The Banjolin and the Bear

Oscar sat back on his favorite rock. His banjolin sat comfortably in his lap. The clouds in the holler had dissipated.   The warm summer morning had begun in earnest with the sun rising above the Appalachian hillside. This was Oscar’s favorite spot in the whole world. There was a narrow cow trail that ended at an outcropping of rocks. From there you only had to walk another quarter of a mile along the granite path, but it was not for the faint of heart. Although most of the trail was covered with trees, the last hundred yards cleared to one side and exposed a hundred foot drop-off.

All his life, Oscar had wanted to share his love of the banjolin. Unfortunately, most bluegrass groups simply used the banjo and the mandolin. True, his instrument had its unique tinny sound, but only a few would recognize it on the stage. Then his friend Jim called him up. He said his cousin had a music studio and was looking for someone who could play the banjolin.

Oscar now sat overlooking the North Carolina Blue Ridge waiting for Jim’s cousin William. Bored of waiting, Oscar tuned his instrument and began to play. “Rocky Top Tennessee” filled the valley and hills around him, and Oscar tapped his foot to stay in time. Next, he played “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”  His tenor voice stayed in harmony with the banjolin. Oscar wasn’t sure if William was going to show up, but now he didn’t care. Joy filled his heart, and the mountains felt alive with his music. Below he watched a black bear wander into the meadow and return to the woods.

Inspired, Oscar broke out into “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” He almost dropped his instrument when something touched his shoulder. He pulled his banjolin in close and looked over his shoulder. A man, a couple of inches short of six feet, stood next to him. He was breathing heavy, and sweat streaked down his face. His salt and pepper hair was dripping. The stranger was wearing a collared shirt and jeans over his middle-aged belly. Oscar smiled, stuck out his hand and said, “You must be William.”

The man nodded and attempted to catch his breath. He finally answered, “You can call me Bill. Mind if I have a seat?”

Oscar slid over, and Bill plopped down, still breathing hard. He took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead and face. Oscar was anxious to get started before the temperature rose too high. He tried to ignore Bill’s apparent tribulation with the hike and asked, “Is there something you’d like me to play while you catch your breath?”

Bill raise up his hand and shook his head. The hike must have changed his mind. Oscar’s heart dropped. Maybe he should have just met the man at his house. After swallowing hard and letting out a long sigh, Bill slapped his knees with his hands and said, “I heard you start-up when I was about halfway to you. That is some of the best picking I have ever heard.  The job is yours if you don’t mind having to come to Tennessee to record. You’d need to find you a place to live, but I can help with that.”

Oscar was thrilled and stuck out his hand. “Bill, you have yourself a banjolin man.”

Bill nodded and shook Oscar’s hand. “I don’t suppose you’d play a little while longer while I rest up for the hike back.”

Oscar got his instrument ready, but stopped and said to Bill, “I apologize for the hike. If I had known how winded you’d get I would’ve just had you come to the house.”

Bill shook his head and said, “Oh, I’m not worn out because of the hike. I came upon a black bear on my way here. I don’t think he saw me, but I high tailed it the rest of the way.”

Oscar chuckled and gave Bill’s shoulder a friendly slap. “Oh, that was just old Smokey. He won’t bother you any. He likes to come up here whenever I play. I usually see him sitting over yonder in the woods. He doesn’t move until I finish, and then he just turns around and heads out of sight.”

With that, Oscar started up “Orange Blossom Special.” He and Bill tapped their toes. About halfway through Bill gave Oscar a gesture to the left. There sat Smokey near the edge of the trees. All three enjoyed the next hour of music filling the mountains.

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