Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bluegrass, Red Lipstick and a Yellow Truck

“It’s gonna be so grand; It’s gonna be just like my wedding day.”
~ Rosie Thomas

I swallowed a novel over the holiday weekend, and I’m slowly digesting all that I read.

I read without a pen, which means when something hit me hard, I just left it there, no underline, lost amidst the rest of the words as I continued on with the story.
I wrapped myself in mama’s shawl and walked outside and stood on the porch, and it was then I saw tree – a large oak standing directly across from the house. There on the trunk, scratched into the wood, it said “You are loved.”
A story grounded in Appalachia, I found my mind drifting off into the songs of Gillian Welch, Steve Earle, Victoria Williams, Woody Guthrie, Iris Dement and even Jakob Dylan’s latest offering. To be fair (despite my title), the novel’s setting predates bluegrass, but it is the soil from which the music emerged.

As I read, I wafted within the tension of rootedness and restlessness, salvation and ruination, presumption and comprehension.

It was not a gripping tale,

not a page turner,

or an instant classic.

Yet I found myself unable to put the book down, needing to find out how the main character’s tangle of longings was going to get resolved, and what that would mean for the supporting cast.
“My point,” said Daddy Hoyt, “is that you should know yourself before you pretend to know someone else. You have to be careful when you’re labeling folks, saying he’s this she’s this, and deciding to send people away based on something you say they are. Because you just might be that same thing. Who are you to make the rules? To play God? Who’s to say where to draw the line?”
I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution, though you knew it was coming from the beginning.

I blame the fact that I’m knee-deep in finishing Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have been the first to say good riddance. But I found myself in the messy inbetween that empathized with both the need to live out there, and the need to cling to a people and a place. Whether they stayed or whether they left, quite few of the characters were practicing stability in their hearts.

While I think Velva Jean Learns to Drive most deserves to be read in the Fall (I would avoid the dark depths of winter, and springtime would make an odd fit), it is a heavy yet breezy novel that will both inspire and convict. I recommend reading it on a porch, with some sweet tea, or perhaps a bowl of cornbread and milk. Let it rest on your tongue for awhile, and pick it back up in autumn to see if the flavors have settled in any richer.
Janette Lowe was saved on a Sunday in the middle of May. She was born again in the waters of Panther Creek. One minute Harley was talking, not even trying to save anyone – he hadn’t even got up to steam yet, hadn’t even hit his stride. The next minute, Janette went tearing out of the church and was dancing up and down the banks of the stream. She passed over quicker than anyone I’d ever seen, dancing in the Spirit, with love and joy and a fire so pure and wild it could make a doubter believe. “Just like her mama,” Sister Dearborn said. We all stood watching her, especially Harley, who I could tell by the look on his face was wondering what went wrong.

Janette Lowe danced by me and suddenly I wanted to join her. I thought how silly it was that we just stood staring at her while she rejoiced, like she was something to be watched, like a carnival show. I wanted to rejoice along with her. For the first time, Janette Lowe didn’t seem worried about how dirty she was or how poor she looked. She didn’t seem to care who watched her dance.

As she spun by me, she brushed my arm and I grabbed her hand. She looked surprised and then she took hold of my other hand and together we started dancing. I heard Harley call, “Velva Jean.” I caught a glimpse of his frowning face as we spun around and around in happy circles – dizzy, laughing, spinning madly. We laughed and yelled and jumped up and down, and I started to sing. We splashed through the creek and back up on land and our feet moved up and down and didn’t rest.

On the way home, Harley said, “The two of you looked like fools.”

I said, “Only to you maybe, but not to the Lord.”

“To me and the rest of the congregation,” Harley said. “I didn’t even save that girl. How did she know she was saved?”

I said, “When you’re saved, you know it. You don’t need anyone to tell you.” I thought Harley was being awfully possessive of Jesus these days, just because Jesus had given him a church.

(Image Attribution)

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