In the world gone web in which we live, it’s a novelty to receive, via the United States Postal Service, a personal letter. Ninety per cent of the mail I receive is bills and the other ten per cent is junk. So it was a surprise to find a small envelope of personalized stationery addressed to Chuck Poling – rather than Charles Poling, the guy who gets the bills.
At first, I figured it was just some marketing ploy to get to my checkbook. The return address featured a very official sounding man’s name – I was sure when I opened and read the letter inside, the contents would appeal to my generosity to save the whales or the trees or the barnacles and would be written in that obnoxious boilerplate “personal” language that’s typically used in fundraising requests.
Instead I found a very literate and delightful letter from a retired college professor dean, and president who had read a recent article of mine in the Bluegrass Breakdown. The letter recounted how the gentleman – Stan – had enjoyed my story about Sing Out!, the folk music magazine popular in the 1950s and 60s.
As a college student in Southern California in the early 60s, Stan was in the right place at the right time for someone entranced by the folk music revival. He described how exciting it was to be among so many musicians and fans that were passionate about the music they’d just discovered.
For three years he hosted a radio show and played folk and bluegrass music. A big part of the fun was just finding the records to play and being within a community that treated each new song as a revelation. Stan listed Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s and The Watson Family as two influential albums.
I was genuinely touched that he shared his story with me. I’ve always liked to write and enjoy compliments about my writing, but Stan’s letter was more than that. The recollection of reading Sing Out! magazine, jamming with friends, and hearing Doc Watson for the first time were powerful moments in his life and he thanked me for “bringing back many memories of that era of discovery.”
I thought to myself, “How cool is it that I get such a nice letter from a complete stranger.” But then I realized we’re not really strangers after all – because of our shared interest in bluegrass, we have a world of music and friends in common.