When we arrived at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Ma introduced us to Grandpa Archie. We all boarded his 1960 Plymouth and headed for Doe Run. As tired as Dan and I were, we managed to stay awake for the three hour drive to the farm. Grandpa Archie was rightly proud of his spread and even though it was around mid-night, he showed us around the place. First and most importantly, we took a look at the barn. I was soon to realize that the barn was the nerve center of the farm and farmers took more pride in their barn than the house.
The house was a simple white frame building of traditional design. It had a porch and a porch swing, kitchen, bathroom (off the kitchen), living room, and one bedroom. Heat was provided by a wood stove in the kitchen. Outside there were some big shade trees and a storm cellar. The storm cellar would prove its value later.
Oh, wait a minute, did I say one bedroom? Technically, yes. In the attic, Dan and I each had an iron framed feather bed and dresser, with a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The only drawbacks were that there was no heat and access was by a narrow staircase terminating in Ma and Grandpa Archie’s bedroom.
The next morning, Grandpa Archie took us on a tour of the farm, including a stop at the larger of two ponds to do some fishing. The pond was full of Blue Gill and Bass (large and small mouth). That experience in itself was worth the long trip. It instilled in me a love of the art of angling. Standing by the water, fishing rod in hand, listening to the timbal clicks of cicadas and anticipating a tug on the other end of the line is magical. Over the years I have spent precious moments with my father, brothers, sisters, wife, son and grand kids, “fishing”. If you catch a fish that is fine, the art is in enjoying the moment.
While we were getting to know Grandpa Archie, we told him about our encounter with the customs authorities in relation to our souvenir knives. Grandpa Archie had a den/workshop he called his museum, where he tied flies and kept special pieces of interest. He had on display a Civil War rifle and various “antique” (worn out) hand tools. What he was missing was a pair of long bladed knifes from the Khyber Pass. After some arm twisting, Dan and I decided to donate our artefacts to the “museum” in perpetuity.
Some people might think that life on a farm a mile outside a small town would be boring. After all, at the ages of 14 and 16 Dan and I were world travellers. On the contrary, we had already discovered that fun is where you find it. New surroundings, no matter how dull and routine they may seem at first can be hiding all sorts of entertainment. Doe Run had a population of approximately 200 people in 1965. There was a school, grocery store, hardware store, volunteer fire department and numerous churches; all the ingredients for excitement.
Ma and Grandpa Archie attended the First Baptist Church of Doe Run. Brother Jack, a young Evangelist firebrand was the new pastor. After church on our first Sunday, in the old time tradition of rural etiquette, Ma invited Brother Jack over for fried chicken dinner. Later on, he told me that country preachers always know what speciality will be served for Sunday dinner; “If you don’t like fried chicken, you are in the wrong job.”
Brother Jack took Dan and me under his wing. I think he was glad to take an occasional break from the task of ministry. He introduced us to Johnson’s Shut-Ins, a primeval stretch of Black River. Getting there involved a thirty mile drive on a winding two lane blacktop road and a thirty minute walk on a Copperhead infested trail.
If a river was ever wrongly named, Black River is on top of the list. It is spring fed, crystal clear and ice cold. At the Shut-Ins, the river cascades through a canyon before filling a bottomless pool with clear water. High cliffs tower above the deep pool and daredevils sometimes performed treacherous dives. Survivors received applause from spectators below. After a day of swimming in the cold water we were immune to the 98 degree, 100% humidity back in the sans-air-conditioning farmhouse.
[Bulletin: A victim of its own success, Johnson’s Shut-Ins has now been civilized. For your protection, you are faced with a chain link fence and warnings of fines and penitentiary sentences should you try to access the deep pool. The trails have been suburbanized to a standard which makes me wonder why we would ever want to leave the safety of a city parking lot.]
A couple of nights later, Brother Jack picked Dan and me up and took us to a house fire in the middle of town. All 200 Doe Run citizens were running a bucket brigade. Fighting the blast of heat radiating from the inferno, we joined in the bucket brigade, but the house didn’t survive.
Churches in small towns fill social as well as spiritual needs. We went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday Prayer Meeting and during frequent revivals, every night of the week. It brings to mind something I read in John Grisham’s novel “A Painted House”. He described the rivalry between the Baptist and Methodist churches in a small Arkansas town. One Methodist woman declared, “I would like to be a Baptist, I just don’t have the stamina!”
When Brother Jack learned that Dan and I were guitar players, he enthusiastically suggested that our instruments would be a welcomed addition to the church program. For Dan and me, this would be a departure from our usual, “Rock and Roll” line-up.
Thankfully, Mom had ingrained harmonies and old time gospel music in us children. Dan and I worked up a repertoire of gospel tunes that (we hoped) were just waiting to reach the ears of the congregation. Far from being a chore, we both loved the melodies and rhythms inherent in gospel music. The old gospel standards are in the truest sense, folk music. We knew that everyone from Elvis to Little Richard had cut their teeth on, “Church Music”.
With our long hair, Beatle Boots and electric guitars, Dan and I must have shocked the church full of conservative country folk the first time we stood up front to play. Sombre faces were soon replaced by broad smiles when, “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Just a Closer Walk (with Thee)” and “Life is like a Mountain Railway” flowed out of our reverb (with a hint of tremolo) enhanced amplifier.
Life is like a mountain railway
With an engineer that’s brave
We must make the run successful
From the cradle to the grave
Word got around, pretty soon relatives and neighbors were dropping by the farm house on Sunday afternoons to visit Ma and Grandpa Archie. When Dan and I were urged to take out our guitars, we always asked, “What would you like us to play?” “Play something good”, they replied. So we played “Walk Don’t Run”. Before our next number, we asked again, “What you like us to play?” Invariably, the response was, “Play something good!”
Heed the curves and watch the tunnels
Never falter, never fail
Keep your hands upon the throttle
And your eye upon the rail
At the same time, we met a prodigy organist named Pat McKelvey. Pat lived in Farmington, the county seat of St. Francois County. With a population of 2000, Farmington was the place to find some “action”. By action, I mean that is where you went for a haircut, crop seed, cattle feed and a Saturday night dance. Dan and I weren’t partial to haircuts, (or feed and seed for that matter) but Saturday night dances were right up our alley.
Pat was the finest organist we had ever collaborated with, he really knew his keyboard. Together with Pat, we formed a band. Our first show was at Farmington’s Long Memorial Hall. When we hit the stage, opening with the haunting strains of “House of the Rising Sun”, we practically blew the roof off the building. The audience, kids from all over the county, thought the City of Farmington had brought in a professional international act. And, it was true… all the way from Pakistan (via Doe Run).