Watercress and Trombones

Housekeeping first and then a story.

Tomorrow, May 1st, Bandcamp – where my shop lives – is waving its fee for all sales, so artists get all of the revenue from purchases. So, if you were hankering after some Hankins-made things from CDs to art prints Jeni patchwork cushionto pillowst-shirtstote bags, and postcards, head to my shop on Friday, May 1st. Your support is much appreciated during these no-tour, no-gatherings, no-travel times. You can also find some of my favorite artists on Bandcamp: HungrytownAmber Cross, and Hania Rani.

I’m excited to report that I gave a mini-concert on Facebook Live this past Monday which I’ve beamed into YouTube. At the end of the set, I play a brand new song from my upcoming record. The set list is: 
Tazewell Beauty Queen (kind of the theme song for these little shows)
Miner’s Reward
Jewell Ridge Coal
Coronation Day
Homecoming Queen
*Pretty Back Then* - a brand new song inspired by my high school senior photo which you see just there to the right. Floral pants (trousers in England because in England pants are underwear!) inspired by Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. Hair inspired by Farah Fawcett in Charlie's Angels!Jeni in High School
In my video visit, I also talk about Stanley the Bear, train travel, Barbie, Homecoming Queens, Drum Majors, reputation, planting love where it will grow, and watercress. Cameos by Stanley the Bear, Barbie, and the Englishman (disembodied) whistling the solo for Coronation Day.
Now on to the news from here in North Lancashire and up on Smith Ridge.
Mawmaw says that so far up on Smith Ridge they’ve had two days nice enough to lay out and get some vitamin D. So, she’s taken a quilt out onto the deck and positioned herself in the rays only to have Smoky the Cat sit on her head.

This reminds me of a time when Mawmaw and I walked down the ridge to see great-great-great grandad John Rufus Joyce’s Civil War grave. The United Daughters of the Confederacy had been down there with some re-enacters and shot off a cannon just before I arrived for my visit. So, naturally I wanted to see if there were any signs of the cannonball. Back then, before the gas company cut a road in front of the cemetery, you had to go through Ronald’s horse pasture to get to the graves. So, Mawmaw and I went through the pasture and the horses were very interested in Mawmaw. One horse wouldn’t let her walk through the field unless she could walk right beside her and put her head by Mawmaw’s head. We got through the pasture, looked at the graves, didn’t find any cannonballs, and went back through the field. Once again, the horse followed Mawmaw very closely. We got to the gate and had a little trouble getting the latch unfastened. So, the horse took her chance to press her muzzle against Mawmaw’s hair and nuzzle her.

Mawmaw was very brave even though a horse is a very large animal with big teeth. After consideration, we have concluded that beyond Mawmaw’s personal magnetism, the horse and Smoky the cat may be fans of Shalimar perfume. So, should you wish to do any cat or horse whispering, a bottle of Shalimar might help.


Jeni with horse
Mawmaw continues to shelter in place, and the Englishman and I continue to “Stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives” which is the British version of sheltering in place. I have been working on two new albums, sewing up passels of patchwork cushions, and printing linocuts. I’ve also just traded two handmade child's fantasy party dresses for a trombone. I played trombone for thirteen years back in elementary school and on into my Davidson College days where I threw over the trombone for performance art. I have my trombone back in the USA, but I don’t imagine being able to bring it over to the UK anytime soon and I’d like to build up my embouchure and play it on my new solo record. Also, my friend Hazel, who is trading me the trombone for dresses for her girls, plays the trumpet. So, we can play duets in her garden while her girls dance around in their party dresses and then join in on their fiddles – one day when we can all see each other again.
I never would have imagined that I would be trading costume-making for a trombone one day. I feel very lucky that somehow I am able to stitch so many of my passions into my everyday life. It’s a puzzle, isn’t it? How much time to spend on one thing or another – playing half a dozen instruments, restoring a letterpress machine, or sewing up a dress pattern. But it’s also a luxury when so many people are just barely keeping body and soul together.
How are you keeping? This is an expression up here in Lancashire which makes me smile. It reminds me of a book which my Mom and I once found at an antique shop called Yourself and Your House Wonderful (I mentioned this book in a letter I wrote to you last summer, you can read it here). The book describes your body as a kind of house which you must keep in order and well in order to do all of the things you need and want to do. H. A. Geurber – known also for her work on German, Norse, and classical mythology – goes into some pretty elaborate metaphors about keeping your “house.” 
So, when Lancashire folks say to me “How’r yuh keepin’?” I always think of my house, body and soul. I realize now how profound an influence this book has had over me in the fifteen or twenty years since Mom and I found it. Last November, I played a few concerts here in England to celebrate the release of my Homecoming Queen CD. I played the first one at my friend Helen’s house in Beverley, East Yorkshire. It was a beautiful evening, the room was full of enthusiastic people, Helen had made everything magical and welcoming. My friend Alfred – aka Stringbean Slim from York’s King Courgette – came over from York to play a few numbers with me. I was very happy at the end of the evening. 
Jeni concertI went to bed and then, in the middle of the night, I woke up with the certain knowledge that I was coming down with a bad cold with two more concerts on the horizon. And I realized that the next day would have been my Dad's birthday had his own delicate house been able to withstand the ravages of leukemia. And these words popped into my head; “a body is a delicate house.” I realized that I had a song on my hands there, so I scrounged around in the dark looking for piece of paper and a pen, and wrote the lines to the song which is the title track for my next record, “A Delicate House.”Lyrics to song
And now, here I am in North Lancashire and there you are in Florida or British Columbia or in Smith Ridge with a cat on your head, protecting our delicate houses. Alfred and I have been trading files and song ideas via the marvel of the interweb and not in person as we’d planned. The Englishman and I are growing all manner of things from seed, and I am harvesting the first food I’ve ever grown for myself in the form Rabbit vaseof watercress. I’ve never been in one house or place long enough to keep a garden before. I’m dreaming of a trombone and child sketches of fantasy dresses. I am keeping my house as best I can. Some days I feel very sad about the state of things in the world and I don’t get much done. Other days, I can’t contain my giddiness as I place my tiny homegrown watercress on my sandwich and head up to my room to record a harmonica part on a new song. But either way, happy or sad, do-nothing or do-it-all, I am keeping my house alive for one more day.
As restrictions on movement ease in some places and not others, please look after your delicate house. Give it some love. Keep well.
Your friend,
Jeni
P.S. Attention: Never combine watercress and harmonica-playing. Finish your watercress, brush teeth, swish, and then play harmonica.

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