A-fore De Dance Be Ob-er ... from "Raisins and Almonds---A Civil War Story"
 
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 capacity.
 
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 the fiddle:---
 
"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 Black."
 
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' play
wit thar sticks 'n runnin' hoops?



Or simply stop-ped ta lis'n
ta de ra-in
a-slappin'  on de gr-und?



Eber foll'er-ed a
butterfly's a-ratic flite?



Or gaz-ed a' de sun inta de fadin'
nite?



You'd best 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'.



Do ye run thru each day
on de fly?


'n wen ye ask, 'How-de-do?'


Duz ye eben hay'r thar re-ply?



When day be dun



Duz ye lie 'n yur ni-tee-shirt
wit de nex' hun'red chores
just a-runnin'  thru yur ha-ed?



You'd best 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'.



Eber tell'd a chil',



'We'll do hit ta-morry'



'n in yur haste,
not ta see his sorry?



Eber los' touch,
let a gud fr'en'ship lie---
'Cause ye neber hab de time'



Ta go eben a-callin'  jus' ta say,
'Howdy, fr'end!'



You'd best 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 some-whares



Ra-membar,
'half  de fun be of a-gittin' thar.'



'n wen ye be a-worryin'  'n a-hurryin'
thru-out yur day,



Hit wud be like an un-op'n'd gif'...
jus' a-throw'd a-way.



Life be not a race.


So take hit slo'-er



'n hay'r de mus-ic,
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 parts.
 
                                           
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             All controls on this X-MPLAYER2 media player work
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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 it." 
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 Black." 
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 them so.
 
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(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 Ob-er' .
 
 
...Bruce**********