John Ashby and the Free State Ramblers (FRC108)
By Ms. Nancy M. Sessions
Here is my personal Family History, and memories that have been told to me, by my Mother, Mrs. Agnes Adelia Ashby Sessions, as well as her Sister, my Aunt, Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Scott Ashby Small, as well! I have a good, and a long memory! I am only very happy that it serves a wonderful purpose; to give out history about my Dear Uncle John C. Ashby!
As far back as I can recall, my Uncle John was a very, very sweet man. He was mild mannered, and had a good sense of humor, and fun. He was sort of “Laid back,” and was never someone who had to be the center of family dinners, and gatherings. It just seemed natural that we all would like to hear him talk, as he was thoughtful, and kind as well. I used to love to go “Squirrel Hunting” with him, and my Dad, or my Brothers. Uncle John had his own “hounds” who would just love every time he stopped by the place where he kept them, and petted them, and talked to them. He loved to call lots of his dogs, “Fred.” I still love calling animals I don’t know, “Fred.” LOL!
Not to mention watching him fiddle! I grew up seeing him fiddle! For my Aunt’s Christmas Partys,and at Firehouses, and at Fairs. It was always so stunning to me, how very talented he was, and how much he was so low key about it! He would always, take the time to help a young fiddler, if he was asked. He shared so much of himself, as he had a big heart! It was his nature to do so!
He was the last son of four children, my Mom, being born in 1912. John was born, in 1914. My Mom told me, he was ALWAYS learning to fiddle in the home! That at times, it was nerve wracking, till he got better at it. BUT he was always doing it, as a young teenager. My Mom and her Sister would make sure he ate lots of good food at Family dinners. They were always trying to please him. They both loved him so much. Two of my personal favorite memories about my Uncle John Ashby, are: Once, at about age 22, I was leaving for my work, as a Cosmetic Sales person, and he came up to our front door for a family visit. He asked me how I was, and I told him, “Fine, but this job is so hard! I’m always on my feet!” And he said back, “Nance, your just TOO PRETTY to have to work so hard!” I LOVED THAT! I gave him a big kiss! The other memory, was when he had about one more year to live, and was very weak, from his heart condition. It was easier for him to sit on a stool, and play, as not to wear him out so much. He looked over at me and said, “Nan, can you please get me a shot of whiskey?” I said, “NOW Uncle John, you KNOW you are not supposed to have it!” But then I got him a shot, and he was very happy!
The SADDEST Memory of him that I have is when he was staying at my Aunt Marie’s home, and he was dying. The hospital sent him home to die. He was on oxygen. I came into his room to see him, I tried not to cry. I took his hand, and he took mine. I guess he could see I was crying. He asked me what I was, “Up to, Nan?” I told him, I was out with my Boyfriend, and he was waiting for me, in his car. “Nan, go out and have fun with him!” “Please go out, and have some good fun!” I stayed as long as he would let me, and then I tried to smile, when I said good-bye. It was for the last time! He was thinking of ME! He was always so kind, and always thinking of others! That’s just how, and who he was!
Let me now recall the music that he was involved with, that you may not know of as well. My Mother told me, in the late 40s, that “The Free State Ramblers”, opened may times for Patsy Cline. My Mom would sit and have a drink with Patsy, many times between sets! My Mom knew her, and really liked her sort of “Hard Cookie” ways! At some of my Aunt Marie’s Christmas Parties, Musicians like, Jimmy Dean, showed up to hear, and play with Uncle John as well! As well, when Jimmy Carter was President, he had heard of Uncle John, and was invited to play for him; however Uncle John had a heart attack at the time, and could not go. I loved him, and I love him very much! I only wish he had lived longer, as he is a lot to miss!
As far as my Family goes, my Mom told me, we are related to five US Presidents: Washington, (Ashby side) Adams, Adams, (Adams side) Harrison, Harrison, (Adams side.) Lord Baltimore, John Marshall, and of course, General Turner Ashby, Civil War Fame! As far as my Family goes, The Ashby’s are a very loving, and talented people. We are passionate, brave and speak our minds! I am very proud to be an Ashby, and I will always be! And to have had the great cosmic blessing of being Uncle John’s Niece, is a special and wonderful, thing to be!