Burl's Girls

“Iris Lee, you need a dulcimer,” my friend Jack declared out of nowhere.
Well, Jack’s a gentleman, not prone to delusion. I’ve listened to his wise words more than a decade in our writing group. His poems and stories make good sense. Often they’re profound. Always humorous and to his point.
So, not to appear ignorant and rude, my mind conjured up the only dulcimer I had ever seen and heard played. “The hammered dulcimer?”
Jack blinked in surprise. “No, I’m talking Appalachian dulcimer.”
“There is such a thing?”
He nodded.
My heart raced. “You don’t understand. I’m a bit dyslexic. My right and left hand don’t get along.”
What ensued was a brief pep talk and history lesson about this four-string lap instrument originating in the Appalachian Mountains. Within a week, Jack brought his hourglass-shaped dulcimer to my house.
We sat in the dining room, our chairs facing another. Before I knew what happened, he swept his fingers in a gentle splay over its four strings. One strum that opened the floodgates of Heaven and my heart.
Jack smiled knowingly. “Fifteen minutes a day, four times a day. That’s all it takes, Iris Lee, for your hands to learn where to go.”
Ah, the practice principle, like finding the right word and putting it in the right place in poetry. Or, as Mom said, “You have to throw out some dough before you make a delicious, flaky pie crust.”
                  Dear Reader, I purchased a dulcimer like Jack’s with hearts for sound holes. I’m learning to relax my strumming hand, pretend it’s a wet dishrag, as my teacher says. He began my lessons with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Boil ‘em Cabbage.”
                  On two different occasions, my Michigan daughter and son-in-law sat with my dulcimer on their laps, childlike smiles on their faces, and strummed away. I knew instantly they needed a dulcimer. My California daughter needed one, too.

                  Later, my Kentucky sister called. “What’s Iris doing?” she asked my husband.
                  He broke the news. “She’s practicing her dulcimer.”
                  “Do you know Burl makes dulcimers?” she asked when I came to the phone.
                  I knew her landlord was a woodworker, but I didn’t know he made dulcimers. Glory be! Thanks to my sister, Heaven opened up and provided the ideal gift for my children.
                  After I inspected and strummed Burl’s three different shapes of handmade dulcimers, I called to thank him.
                  “You’re welcome,” he drawled. “I rather make ‘em than play ‘em. They’re almost like my children.”
                  It’s probably a good thing Burl doesn’t play them, for you get attached to an instrument when you do. I’m already fond of Sweetheart, my dulcimer. Jack’s wife plays a banjo named Jรบly. She displays it as a centerpiece in their home.
                  Yes, Jack knew my southern soul needed this playful connection to my roots. He took the risk and declared it from that understanding.
As you read this, Burl’s Girls have found their new homes. Their playfulness spreads to Royal Oak and San Bruno, California.