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Nov. 22, 1963 did bear a few glad tidings

We interrupt this food blog to share a moment of reflection brought on by tragedy and serendipity.

Today marks half a century since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The event was a nuclear explosion of chaos upon our nation, which hadn’t dealt with a nuclear blast of chaos of that magnitude since probably the death of Abraham Lincoln 98 years before.

Regardless of how many gunmen were involved, or if you think the act was the work of the CIA, mafia, Soviet Union or just a scrawny nut-job trying to leave an indelible mark on history, we all agree Nov. 22, 1963, is one of a handful that truly live in infamy.

But just as babies were born that dark day, so, too, were their people who experience life-changing events for the better 50 years ago today.

By happenstance, I met one of those people today.

Recording “The Living Room with Gerry Bonds” this morning, I was seated next to legendary fiddler Byron Berline of Guthrie. Byron and I were Gerry’s guests, brought on to chat about the books we’ve recently published. Luckily, Gerry interviewed me first because for a guy like me to follow Byron Berline would’ve been like asking a guy whose only ever worked one job and never left Oklahoma City since graduating college in Dec. 1990 to follow a guy who has played with The Rolling Stones, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Roy Clark, Gram Parson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Stephen Stills, Vince Gill and James Taylor. Exactly like it.

During Byron’s interview, Gerry asked him to talk about his big break. Byron said while he was a student at the University of Oklahoma, a well-known bluegrass outfit called The Dillards came to town to play a concert. Bluegrass and folk music was experiencing an unprecedented surge in interest at the time, and The Dillards were at the top of the heap. They were a recurring group that appeared on “The Andy Griffith Show” as The Darlings.

A friend of Berline’s arranged an audition for with Doug Dillard the day of the concert, which happened to be Nov. 22, 1963. By the aforementioned roster of artists Berlin performed with in his ongoing career of 50 years, you can discern the audition was a success.

Sitting next to this legendary fiddle player while he played a few bars of “Faded Love,” chills ran up my spine. Greatness is used a lot and rarely examined. But today I got a lesson in it. Watching Byron’s fingers navigate his fiddle strings, I was witness to one of those rare occasions when chaos is averted. I was witness to all the cosmic tumblers falling into place while two forces meant for each other meet and make harmony of order and chaos.

It occurred to me that it was a microcosm for our nation’s reaction to the tragic murder of President Kennedy, who up until his death was a divisive character for America. JFK’s death hearkened the better angels of our collective soul, evoking a thunderous response from our empathic instincts. The nation that mourns together survives together. That mass mourning and united response prepared us for the April 19, 1995, Alfred P. Murrah Building tragedy here and the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy in New York City.

As a people we are bound by tragedy, but perhaps the even greater tragedy is how we allow human constructs to gradually divide us over time. But the memory of these events quickly puts us back in line. These events remind us that whatever this world is, whatever this existence is all about, no matter what God you place your nation under in this universe we’re still trying to figure out, we navigate it best when we navigate it together — just like Byron Berlin’s fingers on those fiddle strings.

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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›