Friday, December 30, 2016
Years ago I had the privilege of meeting Jesse James, the old mountain man in the above picture and no relation to the outlaw of the same name. His family invited us over for an evening of music and food and we accepted. It was a night I haven't forgotten.
Jesse was one of those men who was mechanically gifted and could build just about anything from nothing. Testament to that fact was an old bulldozer setting out in front of his house made from scrap truck, car and tractor parts. Many of the local mountain roads in that area of the Boston mountains of NW Arkansas were built using that homemade bulldozer.
Another talent of his was working with wood. He would take a sapling tree and turn it into a hand carved chain of wood. In fact my parents placed an order that very night for one of those chains and he never quite got around to it.
When it came time for the evening music, Jesse brought out his banjo made from an old pressure canner and began picking out various songs. Occasionally he would show off by playing with the banjo over his head or behind his back.
Jesse's family were a stereotypical hillbilly family. He lived with a adult son, daughter and his wife and between the four of them they MAYBE had a complete set of teeth. Their cabin was rough around the edges and adorned with a junk pile all around the outside but inside one could see it was home.
I wasn't very old at this time, perhaps not even quite a teenage and Jesse's son must have seen boredom creep into my eyes at listening to another mountain folk song that Jesse played for us. He leaned over his old guitar towards me and said, "Do you want me to play something more modern?"
I nodded thinking perhaps some Quiet Riot, Eagles, Duran Duran or the such. Jesse's son thought a bit and said to me, "How about some Hank Williams?"
My brother and I grew up and as a family, we pursued other adventures other than the white water kayaking that brought us to the area. Although I have been back to areas north of where Jesse James lived, I haven't been back to where he lived. In fact, it has now been over three decades since I last saw him on the night this picture was taken. Someday I would like to go back and drive by to see if the shack of a house is still there and if that bulldozer made from scrap parts is still sitting in the front yard.