Blacksnakes 1893

Snake sightings in western north carolina

"Now, there's blacksnakes around here. One morning I went into the kitchen and opened a door to come into the room there. And when I opened that door, there was a big old blacksnake a-layin' right on top of the door and it fell down on top of my head! I had an old mop a-settin' there, and there was little back porch there, and I opened the door and got the mop and just mopped him right out into the yard! He crawled off. I didn't kill him. One time we had a springhouse out there. Shady. Had two spring-run troughs in there. And we'd milk the cows and skim the milk and make butter and sell it. And so one day my mother told me to do something here at the house, and she'd go churn. She always sat on the nail keg. So when she got done churnin', she moved the keg and there was a big blacksnake under it. She'd been settin' on that snake all the time. I heard her hollerin' for me to come and bring the hoe. Well, I went down there, but we never got the snake."

Hazel Campbell, 1893 Ashe County - Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie by Patsy Moore Ginns


I've heard more snake stories this summer than I ever have. Having a boss who is deathly afraid of them might have something to do with it, but still lots of snake stories around Cherokee County NC this year. Including two incidents of blacksnakes getting in buildings at work. 

The most recent blacksnake incident at work happened when a maintenance man found a six-foot long snake in a bathroom. How did he find it? When he entered the room to check the trash it struck at him! Much like Ms. Campbell above he ushered the snake out the door and down into the drainage ditch where the snake politely took off straight back to the building and tried to squeeze under the front door! I hate to think about what sort of tasty snack the snake was after inside the building.


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Listen to my Whippoorwill

Dog barks at whippoorwill

We've had a whippoorwill hanging around our house since about mid May. It sends out its call just after dusky dark each night and just before dawn every morning like clockwork. The bird seems to start on one side of the house and then make its way to the other side usually ending somewhere very near the front porch.

Ruby Sue does not like the Whippoorwill. As soon as you hear the bird's call you know what's coming next: a fit of barking from a barky little dog. 

I recorded the whippoorwill in the video below in 2012. I wonder if the one hanging around now is a descendant of the first bird. 

Because of various songs and pieces of written word we often associate whippoorwills with being lonesome and sad. I've never found their whistling call lonesome. To me whippoorwills sound like they are calling out with an inquisitive hope that someone will answer them. 


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The Mountain Whippoorwill - Stephen Vincent Benet

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet

The Mountain Whippoorwill written by Stephen Vincent Benet 1925

Up in the mountains, it's lonesome all the time,
(Sof' win' slewin' thu' the sweet-potato vine.)

Up in the mountains, it's lonesome for a child,
(Whippoorwills a-callin' when the sap runs wild.)

Up in the mountains, mountains in the fog,
Everythin's as lazy as an old houn' dog.

Born in the mountains, never raised a pet,
Don't want nuthin' an' never got it yet.

Born in the mountains, lonesome-born,
Raised runnin' ragged thu' the cockleburrs and corn.

Never knew my pappy, mebbe never should.
Think he was a fiddle made of mountain laurel-wood.

Never had a mammy to teach me pretty-please.
Think she was a whippoorwill, a-skittin' thu' the trees.

Never had a brother ner a whole pair of pants,
But when I start to fiddle, why, yuh got to start to dance!

Listen to my fiddle -- Kingdom Come -- Kingdom Come!
Hear the frogs a-chunkin' "Jug o' rum, Jug o' rum!"
Hear that mountain whippoorwill be lonesome in the air,
An' I'll tell yuh how I travelled to the Essex County Fair.

Essex County has a mighty pretty fair,
All the smarty fiddlers from the South come there.

Elbows flyin' as they rosin up the bow
For the First Prize Contest in the Georgia Fiddlers' Show.

Old Dan Wheeling, with his whiskers in his ears,
King-pin fiddler for nearly twenty years.

Big Tom Sargent, with his blue wall-eye,
An' Little Jimmy Weezer that can make a fiddle cry.

All sittin' roun', spittin' high an' struttin' proud,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh better bug yore eyes!)
Tun-a-tun-a-tunin' while the jedges told the crowd
Them that got the mostest claps'd win the bestest prize.

Everybody waitin' for the first tweedle-dee,
When in comes a-stumblin' -- hill-billy me!

Bowed right pretty to the jedges an' the rest,
Took a silver dollar from a hole inside my vest,

Plunked it on the table an' said, "There's my callin' card!
An' anyone that licks me -- well, he's got to fiddle hard!"

Old Dan Wheeling, he was laughin' fit to holler,
Little Jimmy Weezer said, "There's one dead dollar!"

Big Tom Sargent had a yaller-toothy grin,
But I tucked my little whippoorwill spang underneath my chin,
An' petted it an' tuned it till the jedges said, "Begin!"

Big Tom Sargent was the first in line;
He could fiddle all the bugs off a sweet-potato vine.

He could fiddle down a possum from a mile-high tree,
He could fiddle up a whale from the bottom of the sea.

Yuh could hear hands spankin' till they spanked each other raw,
When he finished variations on "Turkey in the Straw."

Little Jimmy Weezer was the next to play;
He could fiddle all night, he could fiddle all day.

He could fiddle chills, he could fiddle fever,
He could make a fiddle rustle like a lowland river.

He could make a fiddle croon like a lovin' woman.
An' they clapped like thunder when he'd finished strummin'.

Then came the ruck of the bob-tailed fiddlers,
The let's-go-easies, the fair-to-middlers.

They got their claps an' they lost their bicker,
An' they all settled back for some more corn-licker.

An' the crowd was tired of their no-count squealing,
When out in the center steps Old Dan Wheeling.

He fiddled high and he fiddled low,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh got to spread yore wings!)
He fiddled and fiddled with a cherrrywood bow,
(Old Dan Wheeling's got bee-honey in his strings).

He fiddled a wind by the lonesome moon,
He fiddled a most almighty tune.

He started fiddling like a ghost.
He ended fiddling like a host.

He fiddled north an' he fiddled south,
He fiddled the heart right out of yore mouth.

He fiddled here an' he fiddled there.
He fiddled salvation everywhere.

When he was finished, the crowd cut loose,
(Whippoorwill, they's rain on yore breast.)
An' I sat there wonderin' "What's the use?"
(Whippoorwill, fly home to yore nest.)

But I stood up pert an' I took my bow,
An' my fiddle went to my shoulder, so.

An' -- they wasn't no crowd to get me fazed --
But I was alone where I was raised.

Up in the mountains, so still it makes yuh skeered.
Where God lies sleepin' in his big white beard.

An' I heard the sound of the squirrel in the pine,
An' I heard the earth a-breathin' thu' the long night-time.

They've fiddled the rose, and they've fiddled the thorn,
But they haven't fiddled the mountain-corn.

They've fiddled sinful an' fiddled moral,
But they haven't fiddled the breshwood-laurel.

They've fiddled loud, and they've fiddled still,
But they haven't fiddled the whippoorwill.

I started off with a dump-diddle-dump,
(Oh, hell's broke loose in Georgia!)

Skunk-cabbage growin' by the bee-gum stump.
(Whippoorwill, yo're singin' now!)

My mother was a whippoorwill pert,
My father, he was lazy,
But I'm hell broke loose in a new store shirt
To fiddle all Georgia crazy.

Swing yore partners -- up an' down the middle!
Sashay now -- oh, listen to that fiddle!
Flapjacks flippin' on a red-hot griddle,
An' hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose,
Fire on the mountains -- snakes in the grass.
Satan's here a-bilin' -- oh, Lordy, let him pass!
Go down Moses, set my people free;
Pop goes the weasel thu' the old Red Sea!
Jonah sittin' on a hickory-bough,
Up jumps a whale -- an' where's yore prophet now?
Rabbit in the pea-patch, possum in the pot,
Try an' stop my fiddle, now my fiddle's gettin' hot!
Whippoorwill, singin' thu' the mountain hush,
Whippoorwill, shoutin' from the burnin' bush,
Whippoorwill, cryin' in the stable-door,
Sing tonight as yuh never sang before!
Hell's broke loose like a stompin' mountain-shoat,
Sing till yuh bust the gold in yore throat!
Hell's broke loose for forty miles aroun'
Bound to stop yore music if yuh don't sing it down.
Sing on the mountains, little whippoorwill,
Sing to the valleys, an' slap 'em with a hill,
For I'm struttin' high as an eagle's quill,
An' hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose in Georgia!

They wasn't a sound when I stopped bowin',
(Whippoorwill, yuh can sing no more.)
But, somewhere or other, the dawn was growin',
(Oh, mountain whippoorwill!)

An' I thought, "I've fiddled all night an' lost,
Yo're a good hill-billy, but yuh've been bossed."

So I went to congratulate old man Dan,
-- But he put his fiddle into my han' --
An' then the noise of the crowd began!


Whippoorwills and fiddles - wow what a great story!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday June 10, 2017 @ 8:00 p.m. at Vogel State Park - Blairsville GA.

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Whippoorwills in appalachia

When the Whippoorwhills Call by John Parris

There's an old mountain saying that when the first whippoorwill calls it's time for the corn to be in the ground.

Bert Hensley, a mountain man with a sharp eye and a keen ear for nature's signs, heard his first whippoorwill of the year a couple nights back.

"When I heard it start to calling out there in the dark, and me sitting here by the fire," he said, "I told myself, "you'd better get your corn in the ground'."

So, yesterday, after a tardy sun had burned off the frost of a dogwood winter's day, he hitched up his mule to the old plow and took to his new-turned ground to set his rows for his seed corn.

"My daddy and my granddaddy always said when the first whippoorwill calls, it's time for the corn to be in the ground," he recalled. "Most times my corn's in the ground when I hear the first whippoorwill. But this year, I sort of held back, what with all the uncertain weather . . . "Speaking of whippoorwills," he said, "some folks don't like to hear 'em in the night. Say their call is monotonous. But I like to hear 'em. To me they make a pretty whistling."

"Back when I was coming on, some folks said when the first whippoorwills of spring was heard you ought to get out and turn head over heels three times. They said it would keep you from having the backache during the year."

"And there was another saying that when you hear the first whippoorwill of the year, you should walk three steps back, pick up whatever is under your heel, spit on it, and make a wish."

"I've spent a lot of time listening to whippoorwills and observing their habits. A whippoorwill's about 10 inches long. It has a small bill but a big head. And it's got big eyes, tiny feet, and very long wings."

"During the daytime the whippoorwill sleeps on the ground where its color blends in with the dead leaves. At night it feeds by waiting for insects from some perch or pursuing them swallow like and snapping them up in its huge maw."

"The whippoorwill don't make a nest like other birds. It lays only two eggs and they're plain white or lightly spotted. It lays them on the ground among the leaves where they stand right out where you can see them if the bird leaves them."

"The whippoorwill rolls them about until they hatch. I've seen the eggs over at the edge of the field in the morning and then over at the other edge late in the afternoon . . ."The whippoorwill's loud, three-syllable whistled call is heard in the darkness more often than the bird is seen. As a matter of fact, you hardly ever see a whippoorwill."


I hope you enjoyed the piece by John Parris. As you can tell, I'm still studying on whippoorwills. 


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p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday June 3, 2017 @ 1:30 p.m. Art, River & Music Festival - Murphy NC and on Saturday  June 10, 2017 @ 8:00 p.m. Vogel State Park - Blarisville GA.


Rabies in Appalachia

Rabies written by Larry Griffith

As a boy in the early 1950's I lived on Squirrel Run in Elliot Co. KY. It was called squirrel run because their were so many of them. A man by the name of Johnson lived on the farm in the 1870's and 1880's and paid a bounty on them because they were eating his crops. There is still plenty of squirrels and animals we didn't have back then like turkey, deer, coyotes, and an occasional bear. One thing we did have was mad dogs.

The old house we lived in sat high on one side and low on the other side with the windows low. It made you feel like something was going to jump through one of those low windows. Dad worked away in Detroit which left Mom, baby brother, a brother 1 yr. younger than me, and myself for Mom to take care of. Us boys were too young to be of help so everything fell on her.

My brother and me played out all the time. We really enjoyed gathering beech nuts, and storing them in the Doan pill containers, playing with the puppies, and running our tootle models. The tootle models were nothing but big brushy limbs we drug on the dirt road to make the dust fly. This is just a guess but we must have heard the older folks talk of T-model Fords. Another thing we did was pour sand down the yellow jacket nests. That was a sport to us, and sometimes we got stung. The best thing we had was our pet dog Ole Buddy. I believe he was part shepherd and was our constant companion.

At night dogs would get under the house and fight. Mom would take the little 22 single shot rifle and shoot through the floor. I don't know if she ever hit one, but they would leave. I remember one time her shooting at one out the front door with the single barrel 12 gauge. There was much rabies at the time.

Henry Salyers lived about half mile up the gravel road and he would come down of the mornings with his big double barrel shotgun and check things out. I don't remember him finding any dead dogs or mad dogs but his coming made us feel better.

Dad quit his job in Detroit and came home. He got a job cutting virgin white oak about 2 miles up the holler we lived in. Dad told me a few years ago that some of the white oaks were over 3 foot through.

One day the owner of the timber company, a preacher from TN, was driving down the holler and Mom waved him over to the house and gave him the shotgun and shells. Ole Buddy was mad. He shot and killed him there in the road while we watched. I think he was trying to drink out of a mud hole. Dad came home from work, took the shotgun and killed all the puppies. He wouldn't let us watch but we heard the shots.

All of us had to take rabies shots. I don't remember all the details, but we went many times to the doctor's office. The shots hurt and my brother and me tried to get away from the nurse, but they always caught us.

Oh, I just thought about the new dog Dad got us. He looked just like Ole Buddy and we named him Buddy too. He was an ill natured thing and wouldn't let you near him while eating and didn't want to be petted. He was not Ole Buddy!


Larry sent me the story about Ole Buddy a few months back. I was reminded of it this past week when a friend's daughter was bit by a dog thought to be rabid. Not only do those shots hurt they are expensive too! I always heard a man down the road had rabies as a child and survived it. Most folks who told the story would end it by saying and that's why he's crazy as a loon.

I also read a scary account of a fox attacking a man who was sitting on his porch last week in GA. As violent as the attack was described I'm positive it would have killed a child or someone who was more feeble than the man who fought it off. 

Anothony Cavender offers the following information about rabies in the book Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia.

"Many Southern Appalachians believed that snakes and dogs were particularly dangerous during the dog days of summer, when snakes became aggressive and dogs went mad. Remedies for snake and mad-dog bites were essentially the same. Magical cures for mad-dog bites were killing the dog, pulling out one of its teeth, and placing it under a rock; placing the hip bone of a deer on the wound; and killing a chicken, extracting its gizzard, and then hiding it. Another remedy was to kill the rabid dog and apply some of its hair to the wound (thus the phrase "hair of the dog that bit you," which is used today in reference to a hangover cure in which one drinks some of the same alcoholic beverage that one got drunk from). "



  • The Pressley Girls will be playing Friday May 26 at 5:30 on the square in Hayesville, NC.
  • The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday May 27 at 7:00 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater in Bryson City NC. The cost of admission is 10 dollars and all money raised will be used for maintenance of the Lauada Cemetery.
  • The Pressley Girls will also be performing Sunday May 28 at 12:00 p.m. in Blairsville GA at the Spring Arts and Crafts Festival. 

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Whippoorwills in Bellview


 I grew up hearing Pap tell a very silly story about Whippoorwills.

In days gone by, the story was quite popular in our area. In fact the story was so popular a man came to record it straight from the source as they say. Pap was lucky to hear the story from the source and from the later recording. 

Old Man Jeff claimed to have been responsible for choking out  the Whippoorwills in Bellview (a local community). Pap said back then Whippoorwills were so plentiful that fox hunters said they interfered with their hunting.

Old Man Jeff and his brothers were out fox hunting one night and the Whippoorwills were so loud they couldn't hear the dogs running. Old Man Jeff told one of his brothers to pull out his shirt tail and tie a knot in it-to choke the Whippoorwills. As soon as he tied the knot the birds quietened a bit. Old Man Jeff told him to tie another one and the birds got even quieter! Old Man Jeff instructed his brother to tie one more knot and as he tied the last knot all the Whippoorwills fell out of the tree dead and there hasn't been a Whippoorwill in Bellview since!

The story or should I say "tall tale" is funny enough, but Pap says the recording was even funnier.

At the end of the recorded story you can hear a lady say "Anybody who'd believe that is standing on their head!" The interviewer asks who the lady is and Old Man Jeff says "That's my crazy old woman she don't believe nothing!"

I love hearing the call of the Whippoorwill. The sound is kind of eerie and lonesome. Seems each year I hear them less. In some areas the Whippoorwill population has been decreased by as much as 80%-not because of someone choking them out with their shirt-tail, but by the continued spread and sprawl of people.



  • The Pressley Girls will be playing Friday May 26 at 5:30 on the square in Hayesville, NC.
  • The Pressley Girls will be playing Saturday May 27 at 7:00 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater in Bryson City NC. The cost of admission is 10 dollars and all money raised will be used for maintenance of the Lauada Cemetery.
  • The Pressley Girls will also be performing Sunday May 28 at 12:00 p.m. in Blairsville GA at the Spring Arts and Crafts Festival. 

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Funny Rabbits

My life in appalachia - Rabbits

Chitter snapped this picture out her bedroom window.

Mr. Cottontail pranced back and forth so long that we decided he must have been posing for her or laughing at us because he just ate the tops off all of my beans. 

I tried to remember all the rabbit folklore I knew to share with you, but only 2 things came to mind: the obvious a lucky rabbit foot; and you shouldn't kill rabbits to eat until after the first few heavy frosts in fall to make sure any wolves (parasites) on the rabbit are gone.

I checked with Frank C. Brown to see if he had any good ones to add:

  • A rabbit cannot be trapped in a new box trap-you must use old boards to make the box
  • If a rabbit being chased by dogs stops and licks his paws-the dogs will never find him (I know a beagle down the hill who would disagree with this one)
  • Seeing a rabbit while fishing is bad luck
  • On the first day of the month say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit and you'll get a present before you know it (I hope all of you will be saying Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit with me on June 1)

Seeing Mr. Cottontail out Chitter's window reminded me of some of her silly videos from snap chat that make her look like a rabbit. 

Click on the video to start it and then click on it again to end it. 

 Aren't I just a pretty little rabbit? I think my ears are to big though. So I'm thinking about having just a little bit of bunny botox!

I'm just a little rabbit. They told me I could be anything. So do you know? Do you know what I said? I said, bite like a spider, run and sting like a rabbit!

Let me tell you something in rabbit world. I just saw my best friend Benny's foot hanging on a chain in a little treasure shop. That's messed up its not lucky for the rabbit!


Hope you enjoyed the silliness and if you've got any other rabbit folklore please share it.


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing TODAY Saturday May 20, 2017 @ 2:00 p.m  at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center - Robbinsville NC and Sunday May 21, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. at Mount Moriah Baptist Church - Murphy NC. Their summer is schedule is filling up-to see a complete list of performance dates go here. If you make it out to any of the shows please come up and say hello!

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So What's a Packsaddle?

Packsaddles hide in the corn and sting you

pack saddle noun A large caterpillar (Sibine stimulea) having a poisonous sting. 
1999 Montgomery Coll. (Cardwell).

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Packsaddles sting

A few weeks ago Bill Burnett mentioned packsaddles in a comment he left. In another comment, Quinn said she sure would like to know more about packsaddles since she had never even heard of one.

So I decided to find a packsaddle.

I went out to the corn patch with camera in hand, but as you can see from the photos, I didn't find a packsaddle. The only things I found were some beans that had been hiding from me way over in the corn, a stink bug, and a couple of bean bugs.

Some folks call packsaddles saddlebacks

Packsaddles are stinging caterpillars and are often found in the corn patch, although the last time I was stung by one it was while I was picking blueberries.

The sting from a packsaddle is different from a bee sting. A packsaddle sting seems to last longer-I mean the initial sting seems to keep on stinging at the same level. Whereas a bee sting seems to sting like fire and then retreat to a dull throb. 

If you'd like to see a packsaddle go here.


p.s. Christmas is just around the corner-check out the great sale Chitter is having in her Etsy Shop ALL sale items are under $20 AND have FREE Shipping - Visit this link to view the sale items. And while you're on Etsy, visit Chatter's new shop of all natural skincare Apothecopie

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Black Racers and Hoop Snakes

King Snake in Appalachia

Last weekend Miss Cindy came over to visit, as she was leaving she found a snake on our front porch. We all ran out to see it and by then it had wedged itself between the stair runner and the wall. I said I bet it's after the baby birds. The Deer Hunter said it's just a King Snake leave it alone. Miss Cindy went on her way and we all went back the house. 

A few hours later Chitter discovered the snake was indeed after the baby birds. A few sprays from the water hose sent the snake off the porch into the yard and over the bank. 

I couldn't resist telling the girls "You better watch out it might be a hoop snake or a black racer." 

As long as I can remember I've heard stories about hoop snakes and black racers.

The gist of the hoop snake stories: a black snake loops itself into a hoop and then goes rolling after whoever disturbed it. Some versions claim hoop snakes have stingers on their tails to sting you.

The gist of black racer stories: a black snake races or chases you once its disturbed. Every time I think about a black racer I see a field of tall lush green grass with a jet black snake slithering through it at break neck speed. (break neck speed: is that a phrase you ever use?)

Along with hoop snakes and black racers, Appalachia also has stories about joint snakes. Although the stories aren't as common, the gist behind them is a joint snake can break itself into pieces and then put itself back together again. I guess the breaking of joints is a defense mechanism of sorts. 


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Do You Know What the Word Make Means?

Use of the word make in appalachia

Jan Sullivan left the following comment on yesterday's April in Pigeon Roost Post:

"I love the Foxfire books, and I got them for my mother as presents as she got very old. She enjoyed them also. Sassafras had to be had in early spring because it was a blood tonic to build up your blood for all the work to be done according to my grandmother. I also remember making lye soap and helping my grandmother wash clothes in a big iron pot in the back yard. Papa's flannel's in the spring turned the water all red. It was a hot job. We used a washboard, and carried water from a creek. Hard job then, but good memories now! The other day, at the doctor, I mentioned I was concerned with all the weather change, warm and then freeze, that my garden plants might not "make". Then I had to explain what make meant to the doctor. Anyone else use that word? Everyone have a wonderful spring with all the birds, flowers, crops, kids, and families. Jan"

After reading her comment, I thought the usage of the word make in Appalachia would make a great post. A little later in the day Ed Ammons summoned up the word usage for me in another comment:

In reference to the use of the word "make" in Jan's comment, I have heard and used it all my life. You don't grow a garden you make it. If your peppers grow pretty plants, like mine did last year, but nothing grew on them, your peppers didn't make. If your corn makes but the stink bugs get more than you do that's a different story.
The same usage applies in putting up food. If your jelly don't set, you say it didn't make. If your kraut smells like feet, it didn't make. You have to shake the jar forever before the butter makes.

"Ain't you gonna make a garden this year?"
"I tried last year but the only thing that made was the weeds."
"I know what you mean. I planted some late beans but the frost got them before they could make."

I'm very familiar with all the the uses for the word make that Jan and Ed describe. Here a few more common usages:

make - train to be or become. "I'd like to see my boy make a teacher. All the kids round here just love him."

make - to use in place of. "I'd make that old bowl for a flower pot if I was you."

make - to determine in one's mind. "She said she made it in her mind that she would finish school no matter what come along."

make up - to collect an item. "They're going to try and make up the money to fix the roof at next week's benefit."


p.s. The winner for the dvd of my favorite Blind Pig videos is...Cullen in Clyde who said:

"Seems the more water over the dam, the more things seem to be connected; more things AND more connected. Thanks for sharing these."

Cullen send me your mailing address and I'll send you the dvd!

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