resistant to the news they wish to share. 

We were sure the fiddle contest would be the highlight of our day and we weren’t disappointed. The talent ranged from two young female fiddlers as different as night and day – one looking like the soft-spoken girl next door and another with an awesome Mohawk – to the senior division fiddlers – two women, including 82-year-young spunky fiddler Gertrude Hunt (who also is a heck of a yodeler), to the open division with one woman and a gentleman whose fiddle and skills said, “I’ve been at this for decades.”

We tapped our toes, swayed with the waltzes and wished at the end that the music would keep on playing. We learned that, a few years ago, when the contest was at risk of being discontinued, a family came forward to sponsor it, saying something like, “That’s part of our heritage. We can’t let it die.”

We’re glad they didn’t. 

Near the end of the chilly afternoon, we had one more treat – listening to another Missouri native who is making music her profession. We sat on freezing cold bleachers and watched former Stover resident, now Nashville entertainer, Shelly Bush, and her all girl broadBand, perform on an outdoor stage.

“Heck,” we thought, “if they can stand out here and sing and play, we can sure listen.” It was worth sitting in the cold for, and as they sang the Zac Brown Band hit, “Chicken Fried,” Little Big Town’s “Pontoon,” and more, the music made the day just a little warmer. 

Yes, our scene has changed – not just the view outside our window, but the culture we take into our hearts. But, as the family sponsoring that fiddle contest says, “It’s our heritage,” and in learning about it, this student of regional history is adding another page to her life’s chapbook.