i’m pretty sure most folks who read this stuff have had dark times. After all, most of you are either in my generation or immediately after my generation. i won’t say old but for most of us, it means we’ve been around long enough to have seen some dark times. i learned a long time ago, dark descends upon us, not necessarily through a fault of our own. We have no control over it except for how we deal with it. It happens. It’s life.
Lately, we’ve had our time in dark. We tried to control it, but once again, that was not to be. It happened. It’s life.
Sometimes we don’t deal with it very well. i was real close to not dealing with this spell of dark very well. i have this propensity to try and fix things, help people. It doesn’t always turn out well. Sometimes it does. i realized helping others and fixing things are dependent on the other folks involved. Not me.
So, i’m wrestling with the dark this time around, and i remember. Oh yes, i remember.
i began to earn money when in i was nine. i never got an allowance. Being the oldest of the three Jewell children (and by far, the goofiest), i was the first do be charged with all of the home duties: washing windows, stripping and waxing the wood floors, cleaning the cinder clunkers out of the crawl spaces in the basement, and as soon as i could handle it, mowing our lawn. So, it was a moment of great freedom when i began to make money, my own. Somehow, my parents, the Frames, and the Cowans came to the conclusion i could mow the Frames and Cowan’s lawns, which were across Castle Heights Avenue from our home.
The two yards together were almost two acres. From April until October or so, I mowed, trimmed with hand clippers (okay, okay, that was odious work, and i skipped it quite a bit, especially when i got blisters on my hands, which was often), and raked leaves almost continuously in September and October. It was a weekly task except in the winter months.
It began with a reel lawn mower. It was powered, not pushed. After several months into my first summer, Daddy moved up to a rotary mower. But you had to push it, mind you. Still, it was an incredible step up from the rotary version.`
Even in the 1950’s, that was not a gold mine. My father began working for pay in 1934 as a mechanic for $12, not an hour, a week. My mother went to work after graduating from high school in 1935 for $20, not an hour, not a week, but a month. They were still earning in that area when they married in 1938. i often wonder what they thought about their nine-year old son walking away with ten buckaroos for essentially a day’s work.
More enterprising youths would have grown the business, taken on as many lawn jobs as they could, maybe five or six or ten or twelve. That could have brought in as much as $120 a week in the summer. We’re talking 1950’s high finance. But not moi.
Nope, i was content. i didn’t want making money to take up my baseball time or my time with friends, especially, even at nine, the female kind. And those ten bucks every week were not squirreled away. No, siree, Bob. When that ten bob was in my hand, it did not go into my savings…er, savings?
i went down past the square, nearly always on my one-speed Schwinn bike with a basket hanging off the handlebars, a block beyond and then turned south on South Cumberland. There was a slice of heaven: Simm’s Motorola and Record Store (Hmm…was that really it’s name: i just called it Simm’s). There were radios and record players and consoles up front and on the sides, and there were bins and bins of slices of gold. 45-RPM records. Rock ‘n Roll. Oh, lord. Heaven for a nine-year old nutcase.
i was into teenage Rock ‘n Roll. So, once a week, i would pull open the choke, open the fuel line and yank the pull cord on that mower’s engine about forty times to get it to start. Then, i would spend the next four hours or so mowing, singing those songs i had committed to memory from those 45’s. After all, the motor’s two-cycle engine made a lot of noise. i was pretty sure no one could hear me over that roar.
So, i sang with no restraint. Ray Peterson’s “Corrina, Corrina.” Chuck Berry’s “School Days.” Johnny and Joe’s “Over the Mountain.” Chuck Willis’ “C.C. Rider.” The Everly Brothers “All I Have To Do is Dream” and “Bye Bye, Love,” and Carl Perkin’s “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Marty Robbin’s “A White Sport Court and a Pink Carnation,” and The Coaster’s “Gee Golly,” “Poison Ivy,” “Idol with the Golden Head,” “Searching,” “Young Blood,” and “Charlie Brown,” and Laverne Baker’s “Jim Dandy.” And of course, every Elvis song in existence at the time. Singing at the extent of my volume, faking the falsetto.” Dreaming with the sweat rolling down my face and my bare back without a care in the world.
Then somewhere in that world of teenage angst, i found WLAC AM late night programming. On my small desk top radio. In our shared room on the second floor, My younger brother Joe and i would listen to blues, the real blues of Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy
Williamson, John Lee Hooker, Eddie Burns, Eddie Collins, Muddy Waters, Bobby “Blue” Bland, James “Baby, You Got My Mind Messed Up” Carr, and so, so many others.
And those ten bucks would go to Randy’s Record in Gallatin, Tennessee, and i would get vinyl gold from Excello and Nashboro that most folks would never recognize like Tarheel Slim and Little Ann.
All told, i ended up with about 300 45-RPMS. Drops, scratches, and other forms of abuse have reduced the number to about 240. There are some that were never saved in archives, like Tarheel Slim and Little Ann with “It’s Too Late.” They are special.
I digitized them.
So, after being in my dark for a day or two, i walked into our bedroom that afternoon. i hooked up my antiquated iPod to a bluetooth speaker and went back in time, a long, long time ago. i have a playlist i titled “jim’s 45s.” My music took me to a different place where there was some light. It wasn’t quite as dark.
The next morning, i did my perfunctory morning routine. Just before first light, i went out to retrieve my dinosaur version of the news: a newspaper. Almost dead south, over Mexico, hung the Morning Star. Venus. The Greek goddess of love, victory, and beauty. She was the only heavenly body visible.
And then, the dawn. As that old spiritual proclaimed: i saw the light.
Now i ain’t gonna tell you how you should deal with being in your dark if you happen to run across it. i know you will be there some time. How you deal with your dark is up to you. i only hope my way of dealing with dark may give you some idea of how you might find light.
“i saw the light.”
It’ out there. Find it your way.