Do you know what a mountain dulcimer is? I didn’t know what one was, until the day I walked into a gift shop and the owner was playing one. I fell in love with it. He told me that if I bought it and could not learn to play one tune, I could bring it back and my money would be returned. I took it home, learned to play Twinkle Little Star, and I kept this beautiful instrument.
Little did I know that chance encounter would change the direction of my world. I was in my 20’s, just graduated from nursing school and was looking for adventure. Every two to three years I would move to a new area of the country, get a job and explore the place I temporarily called home. I took that dulcimer with me every time I moved.
I lived in Durango Colorado for almost two years. Fort Lewis College, the four year school in town, offered a semester in, yep you guessed it, the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer. I took the semester and learned to play reasonably well. Our teacher had the class perform at different events. It was fun. I made new friends and was introduced to folk music and dancing of all kinds.
During this semester we had a guest teacher come for a few days and help us improve on our skills. I was rather shy about playing in front of someone who could play so well. I would sit off to the side and play very quietly. Every time Neal, the teacher would come close I would stop playing. I don’t remember exactly what happened but he gave me a 6 string dulcimer to “try out”. What I remembered later is that the six string instrument was louder and he no longer needed to come too close when I played.
Enter the second dulcimer in my life. I now have a three string traditional dulcimer, made by Clifford Glen in Boone, North Carolina and I have a six string made by Blue Lion from California.
Even more important than the instruments, Neal Hellman, the dulcimer teacher became my friend.
Neal and I have been friends since the early 1980’s. We never lived close but we traveled in the same circles. He taught at music festivals and I attended them. The two of us would catch up over dinner or if time was fleeting I always took time to sit behind his sale table, and find out what was the latest happenings with my friend. I always enjoyed our encounters. E-mail also helped us stay in touch.
Neal and I are not too much alike. I think that may be what makes me like him. He is the only person I know who is able to make a full time business out of music. He plays, he records, he produces for other musicians and he sells a wonderful selection of music. He is the owner of Gourd Music. (click on the link to see his web site). He is funny and smart and fun to be around. He is a kind soul.
When he is on stage or teaching he is gregarious and entertaining. He makes everyone feel like they are the best musician in the room.
Over the years we stopped communicating. There is no reason for this, it is what sometimes happens with friends. Our lives move in different directions. Yet even though that happens, when friends get together again it is like we just saw each other yesterday.
Neal lives in Santa Cruz. Three days ago I reconnected with Neal. We visited, rode our bikes to Wilder Beach State Park, had dinner and watched the DNC that evening. I camped in his driveway. It was a great moment on this trip. I love seeing my friends. I especially loved seeing Neal after all these years. I have no idea why friendships happen and it really is not important to know, but I am certainly glad that he and I became friends. I am glad we remain friends still.
Friends support each other. I think they can bring out the best in each other. We can laugh together, share sorrow together and grow together and just have fun together. A lot has happened in both of our lives and I am glad we have had time to catch up. I am glad he is my friend.
And…You should see his yard. He has three redwoods in the yard. I am kind of enthralled by these trees.
Since this post I have been meandering up Route 1. When everything east of here is pretty darn hot I don’t mind being along the coast, in the redwoods and it maybe is 70 degrees. I am now camping near Crescent City, CA. It is near the Oregon border. Tonight I am meeting up with another good friend. No more solo camping for me, for a while. A new adventure is about to unfold.
Today I am thankful for friends, new and familiar. I am so glad Neal and I connected once again.