I love bluegrass. And of course I can listen to bluegrass anywhere but it only feels right when I listen to it here, here in its home territory. Bluegrass needs to set against the backwoods of America in order to really blossom into what it’s fully meant to be. I’ve listened to bluegrass many times in the UK — either caught by chance on the radio or one of my CDs — and, though it always sounded lovely, it never was more than a shadow of its true self. A little like hanging an Italian Renaissance painting on the wall of a log cabin. No… wait… more the other way round… maybe like spreading an handmade calico quilt over a bed in a some swanky, modern, high-end New York hotel. It’s still beautiful, but its beauty suffers for being in a place where it just doesn’t fit.
We listened to bluegrass on the radio on the way home tonight, driving down country roads with the windows open on a muggy evening that came at the close of a perfect, lazy, summer Sunday. M has never appreciated bluegrass properly, but then he has never experienced it where it ought to be. He still doesn’t quite get it really, but driving along tonight, with the warm air running over our skin and the girls falling asleep exhausted in the back, I think he started to. A little.
I love bluegrass. I love country music. I love hot, muggy summer evenings that smell of the promise of a cool night to come. I love storms, real storms — powerful, scary storms full of threats they can fulfill, if it turns that way. I love diners, and oversized plates of good plain grub, with lots of needless melted cheese and served with endless refills of coffee — even though I can’t eat at them anymore. I love closets… forced-air heat… garbage disposals… mixer-taps. I love country roads, yellow schoolbusses, and the possibility that there’s bear in them thar woods… because those woods go on for miles and miles. I love fireflies, chipmunks. I love hummingbirds — hummingbirds! — right there at the feeder on the backporch, whizzing past my head to get to it and scaring me to death with the sudden buzz of their wings. And I love the backporch too, and sitting on the porchswing at the end of the day, and having dinner outside and a slow beer, as the girls run off the last of their energy with the neighbour kids, and I sit wrapped in that heavy, warm, still summer air.
M is in the wrong place — like the quilt, like the painting. He doesn’t fit, and he is diminished by it. And I’m not in the right place either, because I don’t belong here anymore — there is too much of me that is left in England and the separation hurts, every day.
And yet, at the same time, I do belong here — deeply, deeply belong here. All these things I love… they are my childhood, they are my formation. They are what made me who I am and, when I am in Britain, I am diminished no less by the separation from them too.
“Let’s face it,” M said at one point as we drove, “we’re not going to get back for at least five years. There’s no way we’ll manage it sooner.” I don’t like it, but I do think he’s right. It’s a huge undertaking, an self-funded international move, especially with a family in tow.
“I know,” I said. We drove on, and after a minute or two, I added, “But I am glad that you’ve been here.” Because as crazy and as difficult and as exciting as the past year has been, what it’s really been is an education for him — a crash course on the subject of his own wife. He knew me before, but he knows me so much better now.
He turned and looked outside for a moment, at the quintessentially American summer evening as it rushed past us, and the muggy air blew cool and fresh through the windows.
“Yeah…” He looked back at me and smiled just a little. “Me too.”