I’d only been at Butterfly Bottom a couple of weeks when a chance meeting and an afternoon spent with the members of the Buffalo Springs Strings at their regular dulcimer afternoon in the old Minorsville Baptist Church turned on another light and I just had to get a dulcimer. The five-string banjo aside, there’s no instrument more Southern than the Appalachian dulcimer, only they show the Celtic heritage of their servants by imitating the drone of the pipes. I contacted a man adept in the magical lore of such things and he put one together for me.
I decided on just the basic model, in case I’m unable to do the instrument justice. I do reasonably well on the guitar in its various incarnations and am competent enough on the autoharp, but my accordion playing isn’t up to much and I struggle with the smallpipes. The Celtic ancestors don’t want me to have it too easy it seems, but if they relent on this one – and unlike the pipes and the squeeze box, it does have strings – I’ll get a fancier one made.
If I do get the hang of hit (excuse the aspirant, but it is Kentucky’s State instrument and I want to start off on the right foot, metaphorically speaking) I made a little promise. I’m going to take it up to the top of the hill beside the house, up to where the little cemetery and the other unmarked gravestones are, in among the trees there, and I’m going to sit down on a stump and play When First Unto This Country.
Why? When I went there to introduce myself – some of the graves are marked on the plat, I’ve found other, simpler and cruder ones – it was awfully dark up there among the trees, and creeping weeds were trying to hide the stones. I also got the feeling it may have been a long time since they’d had a bit of company. I’d like to let them know I’m here and maybe, just maybe, the instrument will know it’s in the right hands.
If I think I’ve got it right enough, I’m going to play Old Gray Dobbin, too. There’s a few small gravestones up there that I suspect are reminders of where little ones were laid to be at peace. It’s an Australian song, but most kids seem to like it.