July 20, 2000
Cowboy Ceilidh

In 1997 I was working full time as a teacher of exceptionally demanding seventh graders. Many of my students were over twelve years old, and seemed to be unusually knowledgeable about gambling and pit bull breeding. Some of the older students were already working, earning their own money. For some reason, some of these students were not very interested in spelling, word attack, and grammar. Nor did the geopolitical history of the African continent and the Middle East strike them as important. One of my students couldn't read too well, but he could program a computer in DOS. Why these kids would want to toe the line, play the academic game, and make our school look good for the end-of-grade tests was an ever growing mystery to me. They were counting the few remaining years until their sixteenth birthdays. Drop-out year. I was not capable of convincing them to devote themselves to academics. How could I convince them to be the kinds of kid I was not? Did I buckle down and do my studies in middle school? I was developing Dumb Magazine** at that time in my life.  **(click the title to view Jessie's Fuzzy Bunny drawings for Dumb Magazine)

Back to 1997.   I would drive to school blasting The Subdudes, imagining that I could waltz into the school building singing "I've Got All The Time In The World..." But that was so very inconsistent with the paperwork regulations of special education and the ABC's of education in North Carolina. I worked hard to write what I considered to be IEPs that really addressed students' educational needs. I tried very hard to learn the culture of the school, to keep my hair tamed, my brain confined, and to live up to the conventional standard demanded of School Teachers. I tried to be a confident extrovert, a sequential thinker and a consistent enforcer of rules.

Almost every day after school when I got home, there was a dad-problem to be solved. Then there were lesson plans, which I knew would fail, and work to be checked. I was going crazy. My husband David was promoted at work, and he said I didn't have to continue teaching. We had purchased a computer, and I realized that was the tool I needed to start a home tutoring business. I could work from home, schedule my own hours, feel more successful as a teacher, and be able to help dad better without being under so much pressure. Well, that was what I hoped it would be like. But that's another story. Suffice it to say tutoring is not a home-business.  It's more like a car-business. Still and all, there were many wonderful things about being a tutor. Foremost among them were the many people I met, children and adults. I do love teaching, but I am baffled when it comes to standing in front of a group of people and acting like I am conventional. Tutoring one to one took the politics out of teaching. Thank goodness.

Sometimes people I met through tutoring also turned out to be Red Clay Ramblers fans. One couple I knew, Pat and Charlie, turned out not only to be Red Clay Ramblers fans, but to have Hollywood connections, and to be related to David Wilkie, musician, composer, producer, and explorer of the Celtic roots of cowboy music. Pat and I started talking and I mentioned "old time music" and my family's Friday Night parties in the sixties. Pat told me about her sister Denise Withnell and brother-in-law David Wilkie from Alberta, Canada. She described great spicy shrimp creole feasts, hundreds of people, live music and evening hours that fly by like clouds outside an airplane window. She told me how they had released a CD, Cowboy Ceilidh, which had just (at the time) won The Wrangler Award for Outstanding Traditional Western Music Album. Other performers on the CD besides David Wilkie and Denise Withnell, are notable performers such as Phil Cunningham, Arthur Cormack, Johnny McCarthy, Matt Cranich, Laoise Kelly, and Michael Martin Murphy. 

When my husband David Eustice and I were married we selected wedding rings with Celtic knots cut into the gold. That is why the cover of the Cowboy Ceilidh CD caught my eye so. It sports a photograph of a mandolin lying on a tartan with what appears to be a glass of Guinness on one side and leather chaps on the other, but it is the frame that really interests me. The photograph is in a decorative copper frame that was made by a Jeff Deboer of Calgary, Alberta. At first it strikes the eye as a Celtic knot design, but look a little closer and you will see that the knots are really cowboys holding lassos in one hand and beer mugs in the other.

My friend Pat was so delighted to learn of my family's interest in the roots of American folk music, that she gave me a Cowboy Ceilidh CD to play for dad. I did indeed play it for him, and he cocked his head to the side as he listened, seeming to be aware both of the intimate accessibility to himself of the music and the style, as well as the odd unfamiliarity of listening to something he had never heard before. He sang along with “The Cowboy's Lament” and “Buffalo Gals,” and looked very puzzled at the original compositions by David Wilkie. Dad has kept the CD in his room, but since I notice some CDs do disappear there, it will have to come home to my house. My husband David wants to hear it too. My friend told me that she and her husband had been RCR fans for a long time. She said that next time her sister and brother-in-law are in town, perhaps they could perform at Britthaven for my dad and the other residents. They have also offered to help dad out with a donation of clothing.

More later......


PS: A note from Tommy's birthday - I saw my brother at Britthaven.  We went to visit Dad for his birthday at the same time.  Dad was really happy.  He was so happy to be all together that it seemed to wear him out quickly.  Tom Ashley read the prayers I posted on dad's walls, and then he told us "Jack Tales." After awhile, dad got very sleepy, and we kind of "put-him-down" for a nap when we left.  He is happy to be loved so much.

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Besides Tommy's section of the site, the following pages are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community

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July 20, 2000