Calhoun Times

From songbirds to steel guitars

- Coleen Brooks is a longtime resident of Gordon County who previously wrote for the Calhoun Times as a columnist. She retired as the director and lead instructor for the Georgia Northweste­rn Technical College Adult Education Department in 2013. She can be

I’ll fly away, old glory. I’ll fly away…in the morning…When I die, hallelujah by and by. I’ll fly away. These words ring true for me. No, I am not ultra religious, but I do love this old gospel song written by Albert F. Brumbly in 1929. I relate it to my daddy’s music from the Smoky Mountains where he grew up.

When I hear it or sing it to myself, I picture flocks of birds flying to who knows where? Birds have their own music. Songbirds warble, whistle, chirp, and sing. They sing in “bird speak” and their music is comforting on a quiet summer morning. They may be communicat­ing with other flock across the pasture or across the road where the forests are.

I have said this before, but I’ve always wanted to speak “bird” and understand what I’m speaking. You see, I can sound like a whippoorwi­ll, I don’t know what its call means other than maybe “hello” or “hey, I’m over here. Come visit.”

The Sandhill cranes will be coming through before too long. I love their voices, their almost vibrating sounds as they call to each other. They used to land in the bottoms by the thousands, but now the numbers have dwindled. A gentleman one time had an affinity to these marvelous birds. They’d land somewhere near Plainville here in Georgia. He’d act as a guide for them to follow him to a safe winterizin­g place maybe in Florida. I saw this on a PBS station one time. It was fascinatin­g.

When my sister and me were teenagers, two birds were “talking” to each other in a tree above my sister’s and my heads one time when we were waiting for a bus to go to town to eat some lunch.

After we ate, we’d take in a movie and maybe shop a bit. I’m not sure people do this anymore, but we had fun Saturdays in Knoxville back in the day. That particular morning, one of the birds dropped a deposit on my sister’s head, a sizable deposit that threatened to slip down onto her face.

My hysterical laughter didn’t help the situation. She was pretty upset with the birds, but mainly with me for laughing. I had some tissue in my little purse and tried to clean up part of her head. It was kind of useless and we walked back home. If my sister had been a cussing type person, I can’t imagine what she would have called me and the birds. She didn’t appreciate their music that day I came from musically inclined ancestry. Mom’s family were Irish Catholics, singers and dancers.

My Uncle Bill Colligan and his sister, my Aunt May, had the loveliest voices. Mom didn’t inherit a lovely voice, but she could dance and really liked to sing. Too bad she sounded a lot like Lucy Ricardo or Edith Bunker. None of that mattered. I’d love to be able to hear her sing along with her five brothers and sisters and her mom and dad. They liked nothing better than to stand around the piano and put on a show. Grandma and Grandpa Colligan would usually dance around the room. My daddy grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee. Their music had origins from Ireland and Scotland, old and melodious. Dad had 10 brothers and sisters and most played musical instrument­s like guitars, fiddles, mandolins, harmonicas and such. They’d sit around on cane back chairs and put on concerts in Grandma’s parlor. I loved all that music. At family reunions, music was the focal point. They all had their chairs and specific instrument­s.

Later in his life, Dad played a tenor guitar. I still love the sound of that guitar. I specifical­ly remember one reunion when our oldest son Heath was around 12. He was fascinated by all his uncles, aunts and grandfathe­r playing and singing the old tunes. He watched them intently.

When Heath was around 15 or 16, he started learning to play the guitar. When he was around, his grandfathe­r would help him. As time went on, Heath got good enough to play along with his grandfathe­r and his younger brother, Hayden, took to the guitar too. This past weekend, we traveled to Huntsville, Alabama to hear Heath and his father-in-law, Peter play at a festival. Watching Heath on stage made me tear up. He had his grandfathe­r’s mannerisms and when they sang “Truck Drivin’ Man” I closed my eyes and remembered years gone by.

I feel like he’s picked up where his grandfathe­r left off. My Daddy would be proud. Heath was playing “I’ll Fly Away” this morning before we left Huntsville to head back home. I thought I heard a tenor guitar playing ever so softly in the background.

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Brooks

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