Photo by Carl Soerens
Doc Blanchard always was a surly old goat. He was a good doctor, so people tended to massage his massive ego and he leaned up into all the praise like a stray tomcat to whoever was eating fried chicken.
It used to bug me the way he would saunter into church at the last minute, practically preening in his Armani suits. He had his usual pew, well away from us old farmers in our clean Wranglers. Then, if the sermon went a little long, his beeper would go off and he’d have to leave, which he took his good-natured time doing, a smug half-smile on his face, looking straight ahead as if he’d been called by Gabriel’s trumpet. I still think he set the thing to go off at a certain time.
Speaking of musical instruments, he knew some of us got together of a Saturday and played bluegrass. We invited him to join us—he’d let us know he was a skilled classical guitar player—but he declined loftily. “Hillbilly music is not my genre,” he said.
One of the mandolin players looked up “genre” and told us it just meant what kind of music. I don’t think any of us wished we could play his genre. We were having too much fun jamming on what we were sure was pure D American music.
I hear bluegrass actually came in with immigrants. None of us trace our ancestry to Ireland, Scotland or England, but ever since television came on the scene, we heard of these guys Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt.
Bill Monroe and his “Blue Grass Boys” first came on the Grand Old Opry the same year I was born. As soon as I could sit up by myself, my Dad parked me in front of our pitiful little black and white—more white snow than black anything—and handed me a banjo. Before I could get the hang of the banjo—never did master the three finger pickin’ style of Earl Scruggs—I learned to sing that high, lonesome solo like Bill Monroe.
Several of us guys, and sometimes a woman or two, get together and just jam! We all know the patterns and we take turns with the lead. We have a great time. Usually there will be Frito pie and a couple pans of brownies in the break room.
Imagine our surprise—shock, really, when ol’ Doc Blanchard saunters in one day, his guitar slung over his shoulder.
I need to back up a little bit. It had been all over the county ol’ Doc wasn’t practicing any more. I’m not proud of how when I heard he had Alzheimer’s I thought it could not happen to a more deserving fellow.
So in he comes, in a white shirt, of course, and doesn’t say a thing. He just sits down right across from me, and watches my fingers. One song ended and he starts strumming his guitar and and singing “Wayfaring Stranger!” He started with one of the parts and nodded to me to sing Monroe’s high lead. I tell you folks, it was a moment.
Now he shows up every Saturday. Never says a word. His wife Evelyn drives him there. She says he comes alive on those days he plays with us.