Sometimes people ask me about Star Route Way, a song from my first album, so here's my first Oar discussion of past published song.
Where I was raised, our address was Star Route, Montgomery Creek. This is a little history on the term, from the National Star Route Mail Contractors Association: "Legislation establishing new mail service in 1845 called for contractors to carry the mail with “celerity, certainty, and security.” Weary of repeatedly writing these words in ledgers, postal clerks substituted three asterisks— * * * —and the phrase “Star Route” was born." Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as: "a mail-delivery route in a rural or thinly populated area served by a private carrier under contract who takes mail from one post office to another or from a railroad station to a post office and usually also delivers mail to private mailboxes along the route."
Now, as a child, I had no idea that Star Route was a generic term used by many other folks on rural routes. Instead, I thought it was an appropriate, beautiful name for the road that sliced through the starry mountains in which I lived. So if someone were to ask me what road I lived on, I would likely answer "Star Route," or "Star Route Road," or "Star Route Way." Yes, it was a highway with a number like any other, but I guess preferred to ignore that as an irrelevant and perhaps irreverant technicality.
So, when I think of the term Star Route now, I think of it from a child's perspective, in a magical sense of wonder and awe. One of our closest neighbors who lived maybe half a mile away, also on Star Route Way, was our friend Bernice, otherwise known as Frankie. I found her to be an interesting character, one of many fascinating mountain folks who inhabited my childhood. One thing I sensed about her was that her way of seeing and experiencing where we lived had something common with mine -- that sense of magic, affection and rapt attention. So when I sat down to write a song about her, it seemed right to use the term Star Route Way.
The song itself is playable from the player at the bottom of this post, and there are lyrics below (and chords, if you're interested,) But first, here are a few more little stories to give background to the song.
Bernice was an old woman who lived alone, except for her dog, in a little house about a half mile down the highway. She was our family friend, and we often did favors for each other. Sometimes, she would watch my sister and I, and often my Mom and Dad would help her out with things. She belonged to the Wintun tribe, and grew up in our area, taking long trips up and down "Star Route Way" in a wagon with her father. He fished and sold his catch to the old stage stop down in Round Mountain. She remembered these trips fondly. What took us only an hour or so round trip used to take them days to travel.
It wasn't long before the federal government snatched her up and she was forced to attend the Indian School in Carson City, NV--a very long way from home! She was allowed home in the summertime only.
I have strong memories of her little house, of her sitting by the wood stove sipping tea, and always ready to tell a long rambling story. The song ended up sounding a bit like one of her stories, long and easygoing, with some exclamations.
Most summers, my sister and I would pick loads of elderberries and bring them to Bernice. They grew like crazy in the upper portion of our pasture, and we picked garbage-bags full, sometimes on horseback when we couldn't reach otherwise, and carried them to her house where she'd make elderberry jam and syrups out of them. There were the dusky blue kind, and the shiny black kind.
She also made one of the few dishes I can think of that I ate happily, got pretty sick from, and then soon wanted more. They were watery cabbage rolls stuffed with meat with some kind of spice I was unfamiliar with, and I still to this day wonder sometimes what that was.
She had a series of three paintings of the Donner party that kept me spellbound at times. The first was them (family, wagon, oxen,) starting out, looking healthy and hopeful. Then they were hunkered down miserably at the summit, under snow. Then the third frame held the sad scene of skeletons. Also on her wall were photos of her late husband, who had done rodeo clown work. She had traveled with him many summers, from rodeo to rodeo, throughout the state. We attended a good number of rodeos in my childhood, and I, like many I'm sure, was always fascinated with the daring, heroic and humble-seeming clowns. They seemed to move as fast as flies, a flurry of colorful rags and nimble limbs that flew back to the fence as fast as they could jump off, keeping furious bulls distracted and confused.
She had a dog named No-Go. He got the name because she found him, as a puppy, at a protest against the G.O. Road, a road proposed that would cut through sacred lands. She said they were shouting, with signs, "NO GO!" And as people cleared away after the protest, she found this puppy. He was a big bear of a mountain dog, and I always thought his name had meant to "stay" and not "go," until asking the story behind it. Also, when she told me the "NO GO Road" part, I think I translated that as a place that people just shouldn't go, for obvious reasons. You hear the name come up again in my album about a hero's journey, Frankie and the No-Go Road. I guess names of roads seem to have some attractive powers to me.
She was always abreast of the goings-on on the mountain, and you could likely get the freshest scoop from her. She had a little VW bug that she drove (before a crash,) chained up or whatever, no problem. I remember clearly one Christmas morning when we were all snowed in (not unusual,) and she walked up to our house through the snow and ice, with her ski poles for stability. She surprised us, happy as a clam in her wool plaid, with a resounding Merry Christmas greeting.
There weren't a lot of people where we lived, but I never felt lonely. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I hope that music can help us all feel closer, close like a tight knit, but well distanced mountain community. Seems like it's become an emergency now, with the social distancing requirements. Thank you for connecting with me, here.