Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Water Watching

One of the most scenic drives in this area is the drive from Coker Creek to Chattanooga. We shared this path through paradise with John and Mary. The forested highway from here to Farner is a stunning study in natural beauty with the dappled sunlight sifting through the leaves of the hardwood trees. This is followed by the drive along the Ocoee River where the Olympics held whitewater events in 1996.

Richard and I had once done whitewater rafting with visitors, but we’d never taken the time to visit the whitewater visitors’ center. Mary and John are great travel companions because they’re interested in processes and people, not simply racing from one event to another. We walked over the river on the catwalk bridge created for viewing the river other than from the road.

We enjoyed watching families happily splashing in the pools between the rocks, some of which were deep enough for swimming. This will be a welcome addition to less-than-an-hour away “Granny Camp” activities. While Mary waited for the concession stand manager to brew her a pot of decaf, this very informative man gave us background information on the area, especially the recent rockslide that closed the road and the center for almost six months this winter. This prompted Mary to encourage another stop for viewing the rockslide site.

The best area for seeing this sight turned out to be the put-in for river rafters and kayakers, where we watched these daredevils launch their arks of adventure. We were then able to follow some of them partway down the rapids which span the classifications from class one to class five. I was happy to be comfortably cool and dry watching from an automobile on the road rather than in a wet and wild raft. There are area rivers where the rapids only reach class three; that’s more the speed for me.

The interstate highway approach to Chattanooga offers panoramic vistas of the valley with long-range backdrops of surrounding mountains. With the high humidity in the area, there’s almost always a canopy of cumulus clouds crowning the view. This is almost worth the trip all by itself, but we soldiered on to the city.

Our destination was the Tennessee River Gorge tour offered by the aquarium. Since we were all boaters, and Mary and John still sail the Great Lakes, the prospect of boating on a southeastern river was appealing to all of us. Mary and I got a kick out of the on-board naturalist’s off-the-cuff explanations of the sights we were seeing, but Richard and John I think would have preferred a more didactic dissertation.

I felt right at home standing topside on the boat’s bridge with the breezes blowing through my hair and the sun warming my shoulders. The sounds of the engine and the sight of the spray transported me back to our life on the lake. All that was missing was the smell of salt sea and the sounds of the grandchildren’s voices and laughter.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Musical Mary

Richard refers to her as Sweet Mary,
But this is so limiting.
I think I’ll call her Musical Mary
To honor her gift of singing.

John and Richard replaced the steps
While Mary and I ran the streets.
We ate Thai on our way to Nancy’s
Beautiful woodland retreat.

There are so many things to discover;
It’s nice sharing them with a friend.
I know that I’ll miss this Mary
When her vacation comes to an end.

Mary says she likes to evoke
At least one giggle a day.
I like to be with people who have
Such a ready sense of play.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Finding a Fro

We went to a flea market to find a fro.
“For what?” you say, “did you go?”
Is it a hairdo for curly hair,
Or a direction, as in “to and fro?”
Well, my friend; you’re not even close
To both guesses, I’ll answer, “No.”

When Jack showed Richard his fro,
Richard began to lust for one.
He wasn’t sure what he’d do with it,
But it seemed like it would be fun.
While showing this old-time tool to friends,
Male bonding would be done.

Then Jack was on a mission
To find a fro for his friend.
And when Jack begins a project,
He won’t rest until its end.
Richard now possesses the tool
Whose purpose is to mend.

You see, the old-time roofs
Were protected with wooded shakes.
But how does one replace the ones
That develop cracks and breaks?
A fro is the wood slicer
That this job ideally takes.

John loves to work with wood,
Even while he’s on vacation.
He whittles in every port of call
As he and Mary travel the nation.
A fro for the workshop at his home
Would give him great elation.

Hence the trip to search the stalls
Of vendors of antiques and junk.
We searched, and asked, and perused
The contents of many a trunk.
We finally found a flawless fro --
Well, the flawless part may be bunk.

But John is happy as a pig in a pen
He’ll be able to play “Stump the Chump.”
How many of his Midwestern friends
Will even have a hunch
About this tool from Appalachia?
Quite the game to play at lunch.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Maque Choux and Faux Barbeque

It’s wonderful having guests who are open to anything, but not addicted to activity. Mary and John have been sleeping in, as one would imagine one should do while on vacation. This gives me and Richard the opportunity to also catch up on our beauty rest after staying up later than my bedtime gabbing and guffawing. Of course staying up late and sleeping in is easy here in the summer when darkness doesn’t descend until nine in the evening and the sun doesn’t come over the hill until nine in the morning.

After they were here for a couple of days, we figured it was time to introduce our northern Great Lakes guests to some of our mountain folk. We started with Jack and worked our way over to Mamie. These encounters went well, so we decided to have a bit of a dinner party, even though we only have six kitchen chairs. John and Mary are boaters, and John enjoys classic cars, so we invited Deborah and Charlie over to join us for supper. We all enjoyed swapping tales of automobile escapades and bragging about boating. The boating blunders were at least as entertaining as the bragging.

Even though our guests are from Wisconsin, I figured we’d introduce them to something that they can only get from a Cajun cook. On a pre-BP-oil-spill trip down to Louisiana, I’d brought home forty pounds of Gulf shrimp for our freezer. It was time to put some of them to use, so we had barbeque shrimp (which never see a barbeque grill) over some of Tellico Bakery’s fabulous sourdough bread. The sauce resembles a barbecue sauce in looks only; it’s really mostly a bread dipping sauce of butter, olive oil, paprika and other herbs and spices. We accompanied this with some of the stewed corn dish called Maque Choux that I make by the vat during harvesting season and one of Richard salads, this time with many of the ingredients also grown by him.

Richard outdid himself with the preparation of desserts. In addition to the brownies and homemade fudge sauce that I already had on hand, he whipped up a batch of shortcake with strawberries, blueberries, and custard sauce. Because the custard sauce called for a bunch of egg yolks, he had a lot of leftover egg whites that he baked into a meringue. This gave me the opportunity to wallow in one of my most favorite desserts, floating island, which consists of a puddle of creamy custard sauce topped with a fluffy pillow of perfect meringue. Others at the table got very creative with the ingredients presented. John and Mary’s concoctions resembled banana splits, minus the bananas – shortbread topped with the various fruits, a generous slather of custard sauce and a cloud of meringue.

I thought of asking Mary to sing for her supper, since she is a professional classical singer, but I didn’t want to push my luck. I did, however, inform Charlie and Deborah that before the next time our “Cheese- head” friends come south, we should send Mary some Bluegrass music to practice for her Coker Creek debut.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Violins and Vittles

We began the day’s activities with foraging for food;
Several stops off the mountain were made for this endeavor.
Tellico Grains provided pastries; Kats -- riverside lunch.
With Barn of Plenty’s sweet corn, our supper came together.

After dining, we shared a bit of classical culture;
As we floated together through lovely music by Bach.
We watched violin concert greats and organ masters online
Spending our evening with Grieg, Procofiev, and Itzhak.

I can’t help but wonder how they’ll feel about our Bluegrass,
Where even Stradivarius violins are called fiddles.
I console myself with the thought that it will be okay,
Because I know at least they’ll like our music night vittles.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Richard Does It Right

I should post a plaque on our wall that says, “If you want it done right, ask Richard. If you’re willing to wing it, ask me.” In preparation for the visit from Sweet Mary and Big John, I asked Richard to clean his shower and tub. I knew he’d do a good job, as he does on any task he tackles, but I wasn’t prepared for the sight that met me as I passed the bathtub cleaning-in-progress. There knelt Richard with the usual chemicals and cleaning supplies one would expect to see -- and an open tool box.

To the casual observer, this may have seemed excessive. I hadn’t asked him to remodel the bathroom; I had only asked him to scrub the tub. Well, you know how any job you begin can become what Richard calls, “the infinite regression of steps.” It seems that when Richard started the cleaning, he noticed that the water was draining slowly. This led him to diagnose the problem as a need to remove the hair that clogged the drain, which required a screw driver, needle-nose pliers, and maybe several other tools; hence the need for his tool box. I’ll tell you that tub is clean, right down to the bottom of the drain.

While Richard wallowed in hair balls, I cut huge bouquets of hydrangeas and arranged them in a vase on our hearth. I was so proud of the wealth color from our garden that would greet our guests that I was moved to write a bit of poetry in honor of the occasion.

Is there anything as opulent as
A bouquet of fresh cut flowers,
Especially when you’ve grown them
In the garden in your yard?

My pride lasted about an hour when all the blooms started hanging their pretty heads. I had put in plenty of clean well water, and the air conditioner was keeping the house at a reasonably cool temperature; so, what could their problem be?
I consulted the infinite wisdom of the internet and found that I should have burned or boiled the ends of the stems before placing them in water, and then misted their delicate heads. It was too late for the burning or boiling, but I did give them a good misting. Our guests were greeted by soggy, droopy blue and pink pom-poms instead of the opulent arrangement of my dreams. Who knew that any cut flowers needed to have their capillaries heated before taking a cool dip? At least the hydrangeas on their bushes were still stunning for our visitors’ arrival. And, to welcome them, we did have the wonderful aroma of bread pudding wafting out of our oven.

We began our repast with guacamole and chips and chorizo and cream cheese stuffed jalapenos. Richard followed this with one of his sensational salads. I contributed a pork tenderloin with a brandied cherry sauce and orange zest flavored butternut squash. We accompanied this with a colorful array of caramelized onion, yellow pepper, one of our homegrown zucchinis, and a ripe, red tomato. Richard had also run down to Tellico Grains Bakery for one of their wonderful artisanal breads. We finished with the bread pudding with a bit of bourbon and butter sauce. Good friends and good grub, you can’t beat that with a stick.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pity Party

I had a grand pity party all by myself when I went out to tidy up the RV. I had put it off as long as possible; it had needed doing since January, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. My magic carpet, that had kept me and my Richard safe for all those months after the hurricane wiped our neighborhood off the earth, needed cleaning. I could put it off no longer even though I knew it would spark a storm of emotion in me.

I had purposely peopled our home on wheels with pictures of our life on the lake. As the nieces, nephews and grandchildren, glistening with wet from sweat and swimming, smiled back at me, all I could do was sit and cry. This was the life I had dreamed of; this was my grandma house where we had legions of lizards, spiders, and all manner of squirmy thing carried through and simply laughed about our good luck.

We celebrated everything imaginable in this house on these waters; we also mourned everything imaginable.

These were the deck boards that grandchildren’s little baby feet had blessed as we watched our two naked one year olds in a baby pool full of birdseed. Our first visit from our youngest grandchild happened here, and I‘ve been told that it was also where she was conceived. We lived here when the pregnancy was announced.

This was the flower garden where we practiced my son’s second wedding with our oldest granddaughter as the preacher, while the two that had played naked as babies, giggled through the vows, and the youngest danced down the walkway casting rose petals from our bushes upon the path. We taught our grandchildren how to live off the “land,” bayou style, with our endless rounds of catching crabs off our back door dock. Our oldest learned the hard way by casting herself into the water along with the crab trap.

My family gathered here to celebrate our lives after saying goodbye to our oldest brother and his ashes. This was the home that held my son’s family as they handled the initial shock after the death of his wife’s mother. It was into this house that I entered when Richard was in the throes of the near-fatal heart attack, after which he endured a ten-day coma. These were the windows looking out on the waves that carried my cares away while waiting for word on whether Richard would get a new lease on life that only a new heart could provide.

Not only did I have the memories staring out at me from the photos, I also unearthed remnants of the Holidays in the Holler bacchanal that was our last gathering here. So many memories, so much mourning for a permanence that can never be in this life. Every time I see my loved ones, I’m overcome with gratitude for their being. And every time I say good-bye, I feel like I’ve lost a part of me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Neighbors and Nesting

We’ve just completed a forty-eight hour period of neighbors and nesting. Some days are so perfect that it’s hard to find anything to say about them. I know that’s a good problem to have, but it sometimes leads to puerile poems rather than pithy prose.

Jack and I were invited to sign and sell Jack’s book at the neighboring hamlet of Hiawassee, the proceeds of which will benefit their community center. I buzzed around meeting talented area artists while Jack showed off his book and the photos of his home and the wildlife surrounding it. Jack’s snapshots of snakes are always a successful draw.

Deborah and Charlie were there with one of their classic cars. Deborah’s presence led to me getting recruited to help at the barbecue pork plate concession. Jack sold, without my help, enough books to make our trip worthwhile, and I got to meet more very talented neighbors.

Returning home from the festival, Charlie and Deborah jumped into their more modern vehicle and transported me and Richard to a multi-ethnic restaurant on the Ocoee River and then to a community theatre where one of their dear friends was appearing in a musical comedy about relationships and religion in the mountains. As usual, Charlie took us on a tour of all the areas we passed on the way there and back. How he’s amassed so much knowledge of the area is beyond me, but there’s no such thing as a boring trip with Charlie. We arrived home way past my bedtime, so I definitely slept in the next morning.

Nesting in preparation for John and Mary’s visit was the order of the day when we finally rose from our slumber. As Jack says, we know it’s time to clean the house when we have to wipe our feet before going outside. This was one of those times.

Jack had given us all the spent stalks from his rows of broccoli plants. He had never heard of eating the stalks without the florettes, but this is our favorite part of this crucifer. Richard spent the day peeling twenty six gallons (two kitchen garbage bags full) of stalks while I continued to de-bulk the dirt that has accumulated in our house. Thank goodness, Mamie called first thing in the morning to invite us over for supper; this gave me an event to look forward to as I chased down the dust bunnies and corralled the cobwebs.

I made the mistake, about two hours before we were due at Mamie’s, of going outside to empty the vacuum cleaner. A cool, dry breeze was gently blowing, and the dappled sun was dancing through the leaves of the trees. I walked down our front steps to pull just one or two weeds from around our beautifully blooming hydrangea bushes. But the hydrangeas were fainting for a drink of water, so this led to another outdoor task. I had to be outside to continue repositioning the water hose, so how could I possibly return to vacuuming?

The vacuum cleaner still awaits my return, but Mamie was thrilled by a bountiful bouquet of multi-hued hydrangeas gracing her supper buffet.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Most Marvelous Marriages

We went to a party honoring Wanda and Ralph’s fifty years of marriage. I remember that it was not so very long ago that, in any couple married fifty years, at least one of the partners (usually the husband) had one foot in the grave. My paternal grandfather barely made it; within a week of their grand celebration, we were mourning the demise of his earthly shell – which, for over a year, was truly a shell of the man he had been. I still believe he hung on just so that Grandma could have her golden moment with her man.

Ralph and Wanda are still as vibrant as two people can be; running circles around us newcomers to mountain life. They exude good humor and a love that can move mountains; I just like basking in their glow. I’ve heard Wanda say that Aunt Mamie taught her how to work, so it’s no wonder she’s still so spirited. She ended our last exercise class with a demonstration of the mountains’ close cousin to Irish step dancing known as clogging. I know that, as a child, Ralph also hung out a lot at Mamie’s. He’s still working part-time at keeping the large retreat center in Coker Creek maintained, as well as being chair person for our Ruritan club’s huge Autumn Gold Festival – this is in addition to recording Wanda’s mountain music for posterity.

Mamie seems to be a big part of the rich soil system of a lot of sturdy family trees, and I know that she still misses her man who left his physical life almost forty years ago. I love to hear the stories of their work and play as a couple -- like when they had to plant their crops by the light of tractor headlamps upon closing their store after nine at night.

Jack tells of how his daddy came over the mountain with the Civilian Conservation Corps and married a gal in Coker Creek. They lived out their lives with no electricity or indoor plumbing, but Jack has such good memories of his parents’ lives that he preserves their lifestyle to this day. Jack’s mother and Mamie’s mom were great friends. He and his brother, Charles, still speak fondly about how they all looked and enjoyed after each other.

We’re expecting John and Mary for an extended visit. This is another couple who seem destined to reach the fifty years of marriage mark. He’s a big bear of a Renaissance man and she’s an opera singer; two more different people you would probably never meet in a marriage, except perhaps in my marriage to Richard. I just love it when Big John does something for his Sweet Mary, and with fluttering eyelids, she trills, “My Hero.”

Maybe what we all need to make marriage work, is to realize that family life is about heroism, humor, and appreciation. Richard and I are relative newcomers to marriage, with only twenty years under the belt of our relationship. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by such a steady group of supporters.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tree Trimming

I looked out the window and what did I see?
But a utility truck parked under our tree.
They were revving their chain saws and cutting off branches.
I asked myself, “What are the chances
That they’d leave most of our tree if they possibly could?”
If we didn’t love our old trees, we’d sell them for wood.

Our trees give us shade and great privacy;
This is of utmost importance to me.
Our hammock wouldn’t be quite the same
If hung on metal bars with a chain.
To my great relief, there was little taken;
Although, the fuss left me a bit shaken.

Friday, June 18, 2010

An Attitude of Gratitude

Who’d have ever thunk it: Richard accepting a social invitation that excluded me? He was so unprepared that he told the caller that he and I had gardening to do this evening. I reminded him that a wise man I know had once admonished me that I should never decline social invitations in order to take care of our home. The wise man (named Richard) said, “We’re not here for the house; the house is here for us.” Ditto that for “our” garden on Mamie’s land.

Richard went fishing with his friend while I went to work. Mamie and I regularly give each other a hard time. She has told me more than once that since I travel without Richard, if she was younger she’d have already stolen my man. Mamie regularly tells people that every time there’s gardening to be done, I send Richard to do it while I disappear to Atlanta, Louisiana, or the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I told her to mark the date on her calendar as the day I came to work the garden while Richard went to play.

My father’s mother was already recruiting us to attend her hundredth birthday bash when she died at the age of ninety-six and a half. I keep reminding Mamie that I expect her to live to see her hundredth birthday so that I can help throw her the party we never got to give our grandma. I tell her that the reason we feed her is to keep her healthy until she reaches the century mark. I even tell her that’s why we’re gardening on her ground.

The truth is that Mamie is a person who, in Richard’s words, “will be pleased.” It’s a delight to hear her talk about the pleasure she gets from her garden. She recently told me that she wouldn’t care if she never got to eat one bite out of the garden we’re growing, she just loves to see it grow. She likes to go out, and lovingly look at it, and comment on how beautiful it is with its nice straight rows -- thanks to Richard’s scientific side. And she’s positively poetic about keeping caught up with the weeding.

More than one plant has had to be moved because I didn’t consult Mamie before planting, but she also freely admits that she’s still learning after over three quarters of a century at this game. Some squashes get too chummy with their neighbors and start inter-breeding, so they have to be separated to succeed. There are plants that have to be planted in certain places to keep them from her chickens and others that need certain soil conditions. And who knew that butternut squash needed twenty-five feet to run around in?

I’ve read a lot of garden lore in books, but unless you talk to the farmer who gardened your land before you did, there’s a lot of trial and error that still has to happen. Mamie may be saving me from some of the trial and error, and she’s a lot more interesting than any gardening book.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Managing Memories

All change seems to send me into a cycle of grieving; I’m the only person I know who can grieve over a dead tree. Right now, I’m grieving over what I bought to be my lifeline to all of our old world after we lost our home and everything in it to Hurricane Katrina. We lived without a physical address for nine months while I kept current and connected to those people and places we love with my new, first-ever, sleek, silver laptop computer.

That computer has been my almost constant companion into which I’ve poured my soul when no one else could bear to listen. It’s been rattling and wheezing for some time, so I have backed all the information up to an external memory -- much like I’m attempting to have Mamie download her ninety years of memories into my mind.

My silver soul mate is now unable to access any of the stored information. I know I need to find a replacement, but there’s not only the decision of what new machine would best suit my needs; there’s always a learning curve to overcome. I’m just not yet ready to learn the ways of a new partner in prose. What kind of nutbag do you have to be to grieve over a computer?

I think I’ve been sent to Coker Creek to make peace with the cycles of nature: creation, gestation, birth, production, reproduction, decay, dormancy, and rebirth. If there’s one thing that I desperately want to learn from my mountain mama, it’s how to get over grief.

She left her whole family and her home state when she eloped with the love-of-her-life at the ripe old age of fourteen. It was two years and the birth of a grandchild before she dared go back to face her father. She made a lovely life for herself in her husband’s home state, and has many awards to show for the success of her endeavors.

It’s not as if she didn’t have challenges to face; it simply seems that she took each challenge to be another adventure in education. She was the oldest of five daughters; don’t you know how desperately she must have missed her mama and sisters before the days of nearly-free long distance telephone calls? Maybe that’s why she began assisting her new postmaster father-in-law at the local post office; she could get her letters from home as soon as they hit the counter. She and at least one of her sisters still write regularly to one another.

Mamie was showing me some of her citations and happened upon her penmanship primers from when she was ten years old. She said, “I’ve been told that I have nice handwriting. Here’s the books I used to teach myself. They gave them to us at school, and I just took an interest.” Obviously, her interest paid off; Mamie has beautiful penmanship and quite a way with words. Anyone lucky enough to correspond with Mamie is indeed luck enough.

We’ve gotten into the habit of visiting her past for a bit every time I stop in; then she accompanies me to the garden whenever she feels up to the task. There, she shows me how to plant the future in foods and handle a hoe to ensure that the wonderful exceeds the weeds.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Most Amazing Mamie

Mamie is the most amazing worker I’ve ever seen. I went to plant sweet potato sets that she insisted needed immediate attention two days ago. Our weather has been so humid that you could ring sweat out of your ponytail after half an hour outside, but this doesn’t deter Mamie. I couldn’t locate her two days ago because she had gone to Tellico on errands, so by the time I caught up with her yesterday she was raring to go to the garden.

Mamie had said that the carrots, beets and already spouted potato plants could use a bit more mounding of dirt around their foliage.
Before proceeding to plant, I figured that I should mind the maintenance of our other root crops.

As I tended to the rows of carrots and red and white potatoes, she set to killing potato and bean beetles. She loves killing weeds and bugs, which I think is a good way to work through life’s frustrations. If you gotta kill something, a bean beetle is a good place to begin.

Sometimes, Mamie drives down to the garden, but this time she had walked, which meant that she didn’t even have a cup of water with her. She had also neglected to put on her sun hat, but she wouldn’t be convinced to take a break to go get these things. She hoed up one row and down another until she was satisfied that the weeds wouldn’t win the day.

After we finished the upper garden, I set my sights to the lower area which Richard had finished harrowing in preparation for sweet potatoes and a second planting of corn. Next thing I knew, Mamie had been to the house to get the seed corn and was beside me planting the potatoes.

By this time, I had taken a couple of shade breaks, but Mamie just wouldn’t stop or sit. As we worked together, she entertained me with lessons she’s learned in seventy-six years of gardening in the same ground. I keep telling her that she’s got a lot more to teach me, so she’d better slow down. After all, she is the woman who has said for two years that she’s too old to tend a garden. She just laughs and says that she lies a lot. She also says that this is her last year of tending egg layers, but I suspect this is another of her “lies.”

I finally got her to agree to let me cover the potato plants and offered to walk her back to the house. She insisted that she could walk unaided. I kept looking over at Mamie as I worked; she was bending to pull weeds and hoeing another row. At long last, she stopped long enough to ask me if I’d drive her home. She promised to sit down and rehydrate herself.

Less than an hour later, as I arrived at her back door to put away the tools, here came Wonder Woman with a box of matches. “Don’t you just love to rest a little bit and then come out to do more work? I think I’ll go burn my trash pile,” she announced.

All I could think of was a nice long shower and an evening on the couch. They just don’t make mamas like Mamie any more.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Buffet Blunders

The Ruritan supper was a lot of fun;
I set the buffet up wrong before we’d begun.
The people who usually do the set-up
Must have trusted that I wouldn’t mess up.
But they really erred in this assumption;
I often have less knowledge than gumption.

If something needs doing, I just jump in and do.
The messes I’ve gotten into are more than a few.
The burgers were where the greens should be;
The coffee resembled a pot of hot tea;
I didn’t know where to find the drinks.
Being new on the job without a boss really stinks.

I almost never pay close enough attention
Unless I hear my responsibilities mentioned.
By the time Greta arrived with her expertise
It was too late to make changes, to say the least.
I can follow the old ways when I know what they are,
But the people who teach them better not stray too far.

I always seem to see things a little askew,
But for almost sixty years it’s gotten me through.
Next time I may arrive fashionably late,
Or maybe I’ll develop the patience to wait.
Or maybe the folks who like things just so
Will know better than to let me run the show.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Appalachian Americana

We took a day trip to The Museum of Appalachia, which I had become aware of on my last trip to Kentucky. It was a pleasant drive of a little over two hours back to a 3-D set of “snapshots” of the history of the area we now consider home.
Very little distance from I-75, we turned into a full frontier village, surrounded by the obligatory split-rail fence. The founder of this wonderful trek back in time must really love the people and places who have shared his life. This feeling permeates everything as you walk the paths of the rural mountain village of thirty-five original log cabins and buildings.

Richard is a reader for reference; while I’m an overview sort of sightseer. Before entering any place of historical significance, we have to agree on our approach. If it were up to Richard, we would never see more than one room of any museum. I, on the other hand, like to do the once-over and, if we like what we see, come back for more. Especially in light of this museum’s close proximity to our home, we agreed on the quick and dirty approach before beginning.

Even though the museum is not, strictly speaking, a living history museum, the approach that Mr. Irwin takes in arranging the displays brings the history very much alive. Mr. Irwin, quite obviously, knew many of the people in the pictures. Many of the descriptions of people and things were written in Mr. Irwin’s own hand. You don’t get much more personal than that.

Of great interest to Richard was the “perpetual motion machine” on display in the Appalachian Hall of Fame. Also housed here was a rocking chair made completely of mule shoes which greatly amused me. The whole village was filled with equal parts history and whimsy.

There are many parts of the museum which are very much alive. We were thrilled to come upon the source of the sounds of screeching coming across the greens in the bodies of a peacock family comprised of a mama teaching her babies to forage while her mate displayed his manly evil-eye feathered tail. His strutting of his stuff put me in mind of the war bonnets worn by the Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans. We were also very interested in the vegetables growing in their gardens and nicely entertained by the musicians pickin’ on the porch.

Unlike the feeling I get in many museums that the important things are the materials on display, I left the Museum of Appalachia with a feeling that I had been introduced to many people, important because they had helped shape this area -- some by simply being themselves in a one-room cabin or cave.
We vowed to come back with Mamie and Jack, who still live much of the pioneer lifestyle depicted here. The insights they can add, we’re sure, will bring another whole dimension to our next tour.

We were feeling such a part of Americana, that we topped our visit off with apple pie ala mode and hot fudge sundae’s at Shoney’s, another slice of old-time America.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Saturday Sessions at the Saloon

I know that a saloon is supposed to serve liquor,
But at Charlie and Deborah’s they don’t.
The musicians and groupies couldn’t pack in thicker;
At least, we always think that they won’t.

But people keep coming from so many miles around
To share bluegrass music and laughter.
It’s an original Appalachian mountain sound
With playing by newbies and masters.

There’s lots of music for making even grown men cry;
There’s gospel and faith music too.
There’s original music to give it a try
With a welcoming audience and volunteer crew.

The food is fabulous, brought by players and fans
Who seem to all be very good cooks.
Deborah and I are now formulating future plans
For their recipes to be a book.

Charlie on stand-up bass is a grand sight to behold,
But we all clamor for him to drum.
I don’t know about his performance, in days of old,
But he plays now without any rum.

An occasional buck dancer or happy clogger
Joins in with a quick dance or a jig.
There’s lots of material to use as a blogger
At Coker Creek Saloon’s Bluegrass gigs.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Perfect Place

We enjoy good clean drinking water
Flowing out of our underground springs,
And lots of rainwater for washing.
There’s wood for burning in great supply
Because all things eventually die.

Our home is shaded by wooded hills;
Our crops rarely require watering.
Our clay soil holds onto moisture
With a blanket of leaves from our trees.
Our land supplies most of our needs.

What we cannot grow and cannot make
Our neighbors are willing barter.
There are still some hunters and trappers
To trade game for a few chicken legs.
And there are always the chickens’ eggs.

Just as the natives found that they had
A metal of enduring value
That could be traded for outside goods,
The gold that’s found in our many streams
Is another source of trading means.

The people who settled this mountain
Surely picked a secluded enclave.
If we wanted to be in hiding,
And drop out of the outside rat race,
Coker Creek would be the perfect place.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Big Brown Creepy Crawly

We had a big brown spider crawling on our wall
I wasn’t sure if it was poisonous, so I gave my knight a call,
“Oh, Honey, can you come see this? I think it’s really creepy.”
I was closer to feeling hypnotized than to feeling weepy.

This was the biggest, hairiest spider I had ever seen --
At about three inches across, what if it was mean?
Could it jump across the room with an aerial attack?
Would it kill me with its bite before I could fight back?

My hero stopped his work in the kitchen making salads.
His bravery in the face of this danger isn’t quite the stuff of ballads,
But he did attempt to protect our home and his lady love.
With a wad of paper towels, he approached it from above.

But the spider was too quick for him; it made a getaway.
I know that he’s hiding somewhere in our house until another day,
When I’ll be dusting the mantelpiece and out the spider will pop.
I think it’s a Huntsman spider, so my heart won’t have to stop.

I’ll attempt to catch him instead of squashing him with a shoe.
Now that I’ve had time to research his kind, it’s the least I can do.
Then I can release him to his natural forested habitat,
But he may still be in danger if he’s captured by our cat.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fine Foods and 3-D Flicks

It was nice to get away from the garden and go to the big city. It’s no secret that my sense of adventure is greater than that of my man.I suspect that’s because his life was serene and settled as a child and more hectic than he wanted it to be for most of his adult life. He really likes the rhythm of retirement.

Richard yearns for the intimacy of small-town relationships and the soothing sounds of tractors, trucks, and power tools as they help us in our work. I long for the laughter, the song and the hustle and bustle of the city. I also love the anonymity of the crowds, where missteps are hardly noticed and one can reinvent oneself without paying the price of long-remembered wrongs passed from one family member and one generation to another.

Grocery stores and restaurants generally reflect the culture of their area. We can hardly find ethnic ingredients other than a few Americanized Italian, Mexican, and Chinese items within two hours of Coker Creek. It’s important to me that we regularly shop in more ethnic areas. Richard is quite a movie buff with a special preference for 3-D; the closest 3-D theatres are all two hours away in three different directions.

We usually choose to shop and play in Atlanta because we have family and friends there. Atlanta is much too busy for Richard’s comfort, and it’s really too large for mine, but they do have any foods you want and the movie theatres are many. Richard can also get world-class post-transplant care for his nearly-new heart from the teaching hospitals in this huge metropolis.

At Holly’s house we have our own personal chef who does the shopping and the cooking better than any area restaurant. How many people can say that their chef also cooks for heads of state on a regular basis? After Richard’s appointments with his doctors, we take in movies; Schrek is even funnier in 3-D. We head home in plenty of time to enjoy the scenery on our drive home, and to see the sun set behind the hills in our holler.

Richard is fond of saying that there’s nothing scarier than too much freedom. It is true that having less choices in everything can soothe the soul, but with too little stimulation of the spirit I feel a bit dead. It seems that everyone we encounter here calls themselves Christian, and most are white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant.

We’re such an insular community that I’m afraid any of my missteps will come back to haunt me for many generations. I don’t think most people here really know what to make of a crazy Cajun Catholic. Richard says that I’m like hot sauce; sometimes it burns, but he likes it anyway. This is not generally a group that likes a lot of spice. I have to get away sometimes to let my “wild child” out to play.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mountain Mama Mamie Mostly Gives Advice

Mountain Mama Mamie mostly gives us advice,
Even though she’s weeded a row more than once or twice.
She oversees our labors and wants to push a plow;
But Richard says, at ninety, she should leave that to him now.

We’re pleased that she will teach us although we’re city slickers;
There’s only so much we can learn from textbooks and pictures .
She says her gardening days are over, while ours have just begun;
But working without Mamie isn’t nearly as much fun.

What could be better than sharing the wonders of growing
The plowing, the planting, the tending, and the sowing?
Unless it’s the joys of cooking, tasting and canning --
All the late summer events that we’re planning.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Birthday Boy's Feast

What a birthday we had
Rejoicing with Richard
Our beautiful birthday boy.

We first went to Mamie’s
To weed the garden
And play with her power toys.

The tiller wouldn’t start
The weeds wouldn’t budge
We hoed, hustled, and pulled.

We were determined
To beat the rains
Of which the clouds were full.

We got the job done
Almost killing ourselves
We had plans for a birthday feast.

Our chef friend Holly
Was cooking for us
In a town to our southeast.

She served us pasta
With fresh shrimp
Scallops and asparagus,

Tomato salad,
And fruit trifle --
She really made a fuss.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sunday with Several Friends

We spent Sunday with several friends;
It was all very nicely paced.
As Richard cooked his favorite pork ribs,
With Don’s presence, we were graced.

We talked of our veterans, family, and faith --
All favorite topics of mine.
Richard and Don both served our country
When we were fighting in Vietnam.

Mountaintop Mary came to meet her man;
We shared coffee and some laughs.
Richard sent them off with cabbage and ribs,
And jokes about Beano and gas.

Then it was over to our garden at Mamie’s
To pull some Hitler weed.
We’d like to get ahead of it
Before it goes to seed.

Mamie and I talked raising vegetables
And how we reared our kids.
I finally had to join Richard;
We had come over to dig.

We’re trying a new way to garden
With no plow or tiller or hoe.
The secret is to lay down very thick mulch
Before you begin to sow.

I began to transplant our butternut squash
Under the leaves Richard had spread.
We’re hoping this method will work
In smothering weeds till they’re dead.

When the rains began to blind us
We retreated to our place,
Where the scents of Richard’s cooking
Permeated all our space.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Revolution and Retreat

Our country was created by men who had very varied lines of communication and education, but they were still limited to the WASP mindset, which was their only frame of reference for ruling. The world of communication and education today encompasses the wide world of ideas and ideologies. Some are frightened by this; others are energized.

I find it exciting that I can exchange ideas with people that I may never meet from places that I may never visit. My friend Susan can find some degree of connection in every encounter she has. I’m quite convinced that she could find someone who knew someone she knows in the snow banks of Siberia. I have learned from her to look for areas of agreement in every encounter.

What makes our country so vibrant is our ability to accommodate and assimilate. The changes since the Second World War expanded our technological and industrial capabilities, while opening our eyes to the horrors of hatred and the wealth of the world views beyond our borders. This happened mighty fast for easy assimilation, which has many of us reeling to regain our footing.

Our only hope to conquer our fears is constant communication. We must talk about what we fear in order to learn how to handle it. We must also learn to discern truth from a distillation of all the varied voices in the cacophony.

I read in Time Magazine about a study of how people choose their leaders. This article stated that those who speak most forcefully and loudly are followed. This seems to be the case in most of today’s society. My Richard is fond of telling me that just because I can talk louder than he does, it doesn’t mean I’m right.

I don’t think our founding fathers were a bombastic bunch. They seem to have been a very thoughtful, possibly even soft-spoken, group of guys. And they sure could construct a concise statement of their mission and position.

Society doesn’t wrap their heads around revolution without much anxiety about the unknown. We don’t change our way of life in a vacuum. All of our changes create a domino effect down the line of all our networks.

Those of us who are blessed with many unrelated spokes coming off the hub of ourselves in our sphere of influence may be better able to handle more rapid change than those who have all their people in a straight row from the center of their lives. Many voices may make new ideas easier to understand.

There’s an adage in business that, in order for a business to succeed, one shouldn’t invent something new, but should improve what already exists by ten percent. I come from a very malfunctional family. I have spent my life attempting to improve the functionality of the generations that come after me in ten percent per generation increments. Some have soared and some have stumbled, but I do believe that patient persistence is better than retreat to the safety of our past.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My Community, My Country

I’m so proud of my country, how far it’s evolved.
Though there are still many problems to be solved,
We no longer wait for our politicians to protect us;
We know that our neighbors are who we can trust
To rebuild our communities and share our plight.
If we’re all in it together, we will do what’s right.

We have always assisted those in need.
We now accept those of all races, religions, and creeds.
We have always attempted to shore up the weak.
We try not to hurt anyone with the words that we speak.
We work for fairness and speak our anger
Rather than putting our families in danger
With outbursts of violence in response to our fears.
We share our concerns through our words and our tears.

Sometimes,sharing thoughts is all we can do
To help others understand a different point of view.
It’s a blessing that we are empowered to say
What’s on our minds without joining the fray
Of hysterical bullies and their fearful lot.
Our blended voices are the best tools we’ve got.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Heroic Hypocrisy

How we treat our heroes is a major disgrace;
We pretend to care deeply, but that’s not the case.
A friend served our country In the Vietnam War;
He’s now denied care because of what the rules are.

We cover the children of those that break our laws
But covering our heroes somehow gives us pause.
We can spend untold dollars on bombs, planes, and such;
When the fighting’s over, we don’t care very much.

The politicians keep feeding at our tax trough,
But those who risked their lives seem not much better off
Than those who waste their lives on wine and drugs, and song
How is it that we’re not working to right this wrong?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ribs Redux

The homemade wine that Millard made was actually quite good.
Deborah and Charlie partook with us as we waited on our food.
The first batch of pork ribs had been cremated on the grill
The second batch was perfect, and I surely ate my fill.
We sat around after dinner debating politics and such
The heat of the discussion was, at times, a bit much
But we enjoyed ourselves immensely, at any rate;
Charlie even thanked us for not becoming irate.
It was quite pleasant to have others cook for us
This was indeed a meal fit for the upper crust.