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To Live the Simple Life….

Sometimes I yearn for simplicity in living life.

Many years ago, when I was in my early teens, once a week each summer we loaded the push mower, coolers, and grocery bags of clothes into the old Ford pickup, and then headed down south, deep into the wilds of Kentucky to spend time at the old home place located on the banks of the Green River, somewhere near Sebring. I can recall the long, hot drive with the warm summer winds beating us through the open truck windows. Our skin numbed from the open air ride welcomed the slower pace once we neared our destination. The narrow paved roads quickly vanished into gravel trails with ruts separated by grass paths, which eventually lead to what appeared to be an old abandoned house. This was the old home place of my step-mother’s parents. It had no running water, no indoor old houseplumbing and no electricity. There was a two-seater outhouse and hand dug well, all covered by weeds and vines that had accumulated from the previous year. The vegetation would be so overgrown, that from the front gate, there was hardly a dwelling visible. Just outside the dilapidated front gate would unload our weaponry from the truck; mowers, sling blades, axes and hand saws. Then before the sun would set, we would begin our assault. We always worked the first day on the area immediately around the house and make paths to the vital out areas such as the kitchen, well and outhouse. Before getting too involved, we first would cut the path to the kitchen so the women folk could carry in the food and cooking utensils. I never recalled much past this part since I was always hard at work on the jungle outside. What I came to discover was that the reclamation was as much ongoing inside as it was outside, from a year’s worth of emptiness having being replaced by all manner of spider webs, nests and other surprises. We never heard the screams from inside since the lawnmower drowned them out. Outside, we likewise would always encounter some new infestation or pest that had to be dealt with in order to preserve any semblance of civilization, yet we kept the screaming to a minimum.

It would be nearly dark when the call for supper would come. We had another full day’s work ahead but for now, we had fought to reclaim the yard and area immediately around the house. Sweat laden, weary bodies were glad to find a hot plate of food, regardless if we were able to bath or not. This was the first time I had recalled having SOS. for supper. However, instead of the rich man’s version I found in the Air Force years later made with chipped beef, this SOS was simple and plain, made with homemade sausage and whole milk; simple but the best. The biscuits made from scratch were cooked in the old wood stove on the back porch of the old place, which was still functional. We drank cold water dipped from the long thin pipe that was lowered manually by a rope into the hand dug well. The fresh cold water, hot biscuits and SOS made for a meal fit for a king.

Since we had worked to nearly dark, after supper and a quick bucket wash, we would find our bedrolls and claim our sleeping arrangements for the night. My favorite was the whiskey slat hammock that hung between two oak trees in the yard. From the high end, you could lie through the night and watch the barges move up the river, which was just down the hill from the house. The drop off from the yard to the river was so steep that it would appear that you were eye level with the tops of the barges as they forced themselves up river. More than once, I was awakened during the bargenight by a barge operator who had found my bed in their spot lights and felt it necessary to blow their air-horn, which would nearly roll me out of the hammock. I soon found that covering myself with dark blankets was necessary in order to hide my bed from detection of the practical jokers driving the barges. It was the only way of securing a full night’s sleep. Of course, if rain was in the forecast we would pile into the few beds inside the house, like firewood, in head to toe fashion. I still don’t know how we got any sleep other than the fact we would be so exhausted from working to fight the forest during the day, we quite literally fell off to sleep without any effort.

Once we finally reclaimed the property, one swing of the sling blade at a time, we finally had time to enjoy the wonderful old place and the reason for our recovery efforts. The house set on a bluff that overlooked the Green River. The confluence was deep enough to support barge traffic, which was of course already obvious from the hijinks of the barge captains. The drop off from the tree covered yard to the river was very steep, but somehow there had been a small pasture separating the two with a small pole barn that had seen its share of floods. In order to get to the river you had to follow a path from the yard, through the overgrown pasture, past the old pole barn, to the river bank green river 3below. This is where we eventually would take our baths. Years later, I would recall these first open air baths while I was building my cabin in North Carolina. There too, I would find the open water bathing refreshing and invigorating. Just knowing you were getting clean and taking the risk of being caught doing so seemed to add an exhilaration all its own; barge captains or not.

The rest of the week was spent either fishing, cooking over an open fire or just finding ways to amuse ourselves without T.V. or any other games; there was never enough room in the truck to pack toys. There was a Mulberry tree in the yard that always seemed to ripen during our stay. Here we would find sweet treats and learn the song and game of “Here we go round the Mulberry bush”. It was games like this that soon took the place of the meaningless board games we had left behind. As the week would progress, we would find more about ourselves and how living in the past could still be fun. We often spent time in the evenings reading from the old Bible that was kept in the house and talking about the stories while sitting around the campfire in the yard.

Here we learned what it meant to live with nothing.

I can remember as a between-meal-treat we were given a slice of loaf bread, with butter spread on it, sprinkled with sugar. If we were lucky, we might get to go into the nearby town and visit the old general store and get a soda. The front of the store was the skinny double-door type, which had the  screen  door that creaked when you opened it. Inside, it was dark and cool regardless if it was a hot and humid day. If we wanted to go farther south, it required crossing the river. There was no bridge, only a ferry that would run during the day, when the ferry operator was around. The ferry boat was only big enough for two cars, so heavy traffic was never expected. The ferrygravel road to the south wound around from farm to farm through crop lands of corn, soybean and tobacco. We took this trip once, going somewhere that made my step-grandmother cry; an old graveyard where her family was buried. I can recall the solemn silence, the dust and the trip back to the river and the ferry boat ride back to the other side. We never took the trip to the other side of the river after that day.

Although these annual summer retreats were only short periods in my life, I can vividly recall the feeling of having to create something from nothing; knowing that the amenities of life were not at your fingertips and that you had to plan ahead. Everything from the trip to the outhouse, to the next meal, you had to be thinking in stages and not living for the moment as we so often do today.  I can be thankful that a part of me remembers those few days each year when we would step back in time and live as our ancestors had generations before us.

To know how simple life can become when all else is removed and to focus on what living truly is; this is one of the most precious gifts we can give ourselves.

When life slows down to a crawl and with it, we can once again find out what really matters most; this is what I yearn.

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JAM Camp 2013 is almost here…..are you ready?

I have to admit, I have been remiss in my blogging as of late, but there is a very good reason.

We are deep into the preparations for JAM Camp 2013.bluegrass-640x350

This year’s camp will be bigger and hopefully even better than last year’s. In addition to the great morning instrument classes (which includes lessons in guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin and mountain dulcimer with a host of great teachers) we are creating more afternoon activities; meanwhile, keeping the popular ones from last year.

This year, in addition to campers making their own biscuits, they will also learn how to make the preserves to put on their biscuits as well. Joan Thompson from the Siler City Farmer’s Market will teach the preserve making class and Bill and Sims Poindexter will lead the biscuit baking class.

Everyone enjoyed the pottery class last year, so this year we plan to do it again. We plan to add to our pottery experience with Jon Spoon, the Director of the NC Arts Incubator, leading the workshop. We hope to have a JAM Camp 2013 tile for everyone to take home by the end of the week.

We are excited to have Sue Wilson back for a second year. She will hold another workshop in Hammered Dulcimer, which we didn’t seem to get enough of last year. In addition to Hammered Dulcimer, we will also be offering a build-your-own Mountain Dulcimer workshop hosted by Emily Schilling, who is also our Mountain Dulcimer teacher. In this class you will build and decorate your own Dulcimer.

Also back by popular demand is Kathy Schilling and her clogging class. Kathy, a multi-award winning dancer, will be leading afternoon dance workshops in clogging. Kathy will also hold classes on how to square dance, which will be very useful at the Friday Night Barn Dance.

We are adding some new afternoon opportunities with a Native American themed activity by first building a Tepee, which we will then let the campers decorate. Along with the Tepee we will create a sundial, nature boat float and an Orienteering course. Other artistic endeavors somewhat Native American themed, will be focused on a Giant Weaving and Mural project and Jug decorations.

100_1943We will once again hold our Jug Band class on Friday, where our students will learn or be reminded of how to play the jugs they decorated earlier in the week along with the art of Kazoo. Last year, Julie Brown, Emily Schilling and myself led this class for the first time. I think we laughed more than we played music, but we found out the beauty of performing while playing a Kazoo…for sure!!! I also found out that playing a jug required a lot more air than I had anticipated, nearly passing out the first time I tried. Needless to say, we now make sure our students know the hazards of too much jug plaing. In addition to the jug, each student will get their own kazoo to play. We will perform a Jug Band song at the Friday Barn Dance show as part of the evening’s pre-Dance entertainment. Along with the Jug Band performance our students will be invited to come up and perform what they’ve learned during camp; you will not want to miss this.

Along with Jug Band class, other afternoon singing and song writing classes will be held again with Laura Thurston leading our folk singing class and Sarah Osborne hosting our song writing workshop. In addition, Jr. Counselors, Abbey Buchanon and Chloe Lang will lead a Taylor Swift song-sing-a-long session slanted more toward the Old Time/Bluegrass sound of her music.

Along with all the learning there will be lots of physical activity with the return of the ever popular 100 ft. water slide. We will add additional water games throughout the week along with various other games and activities. Zach Tomlinson will host a jump rope workshop. You have to see him in action to believe it…a double-dutch master.

Our story teller this year will be Claire Ramsey. We look forward to hearing Claire weave her tales as no one else can. In Claire’s own words, “Therefore, my first wish as a storyteller is to bring all my listeners — children, teens, and adults — to that place where they remember their first stories… where they find themselves again at their parents’, grandparents’, or babysitters’ knees, pictures filling their minds and hearts. Whoever you are, however old you are, Stories With Claire have moments of joy, excitement, and peace for you.”

We are happy to announce our visiting performer this year is Chatham County’s own iconic treasure, Tommy Edwards. Tommy will be visiting us on Wednesday afternoon starting at 2:00 PM. We look forward to hearing Tommy speak and perform for our campers; he always has lots of inspirational words of wisdom to share and beautiful music as well.TommyBoT3

The backdrop for the JAM Camp 2013 is the wonderfully restored Silk Hope Farm Heritage Park and the beautiful Silk Hope countryside. Along with this beauty we plan to include some farm related activities and learning experiences similar to last years. Farming is a dynamic lifestyle where weather always plays a major factor. So we never know for sure what activity we will be able to promote until closer to the time of the camp but we promise it will be something all the children will enjoy.

In all, this year promises to be bigger and better with a lot of learning with a whole lot of fun thrown in. If you haven’t registered it’s still not too late to do so.

For more information and to register go online to www.ChamJAM.org/SummerCamp2013.php

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