A-fore De Dance Be Ob-er ... from
"Raisins and Almonds---A Civil War
It was a Sunday evening in the early fall of 1862. And
once again the faithful of Middleton were to gather at John's Church for
Sunday Evening Vespers. And as they filed in, each family
following another, they were greeted at the Church doors by John, who was
dressed in his traditional black robe and starched white collar while holding
onto his Bible by the crook of his left arm, freeing up both hands to welcome
these 'Guests' of the Lord' as he would often refer
to them. Sunday Vespers were always well attended, for they
were thought of more as social gatherings than worship services, and
John would speak of them in that same tone. And on this particular
evening as they began filing up the pews, they saw Emily in front of them,
already positioned at her piano rather than sitting in the first pew as was her
usual custom. She had her back to them all as she busily rearranged the
music that she would be playing as her contribution to that evening's
program. And this time, seated in a wooden chair beside her, but
facing the congregation, was someone all were unfamiliar with. He was an
older man with cropped grey hair and very little of it. He was clean
shaven and his face clearly outlined his advancing age. He was dressed in
a multi-colored shirt and freshly washed blue work overalls which
showed a faint press down the middle of each pant leg. And in his lap
he cradled a fiddle, as he nervously shifted its bow, first from one hand,
then to the other, and back again. One could tell that he was
not accustomed to playing his fiddle in front of such a large audience as that
which was gathering here before his very eyes.
And then finally, much to the old man's relief, he hears John's
opening words, spoken very loudly so that all might hear, and in an equally
deliberate voice coming from the front vestibule of the church:---
"By the grace of God, I am what I am--- First Corinthians, chapter
15, verse 10". And John's pronouncement becomes
Emily's queue to begin playing the opening strains
of that evening's processional hymn as posted in large letters up on the
chalk board beside John's pulpit. Emily's music was the signal for
all to stand and begin their singing of Horatio Bonar's 1845 hymn,
"All that I was" as John readied himself for his usual
Sunday Vespers role as a procession-of-one, heading down
the aisle that parted row-upon-row of pews now filled to
The processional hymn being over,
John delivered his opening prayer to the then seated congregation. And
when he had finished, John began his introduction of the old man with
"Emily and I wish to thank you
all for coming this evening. And tonight, we have a very special guest
with us. I know that for you all he is a stranger in this, the
Lord's House here tonight in Middleton, so let me introduce him to
you. His name is Joe Black, and he comes to us from Chambersburg.
By trade, Joe is a blacksmith..."
But before John could
continue, there was a collective, yet noticeably hushed 'gasp'
heard throughout the sanctuary--- for Middleton had been without a blacksmith
for sometime now, ever since the death of one of their own, a blacksmith by the
name of Stanton English.
But after this brief,
yet unexpected, pause, John continued:---
"...Yes, we all welcome
Joe's presence as our blacksmith here in Middleton in ways that he too
will come to know as you visit his shop in the coming days and months.
But tonight I want you to see and hear another side of Joe that you might not
otherwise come to know. For Joe, in his own unique way, has
something to say to us all in the form of a bit of poetry that he himself
could not write, but that he can recite from memory for us all here this
evening. And when he has
finished, Joe has also agreed to play a tune that has long held a special
place in Emily's and my heart--- 'John, Come Kiss Me
Now'. So, will you all please welcome, Mr. Joe
And with that said, the
audience broke out into what amounted to no more than sporadic applause, as the old man rose from his chair
and began reciting his poetry. And this is what Joe had to say to all who would listen
inside that sanctuary at Sunday Vespers:---
"Aye calls me piece,
'A-fore De Dance Be Ob-er' (1)
Hab ye eber paus-ed
ta watch yur chil'ren a'
wit thar sticks 'n runnin' hoops?
Or simply stop-ped
ta de ra-in
a-slappin' on de
Eber foll'er-ed a
Or gaz-ed a' de sun inta de fadin'
You'd best be a-slo'n down
be a-dancin' so fas'.
Fer time be a-short
de mus-ic, hit won't las'.
Do ye run thru each day
'n wen ye ask,
Duz ye eben
hay'r thar re-ply?
When day be dun
ye lie 'n yur ni-tee-shirt
wit de nex' hun'red chores
a-runnin' thru yur ha-ed?
You'd best be a-slo'n
'n don't be a-dancin' so fas'.
'n de mus-ic, hit won't
Eber tell'd a chil',
'We'll do hit ta-morry'
'n in yur haste,
see his sorry?
Eber los' touch,
let a gud fr'en'ship
lie--- 'Cause ye neber hab de
Ta go eben a-callin' jus' ta
be a-slo'n down
'n don't be a-dancin' so fas'.
Fer time be a-short
'n de mus-ic,
hit won't las'.
Wen ye run so fas' ta git
'half de fun be of a-gittin'
'n wen ye be a-worryin' 'n a-hurryin'
thru-out yur day,
Hit wud be like an un-op'n'd
jus' a-throw'd a-way.
Life be not a
So take hit slo'-er
'n hay'r de
A-fore De Dance Be Ob-er."
And when he had finished, Emily immediately began
playing the introductory bars to the old English
aire, "John, Come Kiss Me Now". So
quick was she in doing this transition from poetry to music, the audience had no
time to respond to what they had just heard. And with the playing of
these introductory bars, Joe reached over and picked up his fiddle and began
joining in, taking the lead from Emily, with the piano being quickly
relegated to its role as an instrument of accompaniment. And what
followed was as beautiful a rendition as was ever heard in these
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At the reception that followed vespers that Sunday evening,
when asked about how it was that Joe could read music, whereas he could not
read words, Joe had this to say:---
"Me mus-ic be lak a gif' frum de Lord. But me wurds
... dey be yur wurds, 'n not frum de Lord ... jus' as I hay'r ye speak
dem ta ebry wit-ch one, ratch hyar 'n nah."
And amidst the uncomfortable silence that emanated from those that were
within earshot, a lone voice was heard:---
"It's never been about what we say, or how we say
it. It's what we mean when we say
And then, while directing her attention squarely upon Joe,
the voice added,
"And it is the meaning behind your words here
tonight that we will all take home with us. Why, it was
like music to our ears --- and for that, we applaud you, Joe
It was Emily who had spoken, and with that she
rhythmically began applauding Joe--- himself a former slave
who had escaped to his freedom that previous June during the Second Battle of
Winchester--- a battle which the Union lost to the Confederates. At first,
Emily's staccato-like clapping of her hands together in such a rhythmic beat as this
was only politely joined by a few within their immediate
group. But then, quite spontaneously, the applause for Joe began to mount and
soon became deafening as it completely filled the sanctuary, spilling out onto
the lawn outside--- even on down to where the horses at their
posts began whinnying in concert with that which had just startled
(1) This poem, 'A-fore De Dance Be Ob-er' , was
inspired by a poem called "Slow Dance" --- written by
a noted child psychologist, David L. Weatherford, whose poem "Slow
Dance" is available to all on the Internet @ http://www.davidlweatherford.com/ .
Written permission was requested from and granted by Mr. Weatherford for my
adaptation of "Slow Dance" --- an adaptation
which I call, 'A-fore De Dance Be