I was playing the piano one day shortly after we’d moved to Sylvan Hills in southwest Atlanta. A knock at the screen door, and there stood the old neighbor from a couple houses down. Mr. Mayes. Braves cap on his big head, flannel shirt buttoned to the top and running down over his big belly.
“Hey,” I said.
“I heard you playin’, and it sounds real good,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “C’mon in.” He said to go on, and I played him a tune. “Just a Girl I Used to Know.” He nodded at the end, encouraging, and I ran through a couple of Hank Williams songs.
“Y’know,” he said, “I got an old mandolin down at the house. I haven’t played it for maybe twenty years. Y’mind if I go get it?”
“No. Great,” I said. He came back with what he called a “tater bug,” a mandolin with a round back laminated in strips of different colored woods. Had it since the 1920s, he said. It had rusty strings, but he got it tuned.
“Hee-hee,” he said. “Sounds OK. Let’s see. . . ,” and he sort of hitched his shoulder and started playing a song I’d never heard before. “My brothers and I used to play dances over on Campbellton Road for the soldiers at Fort Mac, and this old boy come in from over near Rottenwood Creek. And he had a guitar in a gunny sack, and he said now you boys get in tune, cuz we’re gonna play 'The Gideon.’ And this is it.” I switched to guitar and followed the tune with its funky timing. “Say, I can see you’re a valuable fella,” he said.
After that we played together all the time. Melodies just came out from his fingers, and I’d add backup and lyrics, if there were any. A dozen years, a hundred songs from when he was a boy rambling the hills of Smyrna with his rabbit dogs and Nitro Special.
The other thing we did together was watch the Braves, Falcons, and Georgia Tech. Mr. Mayes got mighty aggravated at all of the above at times. He died the year the Bravos went from worst to first, but he didn’t make it to the Series. The Falcons were mostly "DIS-gustin'" too. So the last couple days I got to thinking about how much he’d enjoy this year's edition, and I came up with this song, “Rise Up,” that lives somewhere between Ralph Stanley and Homer and Jethro.
"Hee-hee," he'd say. "That's right Mr. Larry, Them Falcons gonna 'Rise Up' all right.”