Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Just when you think you've seen everything ...

I've mentioned how much I enjoy the street festivals: getting to play dulcimer out in the fresh air, seeing old friends, making new friends, selling CDs, promoting our upcoming events ... people-watching is enjoyable, too, and, in many of the festivals we enjoy dog-watching. Dunedin, Florida, the site of last weekend's festival, is one of the best places to see dogs on parade! It's near a huge dog-racing track, so there are all sorts of rescued Greyhounds to admire; over the years I've also come to recognize the three Chihuahuas who are shuttled around in the baby carriage, the two Boxers, the huge black Great Dane; we saw dogs of all sizes and colors and breeds ... 

So who was the Pet of the Weekend? George, the goose. Yes, that's right. An exceptionally well-trained goose, who evidently thinks he's a person. He was quite a celebrity. He graciously allowed children and adults alike to pet him. He certainly wasn't intimidated by the dogs. He paused, briefly, to check out my CDs ... but his master, who was a few paces ahead, called out, "C'mon, George, you're falling behind!" And George waddled along, squawking under his breath, to catch up.

We're still chuckling.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The past 10 days in Ohio have been for the most part unseasonably warm, and the leaves slow to change to their autumn hues.  But in the last three or four days we've been treated to a riot of color as the trees have finally begun to break into their rich golds and yellows; deep, almost purplish, reds; and my favorite of all, a shimmering color that's too soft to be red, yet too vibrant to be orange; I've decided it's God's Own Red, and it takes my breath away every time I see it.

Our Ohio place of residence was the Lock 30 Woodlands RV Resort, "officially" located in Lisbon but actually closer to tiny Elkton.  It may be the nicest campground we've ever stayed in, with all of the campsites forming a single-file ring around a huge partially wooded infield.  I'm a little too spoiled to declare it perfect, as we had only intermittent cell phone service and no cable TV, but there was WiFi, a spotless laundry, a game room with pool, foosball and arcade games, and a library.

And there was Blackjack.  When we first arrived, I was a little suspicious of the large black dog that wandered around the grounds.  Since campgrounds are usually very strict about dogs being on leash, I assumed that he must be a stray, or a wayward resident of some nearby farm.  But after observing him a couple of days, I noticed that he made rounds, visiting select campsites, hanging out for a brief period, then moving on.  One day as I left the laundry, he loped over towards me and began to follow me back towards our site.  Knowing that he might not be welcomed by our own pooch, Maggie Muggins, I turned to him and firmly said, "No.  You stay."  To  my amazement, he obeyed.

A few hours later, Greg and I were sitting outside with Maggie when the black dog, quietly and with bowed head, began pacing back and forth at the entrance to our site.  It was as if he were asking permission to visit.  What a polite dog (if a dog can be polite)!  We called to him; slowly and cautiously, he approached us.  But Maggie would have none of it!  She strained at the end of her chain, barking and growling, defending her little territory against this intruder.  So the black dog made a dignified retreat (if a dog can be dignified), as if to say, "I do not go where I am not wanted.  There are plenty of others who welcome me and I don't need to waste my time."

I was sorry for the snippy behavior of my pet, so I followed the dog until we were out of Maggie's sight, then called to him.  He immediately lay down and rolled over which, if you are a dog lover, you know is the dog's way of signifying that he's not a threat and doesn't consider you to be one either.  I petted the huge head and rubbed the belly and as he turned to face me, saw that he had only one eye.  "Poor old fellow," I thought, "what's your story?"  His collar said that he was Blackjack, and listed an address that looked familiar; perhaps the address of the campground itself.  Greg came over then, and the two of them had a brief visit, before Blackjack made off for the rest of his rounds.

Next day I was at the laundry when one of the workers drove up in a golf cart, and who should be her passenger, but Blackjack.  So I asked her about him, and was told that he was "sort of the campground dog."  As to the eye and the slight limp, I was told that in his younger days, Blackjack was an inveterate chaser of cars, who liked to pretend to bite at the tires.  But one winter day, the truck that he was chasing slid on a patch of ice, and Blackjack was hit.  Badly injured, he ran off into the woods -- to die, they thought, and though they searched and called, he was not to be found.  But two days later, Blackjack came back.  It took a while for him to mend from his injuries, and his blinded eye had to be removed, but he did recover, and his tire-biting days are long past.  Nowadays, Blackjack trots alongside certain vehicles, occasionally barking, noisily, happily, but always at a safe distance.

I suppose Blackjack's story is much like the story many of us could tell.  We engage ourselves in foolish pursuits, the possible negative consequences of which are so obvious to practically everyone but ourselves.  Sometimes we encounter suffering and pain -- and not necessarily of the physical kind.  The wisest among us learn from the experience.  But the wisdom is in two parts: one part is the specific lesson learned; one part is in the approach to the lesson.  Dogs have the right approach -- they may appear to possess human virtues such as politeness and dignity, but they are incapable of the bitterness and self-recrimination that we humans wallow in after a setback.  And they certainly are incapable of destructive wishful thinking -- you know, the one where you think over the bad situation and analyze it to determine the specific error that led to your injury, and then you spend lots of time wishing that you could continue your behavior unchanged except for that one outcome.  If Blackjack were human, he may have decided that the blame lay with the icy road conditions, rather than chasing cars!

But dogs aren't human -- thank goodness! -- they're dogs, and they live in the here and now, rather than in the what if and if only.  I've long suspected that God gave us dogs as examples of unconditional love, faith, loyalty, trust, living in the present and so much more; yet I know that God's lessons come through whatever "teacher" we are most in tune with.

I'd like to say that Maggie and Blackjack eventually became best buddies, but that's not what happened.  Oh, there was the time that Greg ducked inside the trailer to fill Maggie's water dish, and returned outside  to find that she'd somehow slipped her lead and was heading full-tilt toward -- you guessed it -- Blackjack.  We held our breaths as we watched the two dogs circle each other, sniffing at pawing at each other.  When we called to Maggie, Blackjack turned toward us with a grin (if a dog can grin) and then galloped right over to where we were standing, Maggie frisking right behind him.  When it was Frosty Paw (a frozen treat for dogs) time that night, we gave Maggie her treat, and Blackjack one too (he happily ate both the ice cream and the paper cup!).  After they'd had their little frolic that afternoon, and later had eaten their treats in companionable silence, Greg and I figured that Maggie had finally warmed to Blackjack.  But it was not to be.  She continued to snarl and snap whenever he offered to come on our site ... and he continued with his philosophical acceptance of her behavior.

Good-bye, ol' Blackjack, 'til next year!  You taught me a lot in a short period of time.  Good Boy!    

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pilgrimage to Cooperstown

It is the dream of every baseball fan to make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York, the birthplace of baseball and home to its Hall Of Fame. Greg (a Mets fan) and I (a Red Sox fan) decided to fulfill that dream for ourselves today.

Baseball has been a part of my life since I can remember. My dad was a huge fan, and some of my fondest memories are of us watching baseball games called by players-turned-TV-commentators Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese. My grandfather was a fan, too; heck, he had a cat named Stan, after Stan "The Man" Musial. My brother evidently took after him, as he named our pet chow mix Roger Maris, just a couple of years after Maris beat Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. My mom got into the act, too, with an amazing trading card collection (that was unfortunately lost to us after my grandmother sold her home, leaving all of the contents of the attic to the new owner).

Young ladies did not play baseball when I was growing up. At least not formally! Thus, the DeSoto County (Arcadia, Florida) Little League was deprived of what would have been one of its most consistent hitters, in my best friend Nancy York, and one of its hardest throwers, in me. We contented ourselves with pick-up games in the vacant lot next to our house; Nancy routinely hit home runs and I was always called upon whenever one of the neighborhood boys needed to break in a new glove. In later years, after we both began teaching school, Nancy and I would catch as many "Grapefruit League" (Florida's spring training) games as we possibly could, sometimes even taking sick leave to do so! (I guess it's safe to reveal that now, since we're both retired!) Nancy's a Red Sox fan, too, so most of our trips were made to parks where the Sox were playing. I can even still recite the starting lineup for the 1979 team! Disappointed by the Sox's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1967 World Series, disbelieving of the loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the '75 World Series, devastated by Bill Buckner's error that helped the New York Mets turn it around and beat the Sox in the '86 World Series ... I cried tears of joy when the Red Sox finally won the 2004 World Series over the Cardinals. I only wish my all-time favorite player, Carl Yastrzemski, could have been a player on that 2004 roster. Below is an exhibit that pays tribute to "Yaz" and the 1967 team. Hey, Carl, I finally made it, even if it is 18 years late ...

There's more to Cooperstown than just baseball, Greg and I discovered. There's also the Glimmerglass Opera that must be awesome, because it certainly has an impressive facility; The Farmers' Museum, with its carefully preserved buildings and demonstrations of farm life; The Fenimore Art Museum -- hey, I didn't realize that James Fenimore Cooper had ties to this area! I've never read any of his books, but now I'm inspired to do so. I'm sure we'll pay another visit here one of these years, because the area has a yesteryear charm that is disappearing from the American landscape. And Maggie Muggins seems to really love it here -- the Amish fellow who works at the KOA drives to work every day in his horse-drawn carriage, and Maggie is absolutely fascinated with that horse! 

Autumn In New England

We're headed toward Northern Ohio for Christmas In The Woods.

After the close of The Big E, I was so happy at the prospect of spending a few extra days in Massachusetts -- seems like my whole life I've heard about "Autumn in New England!" This year, autumn was a little different: extreme record-setting heat delayed the leaves' changing color. Despite the lack of color and the peculiar haze in the air (due to the unseasonal heat), the scenes were really beautiful.

The only activity we permitted ourselves during the last week was visiting with the good friends we've made in Western Massachusetts over the past few years. One evening I got the grand tour of the area from my friend Peggy. We drove through her hometown of Holyoke, and through Easthampton, Southampton (everywhere a Hampton, Hampton), and had a spectacular sunset dinner at Tavern On The Hill, in Easthampton. We talked and laughed for hours!

We also spent some time at Collins Tavern, which Greg and I had discovered on our very first trip to the area, five years ago. Collins caught Greg's eye as we were tooling around in a totally unfamiliar area, trying to find materials for our Big E display. "West Springfield's Best Kept Secret," he mused, "Looks like a friendly place. Let's stop in after we've finished our errands."

It was a little after lunch time when we got back to Collins. The menu, hand lettered on a dry-erase board, boasted items such as Sausage Grinder -- $2 ... Meatloaf Sandwich -- $1.75 ... Pot Roast Soup -- $1.75 ... and at the bottom of the board, the phrase I Can't Believe It Myself. I tried the soup, and I couldn't believe it, either. It was goood! We made several stops there before the fair, and on some nights, stopped in after the fair closed. It was a great refuge from the busy-ness of the fair, a great place to grab a bite of non-"fair food." And, gradually, we made friends. Over the years since, we've made even more.

At Collins everybody knows your name ... like "Cheers" of TV fame, without the dysfunction! On one of the front windows is painted the slogan, "You're a stranger but once" and it's the truth. Bob LeDoux, the hard-working but ever-smiling owner, is the soup chef and chief cook, and he genuinely likes to see people well-fed and happy. His daughter, Melissa Cauley, is another one of the hardest-working people I've ever known. Melissa's vision for Collins has brought a grill and fryer and some delicious new temptations on the menu, like the Philly Cheesesteak, sweet potato fries, and the oddly-named but delicious Buzzy's Big-Ass Kielbasa Sandwich, but the prices remain unbelievably low.

Here's a public "thank-you" to Melissa and her husband, John, for all they've given us over the years: storing our display set-up in their basement, accepting shipments of merchandise for us, finding interesting places for us to have dinner; most of all, smiles and encouragement and good friendship. And thanks to Bob for the gorgeous jacket, embroidered with a Collins Tavern logo, that he gave to Greg. Hey, Bob, you wondered if Greg would ever be able to use a heavy lined windbreaker down in Florida -- you gave it to him less than a week ago, and he's already wearing it here in New York! What a perfectly well-timed gift! I Can't Believe It Myself!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Last night, Greg and I attended an Allman Brothers concert at the Post-Gazette Pavilion. Though this venue nominally serves greater Pittsburgh, you couldn't tell that by the route we took to get there! We left our campground in Lisbon, OH and headed south to East Liverpool, hugged the Ohio River for a while, crossed the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and finally, not too far over the Pennsylvania state line, was Burgettstown and the P-G Pavilion. Except for East Liverpool, which appears to be more city than town, much of our route was quite rural; other places along the road were quite industrial, and reminded me a little bit of Lancashire, England, the area that my Wallis ancestors left for ... West Virginia? Interesting ...

The opening act for the Allmans was RatDog, whose front man, Bob Weir, was one of the Grateful Dead. They played for two solid hours, almost completely non-stop, going from one great song into the next. They did a lot of the Dead's most popular stuff, as well as Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and an old Appalachian ballad, "Pretty Peggy-O." Weir's a great guitar player, and his lead guitar player was nothing short of amazing. Warren Haynes came out and joined them on a couple of tunes.

Sure, most concerts last only a couple of hours, but not this night! After a 15 minute set change, we got two more hours ... of the Allman Brothers. I swear, I have never in my life seen anyone play guitar like Derek Trucks. I do know rudimentary stuff about the guitar, and though I cannot come close to playing like Bob Weir or Warren Haynes, I at least understand and know what they're doing. But I couldn't even figure out what Derek Trucks was doing, except producing amazing sound. Everyone in the current Allman Brothers line-up is so accomplished, and so professional! Susan Tedeschi made a guest appearance, too; she's really powerful -- and not a bad guitar player, herself! You go, girl!

And I couldn't blog about the Allmans without mentioning Gregg, who was in great voice, and seemed to be very healthy and happy.  

This concert was one of the most fun I have ever attended, because everyone in the audience knew every song, and delighted in hearing the live rendition, and singing and dancing along.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Biltmore Connections

Remember this photo from the inside of my CD, "A Celtic Heritage?"  If you do, then you may already realize that this is a picture of my dad, as this photo accompanied the album dedication to him.  Here's the rest of the story:

My father, George Marsden Wallis, Jr., was born in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 29, 1926.  My grandfather, George Wallis, was manager of the Biltmore Dairy, and the whole family actually lived on the Biltmore Estate.  So this photo of Daddy and "Judge" was taken at their home on the Estate.  

The Wallis kids, along with the children of other Biltmore farm families, had free access to most parts of the Estate; in the words of Daddy's younger brother, Charlie, "I was 13 years old before I realized we didn't own the place!"  So growing up on such a vast estate must've had a glorious aspect, at least from a child's point of view, and certainly The Depression was not as much of a hardship for them as it was for most of America, especially the Appalachian South.  But then along came World War II, when most of the able-bodied young men were called away from farm duties to fight in the European and the Pacific Theaters.  My grandfather's work load essentially tripled, and more responsibility for farm work subsequently fell on the shoulders of my dad and his brother, who were still relatively young boys.  I remember hearing them talk about getting off of the school bus at the Lodge Gate (which was, and remains, the entrance to the Biltmore Estate) to find a parked truck awaiting them, which meant that they'd be driving to Burnsville or some nearby community for a farm-related errand.  My grandmother, Etta Dillingham Wallis, died during that time, no doubt adding to a certain -- what was it?  bitterness? -- that seemed to remain with my father all of his life.  (This photo of Margaret, my father Marsden, Grandmother Etta, Charlie, and Grandfather George was obviously taken during more carefree times.)

When Daddy left North Carolina, he vowed never to return to live there again, and he kept his promise.  He was careful to take my brother and me to Biltmore on our very first visit to Asheville, and we made many visits in subsequent years.  But he never talked too much about his life there; sadly, he even spoke very little about my grandmother.  I suppose that's part of my "fascination" with North Carolina; I am looking for clues to my heritage.  And perhaps, since Daddy's been gone for over three years now, I am trying to feel connected with him.

So why is this significant today, you wonder?  Well, yesterday, my dog (Maggie Muggins) and I visited Biltmore Estate.  She's not allowed in the grand house, naturally!  But we visited the farm and garden area near the Horse Barn, where we saw chickens and horses and sheep and donkeys (her first introduction to donkeys, which completely ignored her).  We walked around the gardens where they grow much of the food for the various restaurants located on the Estate, and saw nature's littlest farmers -- insects -- swarming happily over the flowers.  I'm not sure that I accomplished much in the way of finding clues to my heritage!  But it was a nice visit.  We went early in the morning, going directly to the farm and bypassing the house, which is naturally the first thing that tourists want to see.  So there were no crowds -- very few people out there at all, actually -- and it was very peaceful.  We had a very good time -- and after all that excitement, fresh air, and sunshine, Maggie slept all afternoon.  Since I have an annual pass, I'll make a point of taking her back once or twice more while we're in the area.  Who knows?  Maybe Maggie was the one making connections to the past: channeling ol' Judge! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


A poem shared with me by Bruce Wilmer ...


Solemn words and rituals

    And a young lady's heart-rending

        National Anthem

            Opens the 4th of July fair,

                As nearby church chimes compete.

Throughout the day,

    Musicians on stage

        Amplify their diverse styles

            For the scattered crowd.

Young dancers pound the holiday stage

    With emphatic rhythms.

Spirited children roll over and over

    On the cushiony grass

        And prance the green corridors

            Between folding chairs 

                In joyful display.

Face painters transform other children

    Patient enough to wait in line

        Into something bright and silly.

Artists and craftsmen magnet themselves

    To passersby

        From their canvas booths

            Crammed with creations.

Sizzling, smoking barbecue tents

    Summon mid-afternoon appetites

        To juicy snacks

            Heaped with fixin's.

Other tents tempt with frosty root beers

    And fruit smoothies.

Rain hides in the clouds

    But soon lets go and harvests

        A wildflower field of umbrellas.

During the shower, the dulcimer player 

    Charms us with her melodious mix

        And then poignantly concludes with

            "When You and I Were Young, Maggie,"

A piece my daughter, not long before,

    Had brought to life in piano and song

        While exploring my late mother's 

            Tattered box of sheet music.

This tune pierces my heart with recall,

    As memory leaps to my mother's lithe hands

        Dancing over the familiar keys

            In a far-off living room.

Sitting there in the town square,

    I roam time's vault of small moments,

        Painfully aware how priceless they turn

            With each passing season.

I look at you,

    In the evolving light,

Our forms pressed close

    On the low circular wall,

My thoughts unconsciously scanning 

    Our decades together,

Unable to keep from humming once again,

    Long after the dulcimer has left the stage,

        "When you and I were young."

Bruce B. Wilmer

© 2004 All rights reserved

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Remembering Wilma Dykeman

Isn't it time to set up a realistic accounting system? One to include damage to air or water or land, to the health of a human being?

The above words were penned by author Wilma Dykeman, in her novel Return The Innocent Earth. Today I attended a memorial service honoring Wilma, and it was glorious, and humbling, and thrilling, and educational. I can't remember a time when Wilma Dykeman's name was not known to me; I knew of her first because her name was on the dust jacket of The French Broad, an autographed First Edition of which sat on my parents' bookshelf (as it now has an honored place on mine). In later years I would read some of her works, and I came to know of her as friend to my great aunt, Dexter Dillingham, and my cousin, Norma Dillingham Morgan.

But I don't believe I fully realized, until today, what an exceptional human being she was. She wrote about the environment before Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. She wrote about race relations before Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Her novels featured strong female characters before "Women's Lib" came into full swing. Today's celebration included practically a Who's Who of North Carolina -- including some of my favorite authors, namely Fred Chappell, John Ehle, and Sharyn McCrumb -- and all of them, even her contemporaries, seemed as awed by her as I now am.

In the words of her son, James Stokely III, "I would put her in the 'renaissance' tradition. She had such a broad spectrum of talents, such an impressive series of artistic paths. She turned out to be good at everything she tried. And she turned out to be very good at a few things."  

Someone I should do well to emulate, I believe.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Launch of My Blog

We've been in Swannanoa for three weeks today.  This is also the first anniversary of my mom's passing.  I wanted to mark the occasion in a special way ... but not in a sad way!  I've been toying with the idea of a Blog for some time now, and it occurred to me that I could remember my mother with the creation of something new.  After all, she encouraged my writing, in addition to fostering my love of music, so the online journal of her working musician daughter seemed a suitable tribute!

So, as I said, we (that is, Greg, Maggie Muggins and I) have been in Swannanoa, NC, for three weeks today.  This is the fourth stop since leaving our Florida home for our annual summer/fall tour.  First stop was the 2nd Annual Dunnellon Celtic Festival, which was unfortunately rained out on the day our band was scheduled to perform.  (It wasn't a total loss for me personally, as the trip yielded two visits to Randy's Rib Shack ... if you're a seafood lover, the first serving of their All-You-Can-Eat fish IS probably ALL you CAN possibly eat!)

Second stop was a purely R&R venture into Darien and Savannah, GA.  Next on the agenda: Pilot Mountain, NC ... and if you think the name of the town sounds oddly familiar, then you've probably watched the old Andy Griffith Show a few times, and are remembering the numerous references that residents of "Mayberry" made to nearby "Mount Pilot."  The real-life Pilot Mountain is very close to Mount Airy, Griffith's home town.  Mount Airy is cute, the historic part of town fairly well-preserved, and if you go, be sure to stop at The Snappy Lunch for a delicious trip back in time!  Our trip to Pilot Mountain was great fun in a different way ... we were part of the town's 25th Annual MayFest ... what a treat!

And then on to Swannanoa, which we think of as our "home away from home," since we spend more time here than anywhere else on our tour: this year, we'll spend about two months, total, here.  We've enjoyed a visit from Greg's sister and brother-in-law, a couple of visits to Asheville's Barley's Taproom, and numerous campfires.  We just finished the 10th Annual Black Mountain Arts & Crafts Show, and it was great to see so many old friends while making so many new ones!

As the tee-shirts that you see everywhere up here say: Life Is Good.