Carrying the Blood

The Breland family carries folk music in their blood. Robbie Breland, volunteer coordinator at a Calgary folk music club, knows that great performances and back-stage shenanigans are inseparable. Her favorite fictional character, Lazarus Long, said it best. “When the ship lifts, all bills are paid. No regrets.” When music magic happens on-stage, Robbie forgives, but never forgets, what happened off-stage. A young musician dies at Green Flag Folk, causing Robbie to abandon Lazarus’ philosophy. What goes on unseen is killing both her folk-music family and her second chance at love. It’s time to bring the long-buried secrets into the spotlight.

*****

The late Gricer Tavish, one of Green Flag Folk Club's co-founders, had had three loves: caricature, folk music, and trains. Twenty-nine years ago, to celebrate the club’s opening, he’d covered the building’s west wall with plywood on which he painted a huge mural of a speeding steam engine with green flags fluttering on each side of the cowcatcher.

He’d intended to cover all four walls with plywood and paint a train circling the room. He’d fill each car with performers’ caricatures. Patrons who knew music and musicians, would be able to identify who rode the train. When the fire department stopped Gricer because the plywood panels would block fire exits, he’d completed only the engine, coal car, and three caricatures.

A craggy-faced, white-haired man with a speckled bird riding on his shoulder was the engineer. Sitting atop the coal in the tender was a wide-faced man in cowboy clothes and hat, playing a guitar. A lariat hung from his belt and a heart-shaped knot was tied in the rope coil. The brakeman needed no icon. The way the railroad clothes hung on his frame and his gaunt face said it all. He’d be dead of tuberculosis in a New York hotel room before he turned thirty-six.

Robbie had spent twenty-nine years looking at that brakeman. She’d seen the photograph that had inspired the caricature, so she knew she wasn’t basing her speculation on Gricer’s drawing. She was certain the brakeman had mixed blood in his family tree, but she’d never decided if it had been black or Indian. Had he he known or guessed his heritage? Had it mattered if he did? Did it matter even less now? Family trees were full of surprises, not all of them pleasant.

She raised two fingers to her forehead in a salute to the caricatures of Roy Acuff, Wilf Carter, and Jimmy Rodgers. “No worries, boys. We’ll find you a new home. Everything will be all right.” She wished she believed that.