Christmas without Pap
After Christmas Folklore

From Brasstown to Vermont and Back

Spider Web Canyon composed by Katie Pressley in honor of her Grandfather Jerry 'Pap' Wilson

Pap helping Chitter tune before a show

My favorite Christmas gift arrived way back in October...but no one noticed it was here. The gift just sat quietly waiting for the right time to announce itself.

Like lots of folks Pap had a chair he claimed for his own and as his medical problems became more serious he sat in it more and more. Whenever you walked into the living-room you'd expect him to be sitting there in the green plaid recliner. The day he died Paul slept in his chair.

In the weeks and month's afterward I think we all looked at the chair and thought about Pap not being in it. Sometimes I gave it a pat when I'd walk behind it to go to the bathroom or get something for Granny from one of the back rooms. More than once I saw the girls give it a good sniff trying to catch a whiff of Pap's unique smell which was a mixture of Listerine, Vitalis, and coffee. 

One day when I came in from work Chitter told me she'd been inspired to compose a song about Pap. She said she was sitting in his chair and the tune just came to her. 

I love to read and after Pap's death I went through a spell of reading pioneer stories about the folks who packed up everything they owned and headed out west for a new start. After Chitter played her song for me I said "Now it might just be because I've been reading about the pioneers heading west but I swear that song makes me think of a western town in the 1800s." Chitter smiled and said "Well I was thinking about mine and Pap's favorite western when I wrote it."

I couldn't wait for her to play it for Paul. He liked the song as much as I did and advised Chitter to really think about what to name it-to let it sit for a while and then name it something she'd always find meaningful to her and maybe even be symbolic for Pap since she said he inspired it. 

A few weeks later Chitter said she'd come up with a name Spider Web Canyon. Pap and Chitter had a common love of westerns. Often they talked about the books Chitter was reading and about Pap's favorites that he'd read over the years. One of the last books they talked about was Zane Grey's Lost Wagon Train and Spider Web Canyon played an important role in the story.

Chitter taught Spider Web Canyon to David Kaynor who is one of her music mentors. If you think his name sounds familiar, I've written about him teaching the girls at John C. Campbell Folk School's Dance Musicians Class.

David lives in Massachusetts where he teaches music, calls dances, conducts the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra, and many other things. Over the years David has become a special friend to our family and has a strong bond of friendship with us. David got to meet Pap back in the Spring of the year and even joined us onstage at the Martins Creek Community Center.

David took Chitter's song and the story of Pap inspiring her back up north and taught it to the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra. They played it at a performance and David sent us a recording of the event, but Chitter failed to notice he had sent it. Between finals, her senior capstone project, and life she never saw the message that David had sent her back in October. 

I'm sort of glad Chitter didn't find the recording until December, hearing an amazing orchestra play the song that Chitter composed while sitting in Pap's chair was the best Christmas present ever.

Knowing I wanted everyone to experience the song I made a slide-show of photos from Pap's life to go along with the music for Granny and Paul. They just loved it. I'm not sure who's watched it more Paul or me, but we've about wore it out. 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my favorite Christmas present and I hope you enjoyed the video-if you did please share it with your friends.


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to quote Pap, "by Ned" I cried. Lovely. Such an incredible talent to translate the love of someone who stood as tall as Pap into a beautiful, haunting melody. My favorite picture is the one with his hat on his heart - tells you right there the kind of man he was - next is the shaving picture - and then the dude with his black leather jacket.

What a lovely song!

What great musical tributes to your special loved one! What talent! Loved them both!

I live in a big city across the country from you, have never met your family, though have enjoyed your blog for years. Chatter's music and the photos had me crying. She is extraordinarily talented, a talent inherited from her family, especially her grandfather.

I love, love, love this tune and the pictures of Pap and the family. Truly, a very special family.

This was a treat to hear and see! Thank you for sharing this with us. You are a blessed family.

Tipper, So beautiful! the slide show was wonderful and what a tribute to your father! Thank you so much for sharing.


It's a bit odd, composing a comment which begins with, "I'm really at a loss for words", but:

I'm really at a loss for words!

However, some thoughts are taking shape:

The comments already shared here, along with countless comments on your past posts, testify beautifully and powerfully to how much your family's people and music have given to the world.

I hope some of your initial worries about whether the music could and should go on without your father in it have been eased. I feel that, in the best of ways, your father continues to be in the music. In fact, his presence in the music may well develop, rather than dissipate, as time goes on.

I also feel that, just as sharing music has helped me through some devastating experiences in both the distant and recent past, it can help everyone in your family, and help others through you.

May I just share a little of my experience of developing Spider Web Canyon with the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra:

Early in our fall season, I introduced the tune, with which I was already deeply in love, to the Fiddle Orchestra, and I encouraged the members to "woodshed" on it for a few weeks.

The Wednesday evening practice during which we set to work on Spider Web Canyon turned out to be right in the midst of a very, very hard time for many of our members who trudged into the practice room with heavy steps, in low spirits, looking sad and unwell. Normally vibrant people were lethargic; normally upbeat people were morose. The evening's early work was sluggish and dispirited.

Then we began working on Spider Web Canyon.

As the tune came together in people's minds and hands, I suddenly realized that they were sitting up straighter. Bodies were relaxing. Faces were relaxing. Tears were appearing. It dawned on me that I was both witnessing and helping facilitate something especially heartwarming, healing, and uplifting as the membership not only learned to play the notes and chords, but became friends with the piece, and, through the piece, with its composer. We opened ourselves to the music and each other, and, for a few precious minutes, the "real" world's hurts and cares fell away, and we shared a little time in an all-too-rare pure state and sacred space. I needed some time in that space. I think we all did. And, in that particular time and place, Spider Web Canyon took us there.

I'll always cherish this experience and I'll always be deeply grateful to all who helped create, nourish, and support the beautiful mind and heart from which this piece of music came. This music, and all of you, have already given much to a hurting world, and I have faith that the giving will not only continue, but grow.

Thank you, Tipper. Thanks to your whole family and to all who help your music endure and grow.


P.S. After both concerts, people came up afterward to share their experience that Spider Web Canyon gave them extraordinary, totally unexpected feelings of healing and peace

Re: Chitter's original song. The spare guitar pick inter-twined among the strings above the nut, just in case he dropped the one he was using, the lamp on the kitchen table and the picture of him with the pack of Red Man in his shirt pocket were the most outstanding, I thought.

Along the lines of another's post, when the man who taught me to play the fiddle died, somewhere north of 90, my Dad tucked a packet of chewing tobacco ('twas Beech-Nut, as I recall) in the folds of his casket as he passed by...

Chitter, I loved it, I can see the Wagon Train traveling down the dusty canyon. Great tribute to Pap.

So very special........thank you.

The tune is so touching, as are all the photos. I'm teary-eyed right now. It's wonderful when you have a good family.

Wow! This is a great tribute, and an honor for her!

Lovely story Tipper. Amazing how smells trigger memories isn't it. We have an old dining room buffet that belonged to my mil, my daughter loves opening those drawers when she is at our house and smelling Grandma.

What a talented family you have. Happy New Year to all

A beautiful tribute to her grandfather!

Katie did a wonderful job with that tune. Did she suggest the banjo and the (sounded like) penny whistle? The harmony provided by the fiddle band really enhanced the feel of the tune.
Tipper, as always, you did a wonderful job with the slide show - such a loving tribute.

A wonderful tribute for your family to cherish forever. Just beautiful! The musical heritage will live on and on in your talented family!
Thanks for sharing,

Such a beautiful tribute to your wonderful daddy!

That was so "touching", he treated me like Family and I'll always appreciate that! I don't know anyone who has had such an impression in my life. Nice to have a granddaughter like Chitter to show her praise for her granddad by composing such a tune. Thanks! ...Ken

That was beautiful!!! Half way through reading your story, I had to get up and go get some tissues to take care of the tears that were rolling down my face. True love of family runs deep and it brings to mind all one feels of love for those who have passed on but are held close in our hearts and minds. Sounds so much like my people who grew up in south east TN, and north east MS. Paps love for westerns and reading Zane Grey books I guess was experienced by most young people in the rural South, at least it was in the last remanent of tendrils of the Appalachian mountains ending maybe 8 miles south of Tremont, MS, where the land finally starts to flatten out. Westerns and Zane Grey books were picked up at the library and the oldest son would read the book to his younger brothers. Sometimes they would read the book first and at night tell the story and sometimes the story had to be continued til the next week.

What a wonderful memory Chitter has made to remember her Grandfather!

Just an amazing song and slide show, honoring such an amazing man! Thank you for sharing Chitter's awesome gift with us and THANK YOU Chitter!! Will be watching this over and over and sharing with family and friends.

Thank you Tipper and Chitter for sharing the lovely tribute, music and slides.
Diane Carrillo

I do love this tune, and believe I will listen to it time and time again!

Loved, loved, loved it!! Like we say down here in south Alabama, you are part of some "good folks".
Note....the photo where your Pap has the Red Man in his shirt pocket made me smile. When my Daddy died, my son found the pack of Red Man he had been using in the kitchen cabinet. I noticed that he took it with him when we left Daddy's house that day. At Daddy's funeral, I saw my son whisper something to the Funeral Director and hand him the package of Red Man. He had made sure his Paw Paw was buried with his chewing tobacco that he enjoyed so much!


Several years ago Jim and I felt like lucky folks on that special night, when we got to meet your father, after his performance with your girls at the Folk School. The song "Spider Web Canyon" will go a long way, for a long time, to keep our memories of your Dad in our hearts.

Devotedly yours,
Jim & Eva Wike

Love the song and the pictures. What a wonderful legacy that your whole family is continuing to carry on.

What a beautiful tune! I think that my sister's friend and fellow musician, Mary Heningbaum would have loved to learn that one. She played fiddle in Mary's Family Band with my sister and her husband. My sister played fiddle earlier in her life, but had to give it up and stick to banjo when her neck just wouldn't hold her instrument any longer. That tune has a lovely lilt to it, and reminds me of the sway of a wagon rolling westward.

Thanks for sharing. Perhaps it was meant for you to find the recording in December in light of your previous post. I am confident God's timing takes each affected party into consideration. In the case of partings it is both those leaving and those staying.

What a great tribute in every way.


Oh my, Tipper. I cried and I didn't even know your Dad. A great tribute. What a beautiful song. My Dad, son, and I watched John Wayne movies on Christmas and Katie's song reminds me of those great scores from my favorite westerns. Just wonderful.

I didn't know your Dad, but some of the pictures reminded me of some of the men I have known and still know. Men of that cut are a reminder that I need to step up my game. They have given us a legacy and a debt owed...they remind me I should always do better.

Thanks for sharing. It was very moving.

Very nice production. Enjoyed Katies original and all the pictures. I don't think very nice was appropriate. I change it to a big EXCELLENT! A healthy and productive new year to all. Thanks, Mike T. Parrish, Fl.

When I heard Chitter's song with the slideshow Christmas day I was so very deeply touched. The pictures of Pap through the years set to music that Chitter composed is to see the circle complete. Pap is not gone he is here in every breath drawn by Chitter, Tipper, Paul, Chatter, and this list goes on and on.
This moment was my highlight of this year's Christmas Season! I'm so glad Tip decided to share it with everyone!

Please tell Chitter ,that was absolutely beautiful. I'll be hearing it all day long. Seeing the photos of Pap along with it was perfect. Thanks for sharing such a great love with all of us.

I seen it first on the Tube, wow it with the pictures kinda choked me up a bit.. 2 thumbs up.

Tipper--Touching and deeply moving. Of all the pictures, I liked the one of Jerry heading down between rows of mature corn, with a bucket in hand, best. To me it is somehow symbolic of a man who lived close to the good earth moving on to another existence after a fruitful one here on earth.

Jim Casada

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