Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Banjo Vine

Very few people know this, but not too long ago banjos were not made, but grew wild up in the mountains.

I first learned this on a trip to Nuckollsville, where I stopped to sell some Wizard Water©. I was hoping to hire a local musician to entertain the crowd in between pitches, and I was directed to a cabin just outside town. The fellow named Bryson who lived there said he couldn’t help me, though, because it was “too early in the season.” I asked him what he meant, and he said “Well, the banjos ain’t ripe yet.” Then he pointed to a clearing in back of the cabin. There lay all manner of miniature banjos, attached to a trailing vine that wound all over the yard. None of them were bigger than your fist, and all the necks were green, where they grew out of the vine.

“When do you think they’ll be ripe?” was all I could think to say.

“Oh, long about June,” he replied. “But most of my crop is spoken for. I promised it to a mail order company.”

“About how many do you plan to produce?”

“That depends,” he replied. “on how many get et by beetles first.”

“Well,” I said, “we may be able to help each other.” I proceeded to demonstrate the wonders of Wizard Water©. I put a drop on one of the immature instruments. Within minutes it had grown into a full-sized banjo.

“I’ll take a case of that stuff,” said Bryson. “if you’re willing to put my payment on account until I get paid for the crop.”

“I’m afraid I’ll be out of town by then,” I told him, “but I’ll trade you a half-dozen bottles for this full-grown banjo and your services.”

The deal was struck, and I had a seasoned player and a slightly green instrument for the next two days. I paid him at the end of that time, but warned him not to over-water his crop. “Just a drop is probably all you need,” I said. “Whatever you do, don’t water the roots!”

He didn’t listen. Two months later, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was suddenly offering the instrument by mail order for fifty cents each, when the standard price was at least $1.75. The countryside was overrun with cheap banjos. Banjo clubs popped up all over the country, and banjo orchestras began to show up in some of the larger cities.

I stopped by the town on my way to Dahlonega and paid Bryson a visit. His property was covered by the vine; banjos were stacked in piles higher than his cabin.

“I wisht I’d listened to you, Doc,” he moaned when he saw me. “This here’s too much work, and the price the mail order company will pay just keeps going down.”

“Supply and demand,” I replied, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Not long after that, a fire swept through the area. Bryson’s crop was totally destroyed, and the Knuckollsville banjo craze was over. Bryson took up gold mining.

I still have that first instrument, though I don't play it. It continued to sprout vines, and I made the mistake of leaving it leaning against the house, where it took root. Now it twines around the porch posts, and occasionally sprouts an instrument or two. I have no plans to go into production, though, as I am too busy selling Wizard Water©. Anyone who wants to pick a banjo, come on by the back porch.

copyright ©2010 Laurie J. Anderson, all rights reserved.

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