Monday, April 23, 2007

Right Here. (updated)

The Front Gate.

I pulled up into the driveway and stopped the car. A man in his mid-forties stood peering at me, waterhose in hand. I opened my door and stepped out and smiled. "I'm Sara Leah Miller. Dave Miller's daughter." His questioning stare turned into a half grin as he put down the hose and walked over to where I stood. I stood next to a green tinted mound of earth. A sad strange heap of ground where a white two story house once stood. The house of my Grandfather and his father. The simple small house that I often run through in my day dreams, thinking of it's stale quiet air. Dusty corners and dead silence. My sad homestead, my heritage, now a mound of dirt and a lonesome gate.

We chatted for a while. We walked to the backyard of the gentleman's small white prefab house nestled where the drive once ran into the garage and the milkhouse. A tree stood in the distance, familiar, but bare...the tree which once held my treehouse. The treehouse had been a grand affair, two platforms of lumber and an underbelly of sturdy limbs to climb in and swing from. It had once seemed so big and my father, like my family, roots so deep in the soil, so tall and healthy and eternal. Now it stood, branches outstretched and unburdened, wading through the mid-day breeze coming across the plains. I felt it. I understood it's lonliness and it's freedom in one long glance.

His wife leaned on the deck. Her faded t-shirt and easy smile made me feel at home, even while I felt this small constant yearning, this comparison of old and new, memories to reality tearing at my head. "I think I may come back through this summer. Would it be okay if I came out here and took a walk through the pasture? I don't have time today but..."

She nodded her head, "Of course, you are always welcome."
He scratched his head and put his hand on his hip, "Now mind you the cows aren't out. We've got a new bull, so check with me first."

I turned and looked across the slight roll of hills, the trees in the distance cloaking the turn in Camp Creek, the turn at the base of a big tree. Blue bells always bloomed there at it's feet. It's branches were so high that Davey and his friends would take a running-flying leap, running their shoes and knees and gangly arms up the side to reach one big solid knob about 7 feet up. They rarely got very far, there was really nothing to hold on to. They would look up longingly to the upmost branches and see the remains of my father's boyhood treehouse...a few grey tattered boards, but to them it was like some fabled land, some dream in distant past that someday would come true.

I turned the corner of the house back to my car and slid into the seat. My shoulders bent and searching, my heart a little weary. I drove up the lane, speeding and speeding, my thoughts bursting, my memories flowing down my body and into my car seat and out into the road behind me. At the stop sign, the abrupt screeching halt, a young boy on a riding mower looked up, smiled and lifted his hat. I looked out over the farmland, down the road to my family's resting place and to the land they loved so much. The stereo was turned off, but in my head...I heard these familiar measures of song in John Wozniak's low and somber voice...

He swore he could see the beauty there
And he said " ooo ooo oh I never wanna leave
Ooo ooo this place
Ooo ooo yes I always wanna be
Right here"

Find a place
To call home
Any place
To call home

Right here

And so I came in the dead of night
Climbed up into the satellite and
Looked out over America
I swear I could see the buffalo
Ooo ooo oh and I never wanna leave
Ooo ooo this place
Ooo ooo yes I always wanna be
Right here, right here

-America, Marcy Playground, Shapeshifter

I don't know if you know that song at all. But know this, for those first two years after I moved here, after my family had sold our land and had left our home behind...I would listen to this song so often and it's like it took the place of my heart on the matter. My night dreams were tied so tightly with the loss of all of this. My sad head would swim within the shadowed guitars and resurface in his hollow vocals. I imagined myself standing on the tip top of my treehouse, looking out over the land on a bright and windy day. Then I saw myself in the darkness climbing higher and higher and peering at the neighbors' lights so far down the road and at the barn yard and summer kitchen and every single structure glowing from the one light above the barn. At that moment, in that vision, it was all I ever knew and everything I ever wanted. I never understood it until then, I let the rest of myself, everything that I ever thought I was, crumble away and I stood there, clutching to limbs in the thick whipping air of the plains watching the night fade back into sleep. (j)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Land o' Lincoln

Today we will be embarking on a great adventure. My mother and I will be driving across the great state of Tennessee, through Kentucky, to my hometown in Illinois. She will spend the weekend with her close circle of friends from our home church. I will spend the weekend running around with two of my closest Friends in all of the world. I've not been home in over a year and a half. It's funny when I think about it. My mother grew up in Hawaii across from Turtle beach on Oahu and finds that every few years she must go home, go back to the place she spent the days of her childhood, replenish her soul in the surf and sand. I feel the same way. Although not as an exotic location, to look across the flat plains of Illinois, to drive those winding dark back roads with the windows open taking in the farm-filled air, to walk through the woods and around the lake on Jaime's farm, to peer at the ghost town that is the downtown of Vandalia, my own heart is renewed.

I can never really go home again. The house of my heart, the homestead of my childhood was sold long ago, as was our family farm. The farmhouse was eventually torn down by the new owners and replaced by a double-wide. But in my mind's eye, I often see it, in fresh spring greens and blues, the white of the two story house that had been my family's legacy, the red of the barn, the stone in the barnyard taken from the creek bed, the buffalo trail, a quiet straight line across the property worn by the hooves of beasts long disappeared from our land. The rusted metal frame of a model t out in the pasture. A ghost of a machine, I turned it's tired steering wheel in my imagination so many times, standing on it's sideboards while my grandfather and brother carried firewood from the mountain of timber lying at it's side.

I miss the simple things, the pieces and foldings of our little county that made it so unique. Everyone took such pride in it's rich history. My father's Law Office was across the street from the Old State Capital Building in Vandalia. Lincoln served there from 1834 as a freshman legislator to 1839. One of my favorite annual events was the Grand Levee. Tradesmen and crafters from all over Illinois would come in period costume selling their wares. They'd set up in canvas tents and pretty wood paneled booths around the capital building. A women would make chicken and dumplings every year and I would fairly run from my father's office building to her booth following the perfume of pepper and chicken and celery. The root beer guy was set up right next to her and the Kettle Corn booth beside him. There were tatters of lace and blacksmiths, a man who made brooms and baskets, a man who made whistles and kitchen ware from tin (the whistles, much to my parents chagrin, were what I was really interested in. Somehow every year my treasure of a tin whistle would seem to disappear a few days after the festival...after I had driven everyone crazy with it). There was a young girl who cut paper into silhouettes and whimsical seasonal shapes. Her father had a big red nose and bushy beard and a crooked smile and he whittled wood into small angels with light paper thin wings. Each angel held a musical instrument. I would wistfully bide my time in that booth, wishing for a intricately cut valentine or an angel for my mother. But most times I'd already spent all of my pocket money on my lunch and tin whistles and bags full of rock candy.

The musicians would be on the back side of the building, accompanying a handful of clog dancers who click-clacked away on wooden squares arranged just-so on the freshly cut lawn. There were an equal amount of onlookers in standard summer fare as there were young ladies in bonnets and mothers in flowing skirts and aprons. The Lincoln Impersonator would take the stage after the Old Timey Medicine Show. The Native American dancers from Cahokia would put on quite a display by the Children's activity area. I would sit on the stairs of the courthouse and listen to the ladies from the historical society play their recorders (They named their merry little troupe "Baroque Folk"). The hollow beautiful harmonies would echo through the building. I was enchanted.

Tonight around midnight, we will arrive in this fair town. My mother will go to her friend Charlotte's house to sleep and Jaime will pick me up. We might go to the local hangout, the Depot, for a drink. We may just go back to her farm and spend the next 13 hours talking and sleeping and eating and watching movies. Darren will drive through (with Tom and Patti in tow) the next afternoon to pick me up and whisk me away to St. Louis for the Son Volt show. It should be an incredible time.


John Ciba has been here in the Magic City since Wednesday. We spent yesterday evening with Janie Alfano, the daughter of the Birmingham Sound's Neal Hemphill. We met her at an Applebees and talked for hours. She told stories we'd never heard about her mother and father, about their devotion to each other and their dreams of the future. What an incredible family. What an incredible legacy. If you've not read Bob Mehr's article on the Birmingham Sound, here it is: Bob Mehr's Article on the Birmingham Sound

Derek, the other half of John's label Rabbit Factory, is flying in from New York today and as Mom and I drive north, he and John will be driving south to meet up with J. D. and Jim Lancaster. After last night's late night brew-tasting and Eddie Hinton storytelling at J. Clydes with Moises and Darryl (Documentary filmmakers, in from New Mexico for the Scott Boyer Benefit), and early morning rise (John rode in with me to work at 7 am and is currently working on his computer over at Lucy's), I'm sure their drive will be a tough one. I know it will be for me and the mum, for sure, but it will be worth it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

John Ciba Day! / Scott Boyer Benefit

It's John Ciba Day! No, this is not some obscure Canadian holiday, rather an exclaimation from a girl who has missed her best friend...although it should be a holiday of some sort here in the Magic City, filled with SweetWater Blue and Dreamland Barbecue and lots and lots of Soul music.

John Ciba (heart) Dreamland

Oh wait. I think that's exactly what today will be like. Nevermind.

And tonight we will be here:

From the website-
" A concert benefiting former Capricorn Records recording artist Scott Boyer promises delightful surprises from today and yesterday, as familiar recording artists from Muscle Shoals and Nashville get ready to perform at the Alabama Theatre. Boyer, who had surgery for an arterial disease, is recognized in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame for his work in bands such as Cowboy, The Locust Fork Band, The Convertibles and The Decoys.

The concert will be held Wednesday, April 18, 2007 at the Alabama Theatre, 1811 Third Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, and starts at 7:00 pm. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets.

Headlining the show is Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks of The Allman Brothers Band. Solo recording artists Bonnie Bramlett, Paul Thorn and Donnie Fritts, former keyboardist for Kris Kristofferson, will also perform along with The Amazing Rhythm Aces, The Capricorn Rhythm Section and The Decoys. Joining them will be Zac Hacker, runner-up in the popular television show Nashville Stars and Topper Price, solo artist and former band mate with Boyer in Cowboy.

The stage band will include former Steppenwolf guitarist Larry Byrom, Charlie Daniel's Band bassist Charlie Haywood, original Fame Gang drummer Jerry Carrigan, guitarist Rick Kurtz, formerly of The Mortals, guitarist Wayne Perkins, formerly of Crimson Tide, guitarist Tommy Talton of Cowboy, Burrito Deluxe drummer Bryan Owings, bassist David Hood, formerly of Traffic, original Fame Gang percussionist and producer Mickey Buckins and The Bamman Bighorns. Byrom, Carrigan, Perkins, Owings, Hood and Buckins along with Thorn, Fritts and Price, have all been recognized as musical achievers by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Boyer will also be performing alongside his friends in this All-Star review that will be a historical if not legendary show. "We have a couple of surprises in the works for this show", said Dick Cooper, promoter of the event. "We hope everyone will take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to see some great performers on this very special night."

For complete and up-to-date details please visit"

I know it's short notice. We'll be out and around town after the show and for a while tomorrow evening too, so give me a call if you want to hang out.