To Once More Gaze Into Bygone Days (from Lum Crow)

Written by Barry Etris

Lum was a gentleman who lived in North Fulton County, Georgia. He was the first person Barry saw play the banjo and it inspired him to play an instrument.

Take down your old banjo, Lum Crow
Pick me a simple tune
Carry me away to the long ago
Of a summery day in June

Was written about this wonderful individual.

Celestine Sibley, noted author, syndicated columnist and warm neighbor, often wrote of them and gave them a measure of fame. An admiration that Barry shared, as did many who knew the man.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”, wrote the great Henry David Thoreau. Lum Crow was one of those exceptional people who just lived quietly.

There’s a term farmers use for the lull that takes place when the fragile plants have gotten high enough to out grow the weeds and the plowing is all done till harvest time. He says his crops are “laid by” … laid by … I believe Lum’s spiritual life was laid by and his soul was calmly waiting for the harvest.

He was the first person I ever heard pick a banjo. His grandson invited me over to hear him play and I watched the slender old man with the fierce hawk-eyes take down his home-made banjo and pick “Smoke On The Water”.

It’s still there as clear as an after image left on the retina by a glimpse of the sun; the Cherokee Indian lineage manifested in the high bridge of the nose, the deep furrows in the convolutions of the papery skin, stretching tightly across the prominent cheekbones of his narrow face, and the graceful athletic way he moved.

While he played, never once did he look at his banjo. His deep-set eyes stared ahead unfocused, seeing only memorized notes before his fingers picked them out on the five steel strings, accurately sending the melody ringing out across the room in time with the tapping of his right shoe on the bare floor beneath his straight chair.

I don’t think he ever knew what an impression it made on Jones Etris’ twelve-year-old boy …. wish I’d told him.

When I came back to Roswell in nineteen-seventy, Lum was one of the first I went to see. We sat on his front porch, and while we talked, I was taken with the sense that I had gone backward in time, when windows were opened weather permitting, and propped up with sawed-off broom handles to catch cool breezes stirring thin curtains.

He still carried his dead-eye flip shot in his back pocket and that same keen insight that comes of accepting life on a basic level, honed to incisive sharpness by having filled his simple needs early on, then “staying put”. He would speak homey aphorisms, coming at you as straight as the crow flies.

“Barry, I hope you’ve come home to your people for good, there’s world enough right here for anybody.”

He didn’t give a “hoot” for exotic places or bright lights, all he needed was a pig to fatten, a few chickens, a little land to till, a shed for his mule and a dry shelter for his family.

I envied him. I still do. I think maybe one time I had a chance at a life like his but I was much too taken with those places and those lights; and perhaps by a desire for too much self-glorification.

He had a lady who shared his home for sixty-five years, and bore his children; his lovely wife, Odessa.

“Dessie” was a tiny wisp of a woman, but not fragile. You could have easily pictured her on the buckboard of a contestoga wagon, sure to endure the disease and deprivation along the way west.

Just like Lum, she was down-right old fashioned polite.

Celestine Sibley, noted author, syndicated columnist and warm neighbor, often wrote fondly of them and gave them a measure of fame. (Their photograph was published in the Time-Life “Book of Man.”)

The small local papers picked up on it and would send someone out to interview them periodically, but I don’t think the couple ever really understood what was going on; just some friendly folks come to visit.

“Law me!” Dessie exclaimed to me one day, “These times we’re livin’ in! I’m glad I don’t talk about people behind their backs. Why, it just might end up in the papers!”

I wrote the song that follows as a tribute to Lum. I recorded it on MGM Records, and several other artists have cut it, but I never was that concerned with its commercial value. Mostly I just wanted Lum to hear it. When he did, he grinned and said he “liked it fine,” and by golly, I reckon that’s enough.

LUM CROW
You know, Lum Crow, it took a mighty long time
to find the footsteps I retraced,
to once more gaze into by-gone days carved deeply there in your face.

Your eyes never missed a sunrise, Lum
you chose life’s simple ways,
and it’s good now to sit and just reminisce
on the good old Lum Crow days.

So take down your old banjo, Lum Crow,
pick me a simple tune,
carry me away to the long ago,
of a summery day in June,
when the world was a grassy meadow,
when nature was first of kin,
to the skinny old gent with a scarecrow grin
and a light hearted boy of ten.

I learned how to pick like you, Lum Crow,
and to sing a simple song,
ambitious yearning, soon was burning
in my heart before too long.
I was sixteen then and didn’t listen when
you told me not to go
you said I’d someday learn I could never return
to the life I used to know

Oh, but off I had to go, Lum Crow,
to find my pot of gold,
on the silver screen
and in the magazines,
the story was soon being told,
how I’d pick and grin, and pack ‘em in,
you could hear a pin drop in the crowd,
and applause would thunder like a mid-summer storm
when I stood to take my bow.

So take down your old banjo, Lum Crow,
pick me a simple tune,
carry me away to the long ago
of a summery day in June
when the world was a grassy meadow,
when nature was first of kin,
to the skinny old gent with a scarecrow grin
and a light hearted boy of ten.

When you’re on top, Lum,
the pretty people all come
to kiss the ground that you walk on,
but they soon grow tired of a banjo picker
and the same old country song.
Then they shoot you down,
like a mangy hound,
with bullets that don’t kill,
then leave your rootless, restless, wandering body
to ramble any where it will.

So here at last I’ve come, Lum Crow,
an old man at twenty-nine,
who wanted to go where the curtains still blow
from the breezes out of time,
and I can tell you, Lum, I wish
to God that I could stay,
But I’ll take a long drink from the gourd on the well,
then I’d best be on my way.

So take down your old banjo, Lum Crow,
pick me a simple tune,
carry me away to the long ago,
of a summery day in June,
when the world was a grassy meadow,
when nature was first of kin
to the skinny old gent with the scarecrow grin
and a light hearted boy of ten.

Lum Crow