Goodbye to My Bluegrass Home

Hartley Family photoYesterday, I said goodbye to the house where my family became a bluegrass band. My parents and two youngest siblings are on tour right now, so my brother Josiah, his girlfriend, and I were packing up the memories while the rain poured on the gardens outside where we’d spent countless hours balancing on shovels (we could set records for slowest diggers ever) and pulling weeds.

That slab of concrete outside the sliding glass door? We stood on it when Daddy tried to convince us all to say, “I believe” in response to his vision of us all playing instruments and singing on stage. We’d looked at our awkward, shy selves and decided that our fear of telling him no was greater than our stage fright. Much later, when we were much better and had our own sound system, we’d set the system up on that slab and practice using our microphones, broadcasting “Muleskinner Blues” and other bluegrass lullabies to our neighbors. (Yes, the lullaby part is a joke.)

In the bedroom I shared with my sister, I stood again by the window that overlooked the street. That’s the window I sang through for so many hours, trying to make my weak, quavering voice stronger and attempting to match my guitar rhythm with the click-click of a maddeningly accurate metronome.

This long countertop in the bathroom with the big mirror from the 60s with the row of Hollywood lights over it, yeah, that’s the one Abby and I sat on as we sang hymns a capella. There’s nothing like the acoustics in a tile bathroom. And there’s nothing like sisters blending voices.

My parents’ bedroom looks empty right now. The boys have to move the bed when it stops raining, so it’s still in there, and so is a table I’ve wrapped up in blankets to keep it from getting scratched. But in my mind, there’s still a guitar on a stand next to the closet. And I can remember my youngest brother, Micah, only three or four years old, sitting on Daddy’s lap with his little fingers curled around Daddy’s banjo. He got started young, and now when you listen to him you can tell. His banjo playing is the kind that gets under your skin and makes you start moving to the rhythm.

The living room is lonely without Mama’s upright bass holding up the wall. We were always bugging her to practice more, forgetting I think that she had enough to do with homeschooling six children, harvesting and canning vegetables, cooking meals, and doing laundry. She taught my sister and me how to sing harmony in this room, her low alto grounding our stronger, higher voices.

The boys’ bedroom? No one ever wanted to be in there; it was always too much of a mess. The boys would migrate to our room with their instruments, and we’d spend more time goofing off than actually practicing. Daddy always went to bed early, so we’d have to cut off the CD player and stop picking around on those instruments. Then we’d be whispering funny stories and choking down laughter. Someone would inevitably knock something over or fall on the floor, and then suddenly the boys would vanish from our room like ninjas before they got caught partying with the girls.

Going through shelves in the dining room where we practiced at least an hour a day with the whole family, I found a familiar notebook. Before my last summer-long tour with my family, we’d spent time arranging all the songs we’d be performing during the tour. Fiddle backup on the first verse, banjo comes in later. Mandolin backup and turn-around before last chorus. The notebook would sit open on the dining room table as we practiced around a headless microphone stand.

I don’t think anyone ever really paid attention to all those instructions.

The kitchen took a while to pack up, with all the dishes and food. I used to stand doing dishes at the sink, listening to banjo music coming through the window. We’d sing in here all the time. Mama stayed so busy she often had to cook while we practiced singing together, we three girls. One of us might help her chop or wash while the other kept time and key on a guitar. I think Mama went a little crazy some days in that kitchen, cooking dinner as four or five or seven different songs played from all the rooms and the yard. We couldn’t hear the other kids’ songs until we stopped playing, but she got to hear them all at once.

When the rain paused for a bit, I walked around the yard. The cabin out back–that was our recording studio. Josiah was the worst person to record because he was never happy with what he’d just played. I’d sit out there with him for five hours at a time, re-recording and sometimes patching two or three different tries into one solo.

Back in the house, Josiah picked up a fiddle he found somewhere while loading up another batch of stuff from the bedrooms. I listened from the dining room to him playing something beautiful.

Hard to believe that all those years ago he sounded like a metal can scratching against concrete when he picked up that same instrument.

Harder to believe that those days are over, that now I’m married with a baby on the way and haven’t performed with the family in several years.

Goodbye, home. You were a good place, a safe place to grow up. Goodbye, awkward teenaged Anna. Goodbye, weeks of days of 5-hour practices. Goodbye, packing for tour. Goodbye, toddler Micah with the miniature fiddle, always wishing you had a banjo instead. Goodbye, “3 little ones” who are now all in your 20s and some of whom are big enough to pick your oldest sister up and swing her in a circle. Goodbye, muscadine vines and firewood stacks.

Goodbye, echoes of all those songs I wrote here. You’ll always be part of me.



  1. Was this the same house your youngest sibling was born in? You all went out to practice will mom was in labor. I enjoyed it so much.
    The midwife


    1. No, ma’am. Micah was born in a rental while we looked for another place. We moved to this house when he was 4 months old. 🙂


      1. Beautiful, so many wonderful memories.


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