Nowadays, when the work day nears an end and there’s not enough time left to start another project but too much time to call it church and head to the house, we automatically turn to the computer to fill that void. We stare until our eyes burn at the glare of news, friend updates, celebrity gossip, sales. With aching heads and dulled minds we creep toward the magic hour of freedom.
How did people fill the lull of the afternoon before computers and internet and smart phones? Well, I’ll tell you what my people did.
They played music.
At Mama’s office, along about three o’clock in the afternoon when the last customer had gone, the mail had been taken to the post office, and the phone quit ringing, she and Barbara, her secretary, would pull out their instruments – Mama, the fiddle, and Barbara, the accordion – and commence to playing all the good, old hymns that make you happy to be a child of God.
The old, brown weathered hymnal they played from had dispatched a message of hope to generations of world-weary souls for whom the prospect of cities of gold far outweighed the prospect of another day hauling logs out of the woods and to the mill.
♫ I will meet you in the morning by the bright river side, when all sorrow has drifted away… ♪
Barbara could play anything on the piano or the accordion, you only had to hum a few bars and her long fingers would fly over the keys and fill in your off-key gaps with all the right notes, plus a few embellishments to get you in the spirit.
♫ Precious memories, unseen angels, sent from somewhere to my soul… ♪
Mama, fiddle tucked under her chin and toe tapping time, would draw the bow over the strings releasing the melodies she’d known by heart since childhood. Mama knows every word to every song ever written, no matter how obscure.
♫ As I travel through this pilgrim land, there is a friend who walks with me. Leads me safely through the sinking sand… ♪
Sometimes Old Man Snookum Wally, a shade-tree mechanic from Okwaukee, would drop by with his guitar or fiddle to play a few songs with them. Once he brought me an old guitar he’d found at a flea market and showed me how to play a few chords. I still have it.
♫ I once was lost in sin, but Jesus took me in, and then a little light from heaven filled my soul… ♪
Claude Platt lived about a block away. Every day, he’d drive over and park in front of the office, go across the street to see what was happening at the police station and then come over to catch up on the latest news, shadowed every step of the way by his big old redbone hound, Skafer. He didn’t play, but he’d clap his gnarled, prize-fighter hands and chime in on the low parts.
♫ Love lifted me (even me), love lifted me (even me). When nothing else could help, love lifted me… ♪
When five o’clock rolled around, the instruments went back into their cases, the lights were turned off, the door locked against the night. And we all headed to our homes, the lingering refrains of faith guiding our way.