A sad ending to “Winging My Way Back Home”

May 17, 2009

In April, I wrote here about helping filmmaker Jeri Vaughn rework the narration for a final rendition of the documentary “Winging My Way Back Home: The Stripling Fiddle Tradition.” Within days of my meeting with Jeri, my father’s lung condition deteriorated, and by April 20, Lee Stripling was gone.

Lee Stripling on his 85th birthday

Lee Stripling on his 85th birthday

Now, as I face this task, the work becomes past tense. It is still a tribute to a resilient man who started life as a sharecropper’s son in the cotton fields of Alabama and twice pulled himself forward with fiddle music. But it is not something he will see. It will be difficult to carry on with the happy, optimistic tone that marked his life.

And yet that resilience is exactly what came through at a May 13 memorial celebration of the life “of a happy man.” Hundreds attended, all inspired by his journey and good nature, and dozens of old-time musicians and dancers pitched in to pull off the event. Vaughn showed the 21-minute preview version of the documentary to great fanfare, reminding me of both the quality of the work and the importance of capturing an interesting life before it’s gone.

Now we must regroup and decide how to continue. My hope is that the final version will not be sad but focus on the spirit of a man who came  through the Great Depression with his sunny disposition intact, living a life most would envy, with a national gig still on the books for what would have been his 88th birthday.

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