Posted by: Abe's Blog | January 14, 2011

Jeremiah Hicklestone’s Banjo is Mine

Jeremiah Hicklestone had large ears. He wore his hair long, but the ears always found their way out, red and chapped in the mountain air. But Jeremiah had a gift. He could pluck a banjo like nobody’s business. His gift was in high demand. Wherever a barn dance, a boot scoot, or a hoe down was to be found in Penrose County, Jeremiah Hicklestone would be front and center, his fingers plucking at his 5-string Sears and Roebuck Silvertone, the rhythm a magical sound echoing within the hollows and bouncing off the mountains.

 The Silvertone was Jeremiah’s prized possession. He had worked for a season as a whistle punk to save for the instrument–had hunkered every night over a tattered Sears and Roebuck catalog, viewing a picture of the coveted banjo, his muscles screaming and popping and his eyes straining to stay open. He had survived where other men had not. He had seen Louie the French fall from a hundred feet in the air after topping a giant fir, had watched a two-inch cable snap across Carlo Brigg’s chest, had nearly been decapitated himself when the giant steam donkey had blown out a spiraling hunk of boiler plate. But at the end of the summer, his limbs intact, he had received his pay and had purchased his prize.

That winter, holed up in Grandpa Benny’s cabin on Chickory Creek, he had perfected the fine art of banjo picking. Grandpa Benny didn’t complain because he couldn’t hear anymore on account of his long career as a rock-blaster. Some of his fingers were missing as well, so he appreciated the company of a young man to help around the place, even if the young man’s ears were too big and even if he was constantly picking on a banjo.

By the end of the winter, Jeremiah was as fine a banjo picker as could be found in the whole region and began to tour the county and share his gift.

I must stop this tale here as it is entirely made up. I am the proud keeper of this Silvertone banjo, having inherited it from my mother-in-law’s grandpa. I believe it is a pre-1920’s banjo and it is a beautiful thing. The only thing that would make it better is if it had a great back story, and as I don’t know the real one, I made this one up. So, from henceforth, and furthermore, this is the story of my banjo.



  1. Obviously you are a good fiction writer and I would urge you to continue to produce episodes of this character. Until you have coupla hunnert pages. Then look for a publisher. If you can develop just an added twist of humor you will have mastered the style of Garrison Keillor whose characters are Scandinavians up in Minnesota. Have you read his stuff? You should. You have the nature of and personalities of and the labor of t your people here down perfectly.

    • Thank you, Carl! I appreciate that. I do love to write fiction, and I would love to be published…someday, maybe 🙂 It’s tough to find the time to write when I gots to pay the bills.
      You might enjoy Gold Mountain Fever. I posted that a few months ago:

    • Oh, and I am familiar with Garrison Keillor–he’s been one of my favorites since I was quite young. I never made the connection with the regional writing style, but that’s very cool that you pointed that out. I’m kind of playing with that lately and really enjoying the styles of other writers of that type, especially James Lee Burke, who writes about the Louisiann peoples. I’m from the Pacific Northwest and my dream is to write a novel about the region…without making it a novel about the region 🙂

  2. Why have I not heard, (or seen), this prized possession before? We’re going to need an even bigger trailer to haul the baby grand, the banjo, bass, harmonica, numerous guitars, amps, bongos, drums and hammers. Wow, I feel tired just from loading all that onto the page.

    • Margie, we are going to need some roadies for sure!

      Actually, that banjo is in my office. It’s a beautiful thing, but I’ve had a frustrating experience trying to have it restored. I’ll show it to you.

  3. I agree with Carl. Haven’t thought about Garrison in quite a while, but in re-reading your blog, you do have the voice for the kind of stories he tells. It’s in the details, I think. The missing fingers, the stories about other loggers. This wasn’t just about a banjo – not at all.

    And, like Garrison, you are doing what the best writers do. You are writing what you know.

    Great job, Abe.

    • Thanks, Wolf. I keep getting frustrated with myself that I haven’t started writing something longer…but I don’t think I’m ready yet. I’m having fun practicing.

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