“Tribute to Doc,” by Melissa Hager

Melissa Hager

Entering death with open eyes amps up the peaceful transition accorded me. One minute I am tethered to gadgets, tubes poking out of every part of my body, constantly assaulted by beeps and whirs in my too-sensitive ears. The next, I stare at whiteness, but clearly see it, as well as the faces of many who have come before me.

On March 3, 1923, a boy was born deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He was named Arthel Lane Watson. Within one year of Arthel’s life, his family discovered he had been blinded from an eye infection. This did not bring pity from his family. He was expected to work and make do with the lot God had given him.

They wait with smiles, at different stages of their lives. Could it be Heaven is where you live forever at the age you were at your best on Earth?

The first song Arthel played was The Carter Family’s “When The Roses Bloom In Dixieland.” At 13 years old, he chopped down a tree on the family farm for his father in order to purchase his first guitar. It was a $12 Stella.

I marvel at the fact I can know who these serene folks are since I’ve never seen them. Blindness has been with me since before I was a year old. Heaven is obviously all it’s cracked up to be. It’s that place where you will “know.”

Brain synapses, not being used for sight, translated to lightning fast fingers and an impeccable ear for music. The nickname “Doc” was bestowed upon him on a radio show. He eventually earned an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music and received the National Medal of Arts.

The hospital’s machinery that attempted to keep me alive was no match against the driving beats of a standup bass, a mandolin, a banjo, and my old guitar. Lord, how I missed playing for the last little bit of my life.

Doc Watson, who won seven Grammys and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, influenced and worked with many major folk and bluegrass musicians. When asked about his illustrious career, he would humbly say he cheated with his capo. Doc went home to be with his Lord, May 29, 2012, one month to the day after his last performance at Merlefest. The annual music festival was created in 1988 to honor his deceased son, Merle.

But I can see Heaven is going to suit me just fine. Chet, Lester, Earl, and my boy, Merle (who looks all of 9 years old), wait in a group, instruments in hand. It’s time for this picker to fly.

2 comments on ““Tribute to Doc,” by Melissa Hager

  1. Aryan Bollinger says:

    Melissa, I was at Tasteful Beans the other evening when you read this essay. I had seen it posted here before you read it and was pleased to hear it read so well. In fact, after the reading, I went home and listened to some of Doc’s songs on Youtube. He was brilliant. Thanks for making me a new–though unfortunately late–fan of Doc’s!

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