The weather was rather warm, and it wasn’t even summertime yet. It was the kind of late spring evening when relaxing felt good after a day of picking up fallen tree branches in the sun.
As we worked in the yard my phone rang. It was my brother, Jim. “If you’re not busy tonight, why don’t you come to Sabina and we’ll go over to Jack Tagg’s garage and listen to them jam.”
Just before nightfall, we pulled up to Jack and Mary Tagg’s home on East Elm Street and parked around the corner on Stockton Avenue.
“Looks like there’s a nice crowd,” I told Brenda as we walked along the narrow sidewalk, and stopped to pet Jack’s cherished puppy, Angel.
As we entered the garage, we noticed a large sign on the back wall with the words “Jacks Country Jam” printed in bold lettering. Jack had placed speakers on the wall, just above his collection of model John Deere tractors. Alongside the miniature tractors was Jack’s Mac Tool collection of trucks of various shapes and kinds.
“Come on in,” Jack’s wife Mary said as she offered Brenda a piece of pumpkin pie and gave me a slice of angel food cake.
Everybody was there who played most Saturday nights. Jack Tagg, Larry Burnett, Kenny Yahn and his wife Wanda, Donnie Winters, Dave Puckett, and Larry McWhorter all were sitting around in a circle. They were tuned and ready to go.
Brenda and I took our seats between regular spectators Terry Moore and Barth Littleton, along with Jim and Donna Haley, Gracie Winters, Sue and Harold Wilson, Juanita Wilburn, and Roger Littleton, who often peddled up on his bike.
Donnie, the banjo picker, kicked it off with the Long Black Train as he sang:
“There’s a long black train,” “Coming down the line,” “Feeding off the souls that are lost and crying,” “Tails of sin only evil remains,” “Watch out brother for that long Black Train.”
The setting was informal, much like a “guitar pull”, which is a southern tradition where a small group of musicians take turns playing and singing songs of their choice. On this night, one musician couldn’t think of a song to sing. “You can never go wrong with a Hank Williams song someone suggested as the first chords of Cold, Cold Heart rang out. It turned out perfectly fine.
One evening, we brought our friend Bonnie Comery, to Jack’s jam. Bonnie was a city girl who had lived her entire life in Columbus. “Where are we going to sit?” Bonnie asked.
“We’ll pull up lawn chairs near the lightning bug zapper and put on some bug juice,” Brenda responded with a laugh.
“Do you mean we’ll sit in the grass and listen to these guys in the garage?” she asked with disbelief in her voice. “What will the neighbors say?”
“They probably will be over, too, before the night ends,” I replied. “Bonnie, small towns have traditions, and a Saturday night at Jack’s is special. In fact, neighbors bring their lawn chairs to the side yard, drink sweet tea and enjoy the music until the night grows late and the stars begin to climb into the sky.”
About an hour later, I looked over at Bonnie and noticed she had relaxed, her shoes were off, and she was rubbing her feet in the grass. From time to time she closed her eyes, and seemed to be losing herself in the small town atmosphere and the country music.
Far away, at least for now, were the blaring horns, the impatient traffic, and the indifference on the faces of people she passed on the sidewalks of Columbus. This wasn’t the case in Sabina. Several people went over to introduce themselves and made conversation. “What brings you to Sabina?” one asked.
“I am with the Haleys, my country cousins,” she answered with a laugh.
Nothing lasts forever, and soon the music came to an end. Just after ten o’clock, Bonnie saw two ladies begin walking down Elm Street toward their homes across town. “Are they really going to walk home alone at this hour?” Bonnie asked.
“Most people here don’t lock their doors during the day, and are not afraid to walk by themselves in town,” I responded. “If they don’t want to walk Jack will take them home in his golf cart. He loved to zip all over town in that thing.”
“This is one of the nicest nights I have ever experienced,” Bonnie said with generous smile. “I wish I could put this evening in a bottle and keep it forever.”
We do, too. Time soon passes and people come and go. Friends Jack, Barth, Terry, and Kenny are gone now, and the jam sessions have become a thing of the past.
“Life can change in the blink of an eye. All we have is right now,” someone once said.
Those words ring true as we think back once upon a time to Jacks and Bonnie, and that special night a long time ago.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.