Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mid-1950s, Ralston

Yesterday Libby and I embarked into the NC coastal plain to play a dance in New Bern, a beautiful old town on the Trent River, which once was the capital of colonial North Carolina and boasts a big house called Tryon's Palace, where the colonial governor resided at the time of the Revolution. The building burned at some point, and was restored on its original foundation in the 1950s. It was probably shortly after its restoration that my dad drove the family by the place, stopped and looked briefly at the front door, and kept going where ever we were going at the moment. I expect my mother had talked up such a visit in advance. We might have been at a big barbeque event in Kinston involving in some way the Danforth Foundation, which was part of Ralston-Purina, a big feed company based in Missouri which had given a good bit of money to N.C. State, where my dad taught. Indeed, for a time, during this period of my childhood, dad was intensely loyal to a hot breakfast cereal called "Ralston," which we ate nearly every morning at his behest until one day some weeks into the regime he suddenly grew very tired of the stuff and gruffly banished it, speaking harshly to my mother about the matter and causing my sister and I to raise our eyebrows at each other while he was otherwise occupied. Never again have I tasted Ralson, but my sis and I still take note of the incident at family meals.

Libby and I decided that renting a car was a good plan for this excursion, and found a very comfy Dodge Dart in Apex at the rental place, and easily managed to fit the keyboard and our instruments and miscellaneous gear in the trunk and back seat (hey, those drop down rear seats are a fine idea for musicians on the fly). We switched over and left the brave little Toyota Tacoma with 250 K and counting in the parking lot, with reassurances that we'd return, same as we'd told the cats earlier, and we were off to New Bern. Ms Garmin got us safely through the Raleigh labyrinth and out onto US 70 East. Half way down, now on the upper coastal plain, we came to Goldsboro and although the roads had somewhat changed since our last trip, we found at the east end of town "Wilbur's," which is as good a barbeque joint as exists in North Carolina. We both chose the barbequed chicken, having many years ago agreed that there was none better. The Dart got us on down to New Bern with plenty of time to set up, and as a bonus a great parking place just across the street from the venue, which was on Middle Street, not far at all from the Palace itself.

All the stuff worked, and we got the piano and fiddle balanced in the speakers as people drifted in. This was part of a good sized folk music festival being tossed by the Down East Folkarts Society. We'd played a dance for them some years back. Great folks. They'd hoped we could come down Friday night and catch our old bandmates Unknown Tongues Cajun-Zydeco, but sadly the cats forbade that extravagance. Anyways, just as we were setting up a man with a little white goatee and a twinkle came up and asked if he could film some of the dance for his local access tv show, which is called "Billy and Sandra Stinson's Folk Seen," and we said sure, why not. He worked unobtrusively while we got the first dance going. Somewhere in there I had an old flash of memory.

I lived on Vanderbilt Avenue in Raleigh, just across from the NC State campus where my dad taught. Vanderbilt ran into Horne Street, and just north of where it intersected was a yellow-brick house wherein lived a short little blond kid named Billy Stinson, who could possibly have grown into this photographer. I called him over at the break between dances and damn if he wasn't the very same guy! We'd not seen nor heard of each other in sixty odd years, but back then I'm pretty sure I had appeared with him and some other guy in a little Kingston-Trio type of combo, on a local afternoon TV show, where we performed "They Call the Wind Mariah" with me on bongos. My first band, if you don't count the school orchestras I was in.

Billy and I recalled a few things in common, such as climbing up on the old Man-Mur Bowling Alley roof from my back yard--a vast tarred expanse that was like a weird desert. Later on that building burned down and all the neighbors sprayed their garages with water to keep them from catching, and the next day the building was a ruin, with twisted I-beams and smoking floors. The bowling balls somehow survived. I still have one somewhere, or at least kept it for decades.

Billy has his own story of course. Here's some of it:

And more:

He and Sandra describe their music as related to the work of the Kingston Trio, thus corroborating my flickering memories. The dance was excellent, and wrapped up at about 6:30 PM, and we repacked the Dart and headed back up the road, getting back home to the slightly worried kitties just in time to see the last half of the Carolina/Providence game. Carolina won, and make it today to the "Sweet Sixteen." Libby and I have ridden many a night with the Heels on the radio, cheering them on. It was all in all a sweet day together. Today spring has arrived with rain and chill, and there's a late fire in the stove, and little green shoots on the dogwoods. Two more weeks on my job and the business folds, a casualty of depressed scrap steel prices, resulting low product, and perhaps the fact that the owners are my age and now see retirement as a possible happy adventure. We all, employees and employers alike, push off into the pond week after next, April Fool's being the last day, and no joke about it. The next day is the NCAA semi-finals. Hopefully the Heels will be there.

Come to think of it, if it was 1957 that I made my teevee debut, what goes around comes around. That was the year Frank McGuire and some skinny kids from New York took the Heels to the NCAA finals, where they beat Wilt Chamberlain and the Jayhawks and went 32-0. If we make it past Indiana and the rest of the gauntlet, the Jayhawks are what we're aiming for this time around too.

Update: Kansas lost a week after I wrote this, and UNC faces Syracuse in the semi-finals.

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