Do you remember where not getting a seat in musical chairs crowned you a loser? It does not always play out that way. A few weeks ago I attended an annual event in Pine, Arizona that I try to attend every year I am here. Tellabartion happens in many places around the world, always the Saturday before Thanksgiving. It is
is a worldwide benefit evening of storytelling. It creates a network of storytelling enthusiasts bonded together in spirit at the same time and on the same weekend.
One of my long time colleagues and friends from my Maricopa Days, Liz Warren is a regular performer at Tellabration on Pine. A native Arizonan and veteran storyteller, Liz also started the Storytelling INstitute at South Mountain Community College (nd I worked with her on two long gone web projects in the 1990s). And her husband is someone I have worked with since the mid 1990s on some web sites for his business and a state telecom organization he supports.
This year I decided to buy a dinner ticket, where you get to meet the guest storytellers. I greeted Mark and Liz, but there was not an empty chair at their table.
The music did not exactly stop.
So I spotted another table across the room where there was one empty chair, so I invited myself to meet new people.
And that is how I met “Buckshot Dot” aka Dee Strickland Johnson, and her family. And then I remembered that she was sone of the performers I had seen in previous years. Yup, I even have a photo from 2009
At dinner I heard stories if her growing up in Tonto Basin, Flagstaff, the Hualapai Reservation, what is now Petrified National Forest. She told tales of summer when her father worked on CCC road building,a nd she lived a summer on a tent on the Mogollon Rim. She talked about Sedona being nothing more than a Post office, and how they still only call the place by “Oak Creek”. She and her husband “Old Buck” (where have all the good nicknames gone?) lived on a ranch in Arkansas, and the influence of stories all through her life. She’s a writer, poet, has taught elementary and high school, has a masters degree, and has opened for Lyle Lovett.
And of course I got to hear her stories that night. And the others.
I lucked out. Buckshot Dot also told me about how she was self publishing her first book of stories and poems, so I definitely registered my interest.
She emailed me last week and said the books were in, so she was asking for my address. Address? I said, I have errands next week in Payson (where she lives), so we set up today to have lunch. As suggestions, she said something about Denny’s (pass), but when she referenced the Beeline Cafe, I said, “That’s the place.”.
The Beeline is old school cafe. In fact, I eve had breakfast there once with this dude named Howard Rheingold (that’s another story)
FYI, Beeline is the name for the highway, AZ 87, between Phoenix and Payson.
Dee mentioned that she had written a song about the pie at the Beeline Cafe, and in a few more emails, she was offering to bring her guitar and sing it.
I was all in.
SO I got my copy of her book “Western Winter Lights”, a compendium of her poems and ones from many other local and regional writers, cowboy (and girl) poets. She has them organized into seasonal chapters, “Winter”, “Thanksgiving”, “For Kids”, “Christmas”, etc. I of course no nothing of the ranching or rural lifestyle, but in stark but often whimsical verse, there is a real practical tone that speaks of hard work and “can do” attitude of people who are in touch with the land, the climate, the cycles of seasons.
Yup, my copy is autographed.
She ordered her slice of rhubarb pie.
and after cleaning the plate, Dee pulled out her mini Taylor acoustic guitar, and sang me the song she had written about the pie at the Beeline Cafe.
She gave me a copy of the song (with a tale of computer challenges in finding the file). The top has an introduction:
In 1962 Millard and Mildred Sexton opened a little walk-up ice cream place in Payson. Later it became known as The Bee Line CafÃ© and is still run by the Sexton family. It’s a great place to eat! I especially love the rhubarb pie.
The story I know of the Beeline has to do that it was the gathering place that had electricity during a mammoth snowstorm in 1967; I had heard it was as much as 6 feet (?). Old Buck told me that the roof had collapsed on a new fire station. There are photos in the Beeline of all the snowplows idling outside (another recount by someone who lived through the storm was cast as saying Y2K was nothing to worry about)
Okay on with the song.
Sad Day on the Beeline
performed by Buckshot Dot in the Beeline Cafe, Payson, AZ
Sad Day on the Beeline
“Buckshot Dot” Â© 2008 (Dee Strickland Johnson)… to the tune of “Wreck of the Old 97”
I was goin’ down the grade makin’ 90 miles an hour
When the back wheels broke into a scream.
Headin’ down the Mogollon when there come along a shower.
Ol’ Stump and me had just become a team.
Stumpy’s size sixteens was punchin’ holes in the floorboards,
His knuckles on the dash was turnin’ white.
That clay and gravel road was a-feelin’ like a washboard
And my high beams was a-gleamin’ through the night.
“What’s your hurry?” Yellos ol’ Stumpy, & his voice was kind of lumpy,
Reckon’ he had never rode so, thereunto.
We come streakin’ through Star Valley. Warn’t no time to shilly-shally
Folks was yellin’, “There’s a comet comin; through!”
We just barely missed the tree sign where the 260 meets the Beeline,
On that tragic and fateful day.
When I slammed the breaks, KER-BUMP!
the hood ornament was Stump,
As I rushed into the ol’ beeline CafÃ©.
It was plumb phenom-in-awful; I felt like some stomped on waffle,
When the waitress told me things had gone awry!
Her tragic news unnerved me, for she told me she’d just served the
Last piece a’ Mildred Sexton’s rhubarb pie!
From what I could see, this song was in my favorite chords E-A-B7.
It was quite a thing for a live song to be sung in a restaurant, but everyone there and the staff was listening in (save some out of towners at the table behind us who kept on with their nattering conversation).
And there was applause.
A really old gentleman at the front wanted to chat, he looked like one of those gentle leathered Arizona former cowboys, down to the hat and boots. He said he had recognized the original tune- Wreck of the Old 97 references a train crash from 1903. A whole raft of singers have performed it- Johnny Cash– and it even has a passing reference in the Blues Brothers (it was the song Jake apologized for not playing in the country and western bar) (which leads to the line, “We have both kinds of music– Country AND Western) (see what happens when one dives into Wikipedia?)
I asked her what is the most important secret to telling a good story.
She replied, “You have to feel it in your heart.”
Anyhow, this was a pretty special day. That’s all.
Thanks Buckshot Dot! I am so glad the other table did not have room for me, none of this would have happened.