On a cold Wednesday night this month, on a drive home from open mic night at Wild Rose Moon in Plymouth, I pondered a clear-eyed interpretation of “You Are My Sunshine.” Chad Fletcher, a stocky guy in black knee shorts, with a guitar, big arm tattoos, and a goatee, got me to hear the song like it was brand new, and forced me to wipe away a tear. Wow, that was good.
According to a 1990 article by Theodore Pappas that appeared in the magazine Chronicles, cotton mill worker Oliver Hood, a part-time country-music radio host, wrote "You Are My Sunshine" on the back of a brown paper sack, and he first performed the song at a VFW convention in his hometown, LaGrange, Georgia in 1933. He never made a dime off it, though. According to Pappas, for Hood and others in his community, “Music was a not-for-profit venture, an act of love, something that transcended commercial consideration” (Theodore Pappas, November 1990, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture). “You Are My Sunshine” was among many impressive songs I heard over the course of three or four open mic nights at the Moon, personal, original, never-performed-before-in-public-ever-anyplace-else songs and for me, very very good. So good that it made me wonder, ‘What just happened? How was that so good? Where did all these people come from…50 – 80 people maybe…..‘What are they doing, in downtown Plymouth, on a night like this?’ Trying to answer as I drove home down “31,” I saw myself sitting 15 years ago at the rural Rolling Prairie home of my fellow New Prairie High School teacher Bill Spier, on a patio that overlooks a 13-acre nature preserve that Bill and his wife Susan began creating from corn stubble and cow pasture 34 years ago. “ I was inspired,” Bill told me recently, “by a man named Jim Siple who created a space for rare plants and animals and I knew I wanted to have that, too.” “I’ve seen 153 bird species here,” he said. “That’s more than most people have seen their whole lives.”“It’s expensive and it’s conscious effort.”But, “It hasn’t been hard,” Bill said. “It’s what I enjoy.”That day at Spiers, I flinched when an invisible buzz zipped by my head, tearing a space in the fabric of the air, a fastball under the chin. Somehow, I knew what it was. “Did you see that?” Bill said. I said, “Yes.” “Do you know what it was?”I said, “A hummingbird.” If the earth science teacher, Mr. Spier, had said, “It was an africanus dragonflyus,” I would not have known better. I knew it enough to say the right thing. I hadn’t actually seen anything. I heard it and I felt it. “I’d like one of those for myself,” I said, “and some butterflies. How do I get them in my backyard in South Bend?”“It’s a simple process,” Bill said. “Don’t do stuff that makes it impossible for them to survive. Many species of the earth are refugees, under attack and on the run. They are looking for a safe place, a home. Find out what they like and figure out a way to give it to them. They will find you.” “If you want to save a creature,” Bill told me more recently, “you have to save a habitat. Assess numbers. See if they are imperiled.” Imperiled. We are imperiled. At Wild Rose Moon in downtown Plymouth, the intent of the proprieter, my old dear friend George Schricker, is to create an arena for self expression that is nurturing and kind with the belief that in that environment, safe and warm, hearts will open in both directions and art that reveals what it means to be a human being will emerge from the corn stubble and cow pasture that is 2016. Like the Spiers, it’s expensive and it’s a conscious effort, but, “If you want to save a creature, you have to make a habitat.”Wild Rose Moon is a non-profit. Like Oliver Hood, “Something that transcends commercial consideration, an act of love.”“Love clears the way,” George told me, “for peace.”Why was a little club in downtown Plymouth packed with talent and an appreciative audience on a cold night in the middle of an April workweek? Someone created a habitat and someone else found it.