Wildflowers, clover trigger memories of dulcimers

Published 12:46 am Saturday, April 30, 2016

When crimson clover and bunches of wildflowers scamper along the roadside this time of year, I find myself reminiscing about the camping trips my husband and I took every spring. On the drive from south Alabama to Tannehill Historic State Park, twelve miles southwest of Bessemer, I was usually the first to spot the beautiful, pink delicate blossoms I call primroses. “They’re buttercups,” he always corrected me, launching us into a friendly argument that neither of us allowed the other to win.

It took us a week or so to get our RV ready for our April trip to participate in the Southern Appalachian Dulcimer Festival at Tannehill. The big event, which includes dulcimer players’ stage performances, occurs the first weekend in May. We learned early that the fun actually begins around two weeks before the festival. Many dulcimer enthusiasts arrive early to socialize with friends, meet new people and sit around at campsites strumming the instruments. Upon our arrival, I could hardly wait to wander over the campground to find our old friends and catch up on their news. In the evenings, a large group usually gathered at someone’s campsite to sing and play dulcimers, guitars, and other accompanying instruments.

I think nothing pleases a dulcimer player next to playing his or her dulcimer than teaching someone how to play the instrument. My husband fell in love with dulcimers the year we happened to camp at Tannehill when the dulcimer festival was underway. In just a day or two, he acquired a dulcimer and got instructions and encouragement on how to play it. He took to that fascinating lap dulcimer like a duck to water. One night a group gathered on the front porch at one of the log cabins in the park to straum. He, along with many others, took their chairs and sat in the yard with their dulcimers. The next day, one of the men teaching him to play told him to “get up on the porch with the big dogs and play.” He did. It was good advice. It gave him confidence that hanging back in the yard might not have.

We both went home from our first festival with a dulcimer. He kept his beside his recliner in the living room. When he watched television, he reached for his dulcimer to strum during commercials. (He must have played “Red River Valley” a thousand times that year.) The following year when we returned for the festival, he could hold his own with some experienced players. I strummed mine occasionally, but have never spent enough time practicing to play it well.

For around twenty years, he accepted the invitation to preach at the Sunday morning worship service. After that, most of us headed home, anticipating the fun and fellowship of the next year’s festival. As we rolled down the highway, past the clover and those buttercup-primroses along the way, we were thankful for the joy and friendship the small musical instrument called a dulcimer brought us.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.