The Strait and Narrow

Growing up, you probably heard a lot about “staying on the straight and narrow.”  About the time of my life I took a flying leap off that path, I also realized two things: 1) I liked driving back roads and 2) the original phrase is “strait is the gate and narrow is the way.”  “Strait” like “narrow like the straits of Gibraltar,” not “straight like an arrow.”

I quickly figured out, thanks to those Virginia backroads, that the narrow way is rarely straight.  It winds along the shoulders of hills and down creekbottoms, shoots up a ridge and leaves your stomach behind as it dives down the other side, is closed in by trees, then opens up into a meadow where you can see clear to the folds of the Blue Ridge. You pass old stone houses, time-blackened hog parlors, and country stores that advertise “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Bait.”

I took back roads from Charlotte to Durham yesterday and stopped in Randleman to see the grave of “Little Omie Wise,” after whose murder in 1807 one of the most famous American ballads was written.  After an overnight stop to hit an open mic with an old friend, Alan Barnosky (whose Old Freight, by the by, is a fantastic piece of songwriting and flatpicking both), I started heading north to Virginia.  I stopped at the Lawson Family graves, at the corner of Brooks Cove Road and Rt. 8 in Stokes County.  Listen to the Stanley Brothers tell the story here.

I’m still on Route 8, stopped at the Floyd Country Store for lunch as I’m passing through the heart of oldtime music territory.  I’ve got a head full of songs and am doing my best to capture them on paper.