I headed down the hill toward the water and the Mukilteo ferry terminal. The sign announced a three hour wait. I smiled. There was no hurry today. I had a great group of men with me; Billy Collins, Roger Rosenblatt, and Steven King. Van Morrison, my other traveling companion, sang his new songs over my car speakers. The sun shone across the water, sparkling at the bottom of the hill. After I took my place in the queue behind a big green truck, I settled back in my seat to listen to my Irishman hurl out a “hey”, and a request for some ice cream with a cherry on top. Over and over he sang his desire like a stutter. The idea of ice cream and the sound of his music punctuated this August day. With lots of time on my hands, I waited for “Brown Eyed Girl.”
After a while, I lowered the volume and turned my attention to poetry. I slipped into a book and found myself in Paris with Billy who was enjoying a bath. When I heard different music in the air, I glanced over the cab of the truck, to the patio of Ivars, and people enjoying their ice cream. I opened the door to my car in order to investigate. The music was not originating from the restaurant. Two cars up and a lane over, in the back of a white van, a man sat with his legs hanging out and the top of his fiddle visible while he played. I locked my door and wandered up. Leaning against the station wagon in my row, I stood opposite the musician and watched as he played for himself and now for me. I broke into applause when he finished, and asked if his song was Irish. He smiled and said no.
From the van emerged another musician. The two were traveling in my direction by ferry to play for a wedding. The fiddler’s companion opened his guitar case. He took the seated position in the side of the van and the fiddler stood by me. I asked if they minded my listening and offered that practice might be good for their gig. Would they like to play for me? They began a rendition of “The Staten Island Ferry,” a perfect song for our wait in the line.
I shut my eyes and could feel my feet moving, tapping to the rhythm of the guitar below and the fiddle above. The sun warmed my face, and the heat from the metal door of the gray station wagon warmed my back. I could no longer hear the gulls or the waves. The smell of the sea blended with the music around me.
After I opened my eyes, the owners of the station wagon returned with their son. They said to stay where I was, leaning against their back seat door, that they were enjoying the music as well. A white haired woman in a long print dress moved up to our little group. She kept time with her sandals as I did with my loafers, and we all slightly moved to the music.
The fiddler told me of a song he had heard recently in a bar from a French man. He recognized the tune as something familiar. It had come through Seattle by way of Wales in the early 1930’s. Both musicians agreed that the tune was obviously French and began to play it together. A family of five, a man and wife with their three children who were enjoying their ice cream, joined us from the direction of Ivars. All of us smiled, clapped, and tapped while the French ditty swirled in the air.
I asked the fiddler if he knew any Scottish melodies. I had just returned from Edinburgh and was beginning to learn country folk dancing. The musician winked and began to play. He bore down on the strings with his bow, and kicked his leg as played. The guitarist leaned into the neck of his instrument, and the music played out with force. More people came, and the music continued.
I had opened my eyes to watch the stings and the bow, but was no longer in the ferry line. The Scottish, French and country tunes blended together to regroup in my mind as the memory of North Carolina bluegrass. I was now in the sun in a dry field listening to the music of home. The fiddlers and pickers, with fast flying fingers, played tunes whose names I never knew. I danced in the field with my long brown hair, and with men tan and thin. We would swim without clothes in the dark waters of the Eno River and sun ourselves by its bank. I could feel the warmth of the rocks on my back. The music was always playing back then, either bluegrass or rock and roll, and everyone was young.
The low whistle blew the ferry’s arrival, and it was time to leave. The crowd clapped for the two musicians and said their goodbyes. As I followed the green truck onto the ferry deck, I was happy to have been back in North Carolina for a short while on this lovely summer’s day.