Early last month, I made a pilgrimage to Southwest Virginia with my girlfriend, Brenda.
I lived in Galax for a few years – right off the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway, offering unparalleled vistas of the region, looking out into North Carolina with the iconic Pilot Mountain off in the distance.
Galax is renowned for its annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention – the largest and oldest event if its kind, with the 83rd installment coming up in August and drawing folks from the world over.
As of the 2010 census, Galax boasted just over seven thousand residents.
Brenda was born in Sparta, NC [the home of Dr. Grabow pipes], but grew up in Independence – just down US 58 [aka the “four lane”] from Galax. The same census reported 947 residents for the town. The local newspaper there is called – as if there was any other choice – The Declaration.
After an awesome lunch at a Mennonite shop and bakery/deli called The Dutch Pantry in Rural Retreat, I rode with Brenda’s brother Troy and her niece Brittney to Independence for a visit with a lady Brenda and Troy consider their second mom – Dorothy Ward Heffinger.
Dorothy was gracious and kind – and treated me like family off the bat. It was great to be a fly on the wall for the reminiscing. Her husband, Charlie, was off fishing – and while that was sort of a bummer for Brenda and Troy – everyone enjoyed themselves.
Somehow the subject of music came up, and Dorothy said something about her grandfather’s clawhammer banjo being in the Smithsonian.
Ward is often cited along with Kyle Creed as an example of the Galax-style clawhammer banjo playing.
I often talk about growing up in Hollywood and my many brushes with celebrities – but Brenda, in true hide-and-watch fashion, had an ace up her sleeve with this.
Well played, Brenda. Well played.