Bessie Eldreth (1996)

Bessie Eldreth: Stories and Songs of a Blue Ridge Life

Scenes filmed: • July 1988—during an interview at a private home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in conversation with Cece Conway, Patricia Sawin, and Dorothy Holland, and during a performance at the Festival for the Eno in Durham, North Carolina with her granddaughter Jean Woodring Reid. • November 1994—at Eldreth’s home outside of Boone, Watauga County, North Carolina; at the Tabernacle Baptist Church near her home; and at Appalachian State University. Scene log by Margaret Yocom and Patricia Sawin. Scenes with time stamp: • 00:00 Introduction to Bessie Eldreth (via words scrolling over screen) as Eldreth, Conway, Sawin, and anthropologist Dorothy Holland sit around an outside table. • 00:31 BE sings “Someday I’m Going to Heaven,” a song that she wrote. • 02:02 BE discusses how her father played music [photograph of her father as a young man]: “It almost seemed like the music talked.” • 02:38 BE tells a story: Appearance of a bright light in her bedroom after her husband died. She threw away the quilt her husband had slept under and moved to another bedroom, but the light followed her. She thought at one time that it was her husband, but then figured it couldn’t be because he was never that protective over her (laughs). Sings a song that she says “matches the story”: “There’s a Glorious Light.” • 05:34 BE tells how her father learned music from his father, John Killen. He sat on the front porch and played music. BE didn’t have time to learn [instrumental] music; she worked too hard and raised eleven children. She got a lot of her singing from babysitting her grandchildren. • 06:20 BE’s mother, Flora. BE tells a story about saying to her mother, “Oh, I’d like to be a star.” The next day a man from the TV station in Winston-Salem calls for an interview. Clip of a Mother’s Day episode from a local program, “Music in the Mountains,” filmed from the television playing in her living room. BE describes how many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren she has. • 08:45 BE in the Tabernacle Baptist Church: “The Lord saved me when I was about nine year old.” [photograph of the church] “I know I’m not a singer, but I’m trying to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Sings, “Is It Far to That Beautiful River?” [photographs of baptisms in the river next to the church, from the church’s scrapbook]. Friends and family members great her after the service. Church members departing. • 11:23 BE at home with relatives and the filmmakers. Scenes of her home, dogs her son raise on the hill above the house, BE making biscuits and singing “T for Texas” as greatgrandson dances along. Images of glass canning jars full of vegetables, apple butter, and preserves that BE has made. Relatives in house eating Sunday dinner at table and in living room. • 13:31 BE tells story to her greatgrandson about the bear going fishing—his tail froze in the ice, “Ever since then bears have had short tails.” • 14:39 [image: film poster on wall of her dining room] BE was in a film called “The American Heroine” shot by actress Stella Stevens. • 15:15 BE: “I’ve worked with a lot of children, teaching them songs and teaching them stories. I call them ‘bear tales.’” Tells a version of the Three Little Pigs to her greatgrandson: she tells a line, he repeats it, she tells another, she repeats it, and so on until the end of the story. • 17:43 BE shows off her shelf of canned goods: pickled cucumbers, applesauce, talks about making [saur]kraut for the neighbors. • 18:15 BE: “The happiest days of my life was the fifteen years I lived at home and the years I’ve been a widow.” “That was a song my mother sang a lot: ‘Single Girl, Married Girl.’” Sings: “I wouldn’t marry at all, at all.” Her husband didn’t like BE to sing. Story: when she tried to tape-record her own singing he would make noise by throwing spoons into the sink. • 20:10 BE talking to a group of college students, tells story about “The Mean Horse”: She saved her toddler son Clyde by grabbing him out of the path of the horse and jumping over a tall fence with him under her arm. Didn’t know how she managed to get over that fence. Horse was standing up on hind legs looking over the fence at her. Husband tried to keep her from going out and didn’t help her. “If there was any danger, I’d always face it.” • 22:40 Granddaughter Jean Reid and BE on stage at the Festival for the Eno. Jean tells the story about BE singing songs while using a hammer to pound corn for mash when her father ran a whiskey still. BE and JR sing together the North Carolina murder ballad “Naomi Wise” (BE pronounces the name “Neoma”). BE sings “Little Maggie,” one of the first songs she ever sang, learned from her grandmother. • 26:41 [photos of awards BE has received from the State of North Carolina and the Smithsonian Institution hanging on the walls of her living room] BE talks about sitting up in bed to write songs and poems. Then she makes the music to the poems. “I sing most of the time; when I go out the door I start singing and I sing most of the day.” • 27:35 BE tells old rhymes to her grandson, “I had a little pig, I fed it on clover . . . That’s the stories that my momma used to tell me.” • 28:05 [END]