GALAX, Va. -- No, this is not going to be one of those lame "What I Did Last Summer" essays like the ones you had to write on the first day of school in the sixth grade at Forest Hills Elementary School. (Although, if Mrs. Duncan asked me to, I certainly would write one, especially after the unfortunate events that could be entitled "What I Did the Next Summer" involving a police officer whose badge read "Sergeant Duncan".) No, this is one of those lame "What I Did on Vacation Last Week" columns that you might expect from a columnist who gets no paid vacation.
This column recounts our family's recent visit to the most exotic place my family (in the larger sense) traveled this year.
First, let me explain that my oldest brother Cliff, who majored in German in college and works now as an expert on the Russian economy at the Brookings Institution ("America's Leading Liberally Biased Think Tank"), married a very Swedish Swede, Kerstin, who teaches German at the Catholic University of America, and they have three half-Swede children who speak fluent Swedish and whatever it is that they speak in Maryland.
All of them being married to or descended from the Vikings, according to my sister-in-law who says the Vikings were Swedish, (leading to my suggestion that she should write a book entitled, "The History of the World -- According to a Swede"), the family tends to have wanderlust. As evidence, here is a brief account of their most recent travels.
My lovely red-headed niece Kristina studies "at" the University of Maryland -- Baltimore County, where she spent last fall's semester in Valparaiso, Chile studying in Spanish and the spring in Berlin, Germany, studying in German before heading to Sweden for Midsommar.
Her older brother, Benjamin, is, I regret to say, a graduate of the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he struggled to 4.0 GPA, making him one of 120 some "valedictorians" for the class of 2007. (I will save for a future column my dispassionate treatise: "Why my nephew is THE 2007 valedictorian of NC State!!!")
Benjamin, as an engineering graduate, planned, of course, on studying Arabic in graduate school before he took off from his studies to work as a patent examiner for the United States Patent Office, earning lots of money as he learned the true meaning of the term bureaucracy. After retiring from the patent office this spring, Benjamin traveled in succession to Bangladesh, India, Sweden, Germany, Morocco, the UK, Austria and Greece.
His bonus-baby brother, Thomas, merely went to soccer camp in Sweden as the second planned soccer camp in Germany fell through.
The best Sandra and I could do this year was Costa Rica. But none of these places are the most exotic locale we visited.
That would be Galax, Virginia, where we attended the 73rd Annual Old Fiddler's Convention, hosted by the Loyal Order of the Moose, Lodge Number 733, spending the better part of a week listening to old-time and bluegrass music as well as attempting to play it daily ourselves -- some of us more successfully than others.
The Fiddlers at Galax is the real deal -- including literally hundreds of banjo pickers, dulcimer players, autoharpists and fiddlers, as well as dozens of bands from places like Low Gap, Narrows, Meadow Creek, Cana and, appropriately, Pickens, and, oddly, Carrboro. And the campground had dozens of talented players that didn't appear on stage. They got lotsa pickers up in them hills -- and lotsa grinners in the audience.
Even the Maryland-based Gaddys seemed to enjoy The Fiddlers, though I'm not sure any of them understood a single word that was sung, what with it bein' in 'nother regional dialect and all, but they could at least tap their feet along with the beat.
One explanation I heard for why Galax has so much traditional music rang true: "Because in Grayson County we like music more than football." Galax likes music so much that's how they measure distance, as in, "My place is just two songs away from Galax."
The week’s luster dimmed somewhat when Sandra and I came home to discover that the Zinc King lingerie washboard I ordered still had not arrived. That disappointment was allayed when we saw displayed on the rack to our entry-hall whiteboard my wife's new vanity (using that term in its narrow, technical sense) license plate reading: "BANJOGAL".
So, back in Orange County on Sunday afternoon, it was clear that Banjo Gal was sated, not needing another music fix for almost 18 hours, heading off to Chatham Country for a banjo lesson before going that night to the Bethesda Ruritan Club in South Durham for the bi-weekly Bluegrass Jam, one of five she has lined up for the week.
And to think, we're only 358 days, and three CDs, away from the 74th Fiddlers, where I fully expect to end up on stage with a banjo pickin' gal.
Gary D. Gaddy is a local writer (see this column) and speaker -- just ask any of his long-suffering friends.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald August 14, 2008.
Copyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy