Randy Travis, country singer extraordinaire, had a monster hit in 1986 titled “Diggin’ Up Bones.” The chorus went like this: “I’m diggin’ up bones. I’m diggin’ up bones. Exhuming things that are better left alone. I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone. Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones.”
The song portrays a man spending a sleepless night as he sadly reminisces about a wife no longer there. He talks to her picture, reads old love letters, and flings her wedding ring across the room. Why she left or who’s to blame we’re not told. We only know that he’s miserable without her.
I should give a disclaimer at this point that my love for traditional country music is perhaps a character flaw. If not for the cheating and drinking songs, there’d be a lot of dead time on the radio. And I’ll admit to being more than a passive listener. I sing along with Randy, Willie, Johnny, and George, although none of them need my help.
Randy’s soulful ballad came to mind recently and keeps hanging around. I was doing some much-needed work on the house my mother grew up in, when our daughter, Carrie, walked through. I asked what she thought. “It has good bones,” she said. That’s when I started singing that tune.
My grandparents’ house was built in the 1930s, after their first home burned down. Mama was 11 or 12 when they moved in, which dates it to around 1937. A man named Charlton Locke did the carpentry. I guess Granddaddy and others helped as Mr. Locke didn’t have a crew.
Mama’s older brothers, Emmett and Jack, probably pitched in. Bose Frederick, who worked on the farm back then, most likely lent a hand. But those are just guesses. None of them are around to ask and I didn’t think about inquiring when they were. It seems the older I get the more questions I have. I wonder about things now I didn’t take notice of earlier.
Mr. Locke may have slept on site during construction or found a vacant bed in the neighborhood. My mother doesn’t know where he stayed at night, but says he bathed in the nearby spring on weekends. Those seem rather austere conditions, but at the time a bath in clean running water was surely a step above a washtub, except maybe in cold weather. No telling what the fish downstream thought, but fish seldom complain.
Jimmy and I have spent a month or so tearing out wall paneling, ceiling tiles, and three layers of flooring that were added in the past, some of it 60 plus years ago. What we’ve uncovered is a structure that’s sound and octogenarian lumber which time has hardened like a rock.
“Good bones” is probably a term Carrie heard on a home-improvement show. It seems quite appropriate for describing an old building with plenty of wear and tear but a sturdy frame under its ragged skin.
Like the man in the song, I’ve been reminiscing too, except mine is thankfully the pleasant kind. I vaguely remember Granddaddy building a crackling fire when I spent a night there in early childhood. It felt great to wait in bed under the quilts, then warm in front of the hearth. I was too young to realize that tending fires was a regular part of Granddaddy’s day. It makes me appreciate him a bit more now.
Their four fireplaces were sealed long ago, the smokestacks removed when a metal roof was installed. With a little work, however, we’ll have a nice place for some gas logs. Artificial firewood won’t compare to oak lit with kindling, but there’s something mesmerizing about gazing into flames. Gentle flickers of orange can warm a body and soothe a soul.
There are more memories in my grandparents’ home than a column will hold, but I’ve written about them before, so I’ll only mention the fireplace today. Rather than elaborate on my recollections, I want to suggest we’re all better off by digging for the good bones in our past.
Sometimes, that’s almost impossible. The heartbroken man in the song knows that too well. But it’s mostly our choice which memories we resurrect. We can focus on those that make us sad or embrace the ones that make us glad. I’ve tried it both ways and found the latter is better.
I’ve been digging up bones lately and feel good about it. So, I hope you’ll look for some of your own today. If the weather is cool enough, you may want to sit by a fire and see where it takes you.