“Saving Stories: Afternoons with Darrell”.


I made some chocolate chip cookies one afternoon.  I stacked them in a Mason jar because I knew my friend Darrell would find them not only tasty, but that he would find the presentation aesthetically pleasing. I knew him like that even then, but I would soon come to know him better.

I’d planned to deliver the treats a little earlier that day, but time got away from me and suddenly it was nine p.m. When I told my husband I couldn’t take them to Darrell at that late hour, he said, “Sure you can.  Darrell’s a night owl.”

And so we took them.

Because Darrell is a night owl and old habits die hard for old songwriters.

Darrell said to me once that Tom T. Hall told him that he started writing at four a.m. because he knew all the other writers were sleeping and he wanted to get a head start on them.  Darrell never forgot it.  There were plenty of other things he never forgot either, but I wouldn’t know about those until later.

But the cookies.

Darrell met us at the door of his four hundred-square-foot, space-efficient, tiny house.  He built it several years ago—long  before it was in fashion.  I smiled, thinking that Darrell had perfected the hip, avant-garde, minimalist lifestyle without even trying. So I handed him the jar of cookies, to which he responded with a matter-of-fact, “Thank you.  I’d try one now if I hadn’t just finished supper.  I’m sure they’re good”.”

Straightforward. Practical.  Zero pretension.  I like that about him.

I said, “Well you’re welcome. We can’t stay,” and he said, “So that’s it?  You’re just going to leave?”


“Well, okay,” I said.  “We’ll stay then.”

There were three of us total, which was perfect since that was the exact number of seats available in his house.  Three.  No wasted space.  German efficiency at its best.

We talked about the heat.  We talked about the weapon of sorts that he’d made that hung on the edge of his desk—a ball bearing encased in meticulously tied and knotted pieces of parachute cord.  They were “monkey fist knots,” Darrell told me. Then we talked about a dog with mange.

In the midst of our visit, at 9:17 to be exact, the alarm on Darrell’s watch went off.  He paused for a moment, and calmly turned it off, mumbling under his breath about how it always goes off at 9:17 and that he doesn’t know why or how to make it stop.  I got the idea that he kind of liked the predictability of it. The company of it.

We talked more.  About the collection of Diddley Bows hanging on the wall—small and simple stringed instruments similar to a guitars, but each with only a single string.  He made them out of cigar boxes and other found objects—really anything at all that he could find—all replicas of the very first blues instrument.  He demonstrated how to play it.  He also showed us one of his Native American flutes, and told us he’d made and sold about eight hundred of them.   The number surprised me.  I knew they were expertly made, though, since Darrell doesn’t half-ass anything.  He makes walking sticks too—out of cedar posts—and he sells them in the local coffee shop.

When one topic played itself out, we moved seamlessly into another.  Like the topic of lunch.  Darrell said he found a place where he can eat lunch for under three bucks, total.  Two hot dogs, a bag of chips and a drink.  We talked about Social Security.

Conversation with Darrell is easy.  When the guys started talking guy stuff that didn’t much interest me, I began looking around.

I liked the fact that he had three bandanas carefully tied and suspended in each of his windows.  It was art to me.  It must have been art to him, too, I thought.  I liked the license plates that he affixed to the beam under the loft.  I was drawn to the simplicity of his home.  I took a liking to a watercolor print on the wall.  On his desk was a small photo cube.  Three sides were old photos of a smiling, little blond-haired fellow I assumed to be his boy. Two school photos and one of the boy in a Boy Scout uniform.  The fourth side of the cube was Darrell, I assumed.  The date on the photo was 1947.  I guessed he must have been in first grade.  There was no trace of a smile on his face, and it gave me pause for just a bit because such seriousness contradicted the age.  It kind of made me sad, though I wasn’t sure why.

I kept looking around—and then I saw it.

It wasn’t displayed in particularly prominent fashion—just  there on the wall with other things where it could likely go unnoticed.   It was the reason it all started—my afternoons with Darrell, that is.

The record.  It was about a record.

Well, at first it was about a record—a record and a whole lot of stories.  Stories that, over time, would parlay into a most lovely camaraderie.  One day I asked Darrell if he would tell them to me.  He said that he would, so I thought I’d write them down

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