29 June 2010

Fiddle On, Senator Byrd

It was probably August, 1978 or 1979. My family was at the West Virginia State Fair and I was six or seven years old. As usual, evening was closing in and our day at the fair was ending. My cousins and I had eaten our weight in elephant ears, corn dogs, and funnel cakes and ridden the fair ground rides until our brains were scrambled. Our parents and grandparents were equally exhausted after trolling through the agricultural contest entries and eating their weight in Polish sausages. It had been a long, hot, dusty day. We were gathered at the tent of a family friend who arrived every year from Louisiana to sell Troy-Bilt tillers. He was near the livestock buildings so you can imagine the end-of-day hay and manure smell.

Suddenly, there, coming along the walkway, flanked by two Secret Service agents, was Senator Robert Byrd. One agent was carrying Senator Byrd's fiddle because that night, on the main stage, West Virginia's very own United States Senator was going to play the heck out of some down-home bluegrass.

Unless you're from West Virginia, you don't understand the mystique of Senator Byrd or the adoration we mountaineers had for him. Democrat or Republican, city boy or country girl, coal miner or white collar office worker in Charleston, everybody loved him because in a state most of the country didn't give a rat's ass about, Senator Byrd gave us attention, love, and money. (Most of you non-West Virginians call it pork. Whatever. Scoff if you must. Sniff. He brought us out of the dark, literally, and into the 20th century.)

When Senator Byrd walked through the fairgrounds, time slowed. We all stopped to watch him pass through, smiling and waving as he did so, and I vividly remember my little feet carrying me to him as quick as they could go and shouting, "Senator Byrd! Senator Byrd! My Daddy ate dinner with you!" Because what my six-or-seven-year-old brain knew of Senator Byrd at that time was that he was a legend, and said legend had eaten dinner with my father's Fraternal Order of Police lodge just a few months prior, and I felt compelled to share that nugget of information with the man himself. What he said back to me is lost to my fading memory, but I do remember his smile and that he hugged me.

Senator Byrd, you will be dearly missed by West Virginians the world over. Fiddle on, my hillbilly brother, wherever you are.

*Image credit: Berkeley Springs, WV


marty said...

I had the privilege of driving through West Virginia on my way to Confab last year. Admittedly, I went through there at nearly 70mph for the most part. Nonetheless, I did stay over a night in West Virginia and rode on Don Knotts Blvd. I also passed roadways named after Hal Greer and Jerry West. From an outsider, it looks like a beautiful state. But more importantly, the people have tremendous pride in West Virginians who have "made good."
My condolences on the loss of Sen. Byrd.

Unknown said...

My grandfather was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, and when I was there 25 years or so ago, there were 14 "Lohman" families in the phone book. Roots, you know?

Play on, Senator. In peace.

Megan said...

I love this story. It's good to know that the senator touched so many of the people he represented. It's a rare thing.

May he rest in peace.

Little Mrs. Jonesss said...

I want a funnel cake now. Fiddle On! That is a really neat story- When I was little I thought it was awesome that I got to meet the governor. I had dressed myself that day so I was sporting some killer cabbage patch house shoes. Funny the things we remember.

Grant said...

I once saw Claude Akins in a Nashville airport, so I understand how you felt.

MrsRobbieD said...

I met President Bill Clinton when he was was Arkansas Governor at the State Capitol building in Little Rock when I was in 6th grade. The class all stood in a line as he walked thru and shook our hands..

It was cool at the time but that was before we knew WHERE those hands had been.

Patois42 said...

I get it. My family hails from Massachusetts originally, and many of them held Ted Kennedy up as a demi-god while many in the rest of the country were disbelievers.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Marty - Basically, Jennifer Garner is going to get an entire town named after her.

LceeL - I totally know.

Finn - Thanks, hon.

Little Mrs. Jonesss - I'll bet the governor was wanting a pair of those shoes for himself. :)

Grant - SWEET!

Sybil Law - Thanks, hon!

MrsRobbieD - Dude. So true.

Patois - Same thing. Nail and head.