Monday Journal

September 17, 2018

I went to sleep last night to the sound of the rain hitting hard upon the metal roof, roaring wind, and meteorologists breaking into the regularly scheduled programming that Mike had on the television to warn viewers of impending flood hazards for Southwest Virginia.  In contrast, there was the steady drip of water as it hit two separate enamel pans placed strategically on the floor after we discovered Mike’s efforts had not kept the east winds from blowing water in somewhere around the dormer window upstairs and depositing it through our first-floor bedroom ceiling and onto the floor.  I struggled to shut out the sounds as well as to shut down my mind as the remains of Hurricane Florence whipped around our modest 1930’s home situated at just above 2700 feet in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Evidently, my body eventually gave in to fatigue and I slept. 

Now I sit in the darkness that is just before dawn, my ears straining to make out the sounds beyond my bedroom walls.  The dripping into the enamel pans has stopped, and that is a relief.  Each drip was like torture to my mind, knowing I was powerless to stop it, and recognizing the potential water damage that could be the result of prolonged exposure.  The winds have died down compared to their fury of last night, and the rain is much lighter.  It’s what I can’t see that worries me as I sit in the dark waiting for a bit of light to make things clear.  I can hear the roar of the water in the stream that is just below our house.  It sounds like a rushing river instead of the quiet mountain stream that lulls us to sleep through the open windows of summer.  Unwilling to risk going out in the dark and knowing there is nothing I can do about anything until daylight, I wait and wonder if trees or branches have fallen on the barn or outbuildings.  I wonder if  fences have been compromised during the storm and if all the cattle are all right. 

We never lost power, to my knowledge, and that gives me hope that we don’t have any major trees down.  It’s the sitting in the dark and not knowing that causes the mind to reach for all the possibilities.  It’s hard to sit in darkness and keep hope alive.  The longer the darkness lingers and the rougher the storms, the more one has to consciously choose faith.

That, in a nutshell, is my life lesson this week: the fostering of hope and the clinging to faith when darkness and storms threaten my peace.  This is not a new lesson, but a lesson that seems I must revisit time and time again.   Major events of this week are not new experiences either, although the way those events manifest themselves have brought new developments. 

Yesterday marked the ten-year anniversary of Josh’s death and I promised myself that I would not dwell on it in a negative way.  I only broke down once throughout the day, allowing the tears to briefly fall and that old, stabbing pain to take over for just a few minutes.  Then, I tucked it away where it coexists with my other emotions, grief having its own place of permanent residence in my heart.  After a decade, the feelings don’t take me off guard anymore.  I don’t fight them.  I just accept the need to hold the grief gently when it needs to be held.

The feelings the darkness outside my window evoke after the wild winds and rain of last night are similar to the twinge of anxiety I feel regarding the events of earlier this week that left me looking for answers.  I know everything will be ok when the light breaks this morning because we will roll up our sleeves and tackle whatever needs to be done and do the best with what we have been given.  As long as there is life, there is hope for the things of this world.  The same is true regarding the truths that are unfolding regarding some things with which I will struggle regarding my personal health.  Regardless of how things unfold, I will work my way around the darkness of the unknown, roll up my sleeves, and do that best I can with what I have been given.  I keep telling myself that my reactions are normal as I fluctuate between extreme thankfulness that things are not much worse and feelings of sadness that I must now learn to manage a chronic condition that has the potential of affecting so many different areas of my life. 

Monday, Mike and I made plans to go to Galax and work on our booths at Briar Patch Marketplace.  The previous week, we had worked hard on the new booth upstairs, but the downstairs booth needed a complete remodel.  Before going to Galax, I asked Mike if he would take me to The Blue Ridge Music Center which is not far outside of Galax along the parkway.  The center had advertised free flat foot dancing lessons and I wanted to attend.  While we were there, I noticed I didn’t feel well.  I was sluggish and kept sweating profusely even though it was actually cool outdoors and many folks had jackets or a light blanket around their shoulders when they were not moving.  I just couldn’t focus and removed myself to the back of the room.  Later as we worked on our booth, I struggled with intermittent hot flashes and fatigue.  I just kept pushing myself.  Mike realizing how tired I was offered to get me something to eat on the way home and I told him no that I would fix something.  I had laid out meat to thaw before we left the house.  He insisted and I was too tired to really think about cooking, so I gave in to his kindness.  We ordered and I wanted to try something different not realizing it was extremely spicy.  I love spicy foods but have not indulged in extremely hot foods for many years.  I remarked how good the Cali Burrito tasted but could only eat half of it.  By the time we got home 45 minutes later, I was violently sick and of course thought I had contracted food poisoning.  I lay on the bathroom floor writhing in pain not daring to stray too far from the toilet.  After about an hour, I literally dragged myself to the bed, fell into it and slept for about twelve hours only to awaken to find that I was passing straight blood.  Mike had left to go to Staunton for the day.  I made it to the barn and milked deciding that time would most surely rectify the situation. As the day progressed, things got worse.  By late afternoon, I decided that I needed to go to the emergency room.  I could tell I was dehydrated and the bleeding had not stopped.  The staff at Twin County Regional took me in immediately, examined me and ran blood work.  They were very good throughout the whole experience but once the blood work came back without anything alarming, like every other time I have gone to the emergency room, they gave me a proverbial pat on the head, and sent me home.  They did give me an IV to boost my fluid levels which was helpful. 

Since I was in my mid-twenties, periodically, I have had episodes of intense stomach pain and severe dehydration that have taken me to the emergency room in search of answers.  Time and time again the staff have taken one look at me, declared me one of the healthiest people they have ever seen, proceeded with basic blood work which revealed nothing, pumped me full of fluids and sent me home.  Sometimes I would go years between episodes and I would pass it off as nerves or stress or eating something that didn’t agree with me.  Two years ago, I went through this and could not get better.  The doctors kept acting as if it were nothing until I found a doctor with UVA who ran only one test other than blood work, and determined that I needed my gallbladder removed.  This seemed to alleviate my symptoms for a time, but in the last year I have struggled again, especially each time that we would travel away from home coupled with the extreme amount of stress in taking care of things for my grandmother.  Time before last when we were in Georgia, I became violently ill after eating pizza.  Again, I thought maybe it was food poisoning at first, but no one else got sick from it and besides the initial stomach upset, my symptoms of chills and low-grade fever lasted for days along with extreme fatigue.  Then, the fever went away and returned at intervals over the next few weeks.  I called my UVA doctor and he ordered a blood test.  It came back clean.  Nothing out of place about my blood counts and everything they tested for was negative.  The struggle was real.  I have always just pushed through believing that if I just try harder I can make things better.  I have always been tough and resilient when it comes to any health concerns.  I began to think that I was just a big baby and must be letting things that I use to be tough about bother me.  As I result, I just kept pushing myself and I just kept getting fatigued and sick. 

This was the first time there was blood and it was frequent and a significant enough quantity to make me realize that this wasn’t just a result of stress or eating bad food or my being a big baby.  Even the doctors at the emergency room who wanted to dismiss me couldn’t quite do so knowing that I had significant amounts of blood which I was smart enough to show them, knowing they would never believe me.  I did get extremely frustrated when they asked me if I was sure I knew where the blood was coming from and I assured them that I knew exactly what part of my body was bleeding.  With that, they told me there was nothing they could do for me and to call a gastroenterologist and get an appointment.  By the time I got home, it was too late to call anyone so the next morning I began calling until I finally convinced someone to take me immediately.  The other offices tried to schedule me an appointment several weeks out but I knew I needed to be seen as soon as possible.  After three hours of examinations, surveys, and blood work, the doctor said I have the classic symptoms and history for a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disorder.  He had his nurse load me up with a steroid in one hip and an antibiotic in the other and he gave me a three-day supply of samples for five different medicines.  He ordered a endoscopy which because we are self employed and have a large deductible will have to pay out of pocket and when I checked on the meds he prescribed, my bill came to over $4000 because we don’t have prescription insurance.  I opted to take the samples he gave me, strictly watch and adhere to the low residue diet he suggested and hope for the best.    The medications and steroids have helped, I am feeling much better, and the symptoms are under control.  We are waiting for additional blood work to come back from the lab which the doctor said will give us more answers.  He said the blood work addresses different areas from the basic tests that have been administered to me three times over the last three months. 

Now, I am trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I am going to have to most likely live on a very restrictive diet in order to keep my symptoms under control.  I am trying to sort out in my head the amount of money it is going to cost us each time I have a flare up and have to go on the medication to treat this illness.  I am accepting the fact that when someone has these types of issues it limits their social life at times as they remain close to the bathroom.  I am learning to plan for emergencies with extra clothes and wipes just in case I can’t find a bathroom quick enough.  I am learning that it is not just age that makes one struggle with feeling “unsexy” but that a chronic illness like this can make a person feel very undesirable.  I am learning that all the joint pain that I have struggled with for the last ten years goes hand in  hand with this illness and that when the chiropractor blew me off and basically told me I looked and acted too healthy to have autoimmune joint pain, I should have “followed my gut” (a perfect pun for this illness) and instead of feeling like I was being a big baby and suffering through it, looked deeper for answers.  I am coming to grips with the fact that my sudden hair loss and continued thinness of hair that began with the onset of severe stomach pain and subsequent extreme weight loss two years ago is often a side affect of colitis because one’s body is unable to absorb all the nutrients that it needs from the food that is eaten.  I am trying to deal with the fact that many of the medications given for colitis can also cause hair loss and acne.  Mostly, I am trying to come to accept the fact that this constant fatigue is more than likely going to be a part of my life with an autoimmune illness.  I have considered myself healthy, strong, and able to keep pushing myself to do whatever I needed to do.  Now I am finding that the more I push myself, the sicker I become.  I am going to have to change my attitude and my ways and that is going to be the most difficult thing for me to do. I have always made it through by propelling myself through the most difficult of circumstances by exerting myself physically. 

Even the events of this week left me feeling like I needed to “do” something.  I started dusting and cleaning areas I have neglected for most of the summer as I have been busy with canning and outdoor activities.  I didn’t push too hard but worked steady.  It was something I could do and still stay close to the bathroom.  I needed to keep my hands busy and feel accomplished even if it was just housework.  It was too much too soon and the fatigue took over leaving me worthless the next day.  Then I felt like a big, baby all over again.  I’ve never been one to whine about how I feel.  I have never been one to let physical discomfort keep me from doing the things I want to do

During my down time this week, I have begun researching diets and natural ways to manage ulcerative colitis.  I have become overwhelmed at all the differences of opinion and the lists of foods that are touted as off limits depending on which diet one chooses.  If I combined all the ideas, I am convinced there would be nothing left that I could eat.  For now, I am following the low residue diet prescribed by my doctor and that seems to be working to relieve my symptoms and ease discomfort.  I have started a food journal to help me to keep track of what I am eating and how my body reacts.  I am researching eating habits that can become life long habits believing that food does contain healing properties if we can find the right combinations for our individual needs. 

 I am having a mixed bag of emotions about all of this:  anger, grief, fear, and then relief that it’s not something much more serious.  The emotions are vicious cycle, the darkness of the unknown playing tricks on my mind as I wait for the dawn and answers to surface. 

As I finish writing down my thoughts and recap the events of this past week, daylight has made its appearance through an overcast sky.  Rain is coming steady but without the ferocity of last night’s storm.  I can see the trees blowing in the wind, but they are still standing and while the mountain stream outside our window roars and swells, it has not reached high enough to keep us from crossing the bridge should we need to leave our property.  It’s not over yet and the effects of the continued weather off Hurricane Florence may cause additional issues as flooding continues in the mountains, but just being able to see clearly past the window brings comfort.  

The days and weeks ahead will bring light to the issues with which I currently struggle, I am sure of it.  Life is what we make it and I plan on continuing to make mine the best I can possibly make it.  The storms only serve to make us appreciate the quiet days and any damage that is done is cause for us to focus on the task at hand. 

It’s time for me to pull on my boots, throw on a ball cap, grab a jacket and head for the barn.  I am thankful for things that remain the same and the comfort farm life brings to me here in the mountains. 


Monday Journals

August 31, 2018
It is 2:45 am and we are sharing the road mostly with overnight truckers.  I get nervous when I see a truck go over the line and hear the rumble of the tires on the warning strips.  I wonder how many hours they have been driving and when they will get to rest.  I think about how I would much rather be in my bed, safe at home than on the interstate.  I am thankful that I don’t have to drive and that Mike is so willing and capable to drive this long distance.  I used to love to drive and didn’t mind long trips by myself but not anymore.  I would rather be in the passenger’s seat if I have to be away but mostly I would just rather be at home.  This trip is necessary although not something I want to do.  Nan’s house has sold and we are closing on it today.  We have a six-hour drive, then the meeting to close on the house, and then we will have a little more than 24 hours to hold an estate sale, move what we need to move afterwards, and vacate by 4 pm on Saturday.  I struggled with the abruptness of these plans.  We were supposed to have until Tuesday of next week, but the buyers started pressuring to get in this weekend and the decision was made to accommodate them.  I was angry at their lack of consideration for our situation and their lack of understanding regarding what it will take for us to make this happen.  Mostly, I am saddened at the thought of taking the things that were so important to my grandmother, dividing them up, making the decisions about what to keep and what must go, and watching so many of the things that were important to her disappear into the hands of people we don’t know and who will only be happy that they got a good deal on a material item.  This is a part of life for which one has to show up and do their part as the next of kin.  I hate it and never expected it to be like this.  I thought Grandma, Jimmy and I would make this decision together or that she would be gone before this decision had to be made.  We don’t get to choose how the details of life work themselves out.  We only get to choose our attitude and whether or not we will be open to the lessons that life tries to teach us.  I am trying to balance the natural feelings of pain, disappointment and grief with having the right attitude.  By the time the miles have slipped by and we have arrived to the task at hand, I will do what I need to do and I will let go of the hurt I feel toward those young people buying her house who don’t have a clue that their excitement over their new home is the exact opposite feeling of those signing the paperwork  that releases that home to their ownership and care.   Maybe, before the rest of the trip is over I can sleep a bit.  I really need the rest to face the day.
We are still in a rental vehicle.  We are now into the fourth month of letting our Ford Edge sit in the driveway as we wait for the company to come up with enough parts to take care of the thousands of individuals, like us, whose cars are under a recall.  It is nice to have a car to drive and that we don’t have to pay the rental fees, but they require us to return every 30 days to do the paperwork all over again.  We usually try to coordinate our rental renewal with other business because we have to drive a three hour round trip and lose half a day but this time, we let it slip up on us and were caught off guard.  We had to make a special trip just to take care of the business at hand with the rental yesterday.  The rest of the day was spent getting things ready so we could leave at midnight to go to Georgia. 
The early part of the week was mostly routine for me, caring for the animals, milking, cleaning house, cooking, making cheese, and assisting Mike when needed, not that he needed much assistance this week.  Mostly he has been working on restoring another building.  He has debated and debated as to whether we should try to save an old, large production chicken house probably built in the 1960’s.  The building, structurally is not in the best of shape, but he felt like it could be salvaged and would make a good storage area for round bales of hay, equipment and maybe even part of it used as a loafing shed for the cattle.  He’s been working several weeks just to get the area cleaned up. There was a large tree that had fallen on one corner of the building.  Another tree was compromising the structure.  He pushed back a lot of dirt that had eroded off the bank next to the building and was pushing against the structure.  Inside, he cleaned out mountains of trash.  When restored, the building won’t be perfect but it should provide plenty of storage for the rest of our lives.  We made a trip into Floyd to pick up load of metal roofing for the building.  The roof will match the barn roof and eventually, he hopes to put board and batting on the outside so the building will look similar to the barn.  The old building is such an eye sore and we discussed knocking it down and cleaning up the area but hated to lose that potential space for storage.  It is quite an undertaking, but it will be really nice when it is finished.  For a mere fraction of what it would cost to construct a new building, we will have a decent shelter in place. 
September 9, 2018
I have been unable to write.  I would like to make the excuse that I have not had time, and while I have been very busy, that would just be an excuse.  The reality is that the last two weeks have been so emotional for me that I just have not been able to wrap my head around things, sit down and recount all that has transpired.  Part of me wants to get down every detail, because that is the writer in me.  The other part of me wants to just make it go away and forget all about it.  Truth is, I will never forget about it.  So many things transpired during the closing on the sell of Nan’s house that I left the attorney’s office just shaking my head.  I shared those things with a few close friends but I am not even going to mention them in this journal.  It doesn’t matter now.  What does matter is that which we needed to do is done and was done to the best of our ability.  And there are a lot of things I would like to say to those who have dared to think that Jimmy and I will take the money from the sell of Nan’s house and try to make it our own but again, the stupidity of people does not even need acknowledgement.  The facts.  Just the facts.  The fact is Nan needs constant care and such that we are not able to physically meet her needs.  The fact is that we cannot afford to keep her house, pay the utilities and pay for upkeep knowing she will never return there.  Fact is we could have just signed the house and belongings over to the nursing home but we just couldn’t do that.  Just walking away from her house seemed so impersonal, heartbreaking and not the right thing to do, leaving the things that meant so much to her by walking away from them.  So, we went through the task of listing the house, selling the house, sorting and selling her belongings and putting that money in an account to continue private pay for the nursing home until that money runs out.  By my calculations, I figure we have about six months and the money will all be gone.  Every penny will be spent to pay for Nan’s care and it will be gone in such a short amount of time.   It only makes me sad because it was not what she wanted.  She said over and over again that she wanted us to be able to sell the house and split the money three ways between Jimmy, Alissa and myself.  We always told her that we would do what we needed to do to take care of her first and foremost and that the material possessions didn’t matter to us.  Well, that is what we have done to the best of our ability.  It was heartbreaking.  It was physically exhausting.  In 47 hours time we drove 1000 miles round trip and cleaned out a house full of furniture, had an estate sale, and closed on the house.  But, it is done and we know in our hearts we did the best we could.  I was able to see Nan twice while we were there.  One was short visit per her request.  She was excited to see us but she struggles with her emotions and she was tired after about 20 minutes.  She told us she was ready for us to leave.  The second visit, she got tired, but she knew when we left that we wouldn’t be back for a while so she hung on.  When I asked her if she wanted us to leave, she replied “I never want you to leave.  I want to keep you here forever and ever.”  She is frail and needs constants assistance but was in fact better than some of our previous visits.  She was eating well, alert, and able to look at pictures with me.  We had good conversation.  I was able to love on her, kiss her face, and tell her how much she means to me knowing that she understood.  Leaving was hard.  She got very emotional and the nurse had to help her deep breathe to calm down.  We slipped out as the nurse began getting her relax a bit, big, hot tears running down my own face.  Typically, I sleep in the car when we drive any distance at all, but I couldn’t sleep.  In fact, it was a couple of days before I could sleep more than just a few hours.  There was so much adrenaline from pushing ourselves to accomplish such a large task in such a short period of time, and there were so many emotions that wouldn’t allow me to calm down and rest.  When I did finally crash, I slept for nine hours but it still didn’t feel like enough.  It took me several days to recuperate emotionally and physically.  I texted my brother when we got back and told him that I was so very thankful that we were able to do what we needed to do and be on the same page.  I see so many other families fighting among themselves for various reasons at times when they should be drawing close together.  It is so easy to let the stress of difficult times, our own ideas and agendas, and differences of opinion tear us apart as families rather than be united.  It was a tremendous blessing to me that Jimmy and I could be united in our decisions for Nan’s care. 
One thing I didn’t have to worry about while I was away was my animals.  Our niece stayed at the house and kept the cow milked and the animals fed and watered.  I was so thankful for her generous heart and her willingness to come and take care of things.  It took a huge load off of my shoulders and was definitely another huge blessing during a difficult time.  At home, her family made the sacrifices they needed to make so that she could help us.  I am so incredibly thankful for the people who make life easier. 
Back at home we continued to plug along with daily chores and I appreciated the quietness of our home and the tranquility that I feel here now more than ever.  It is a refuge for me and each time I go away from here, I come back that much more thankful for our blessings. Even my niece mentioned that our place was a “little piece of heaven” and that is exactly what it is for me, a place where I can shut out most of the ugliness of the world and rest in what is good.  I have had a lot of ugly in my life, some of it forced upon me by others and some of my own making by poor choices.  Some of it was a combination of both.  I often think that while I want this part of my life to last forever, yet knowing all seasons must end at some point, I must never cease to be thankful for these moments in time that are so rich and a fulfillment of many of my dreams, no matter how long or how short they may be in the grand scheme of thing. 
 Mid-week, we made a day trip to Staunton.  We drove together, but Mike had some things come up unexpectedly that he needed to tend to and I ended up using his mom’s truck to drive back to Carroll County by myself so that I could milk the cow.  The drive was long and I was tired after spending the day completely cleaning out our big booth at Factory Antique Mall.  We had loaded everything into our enclosed trailer with the help of our son in law, and Mike hauled it down to Carroll County where we set up a new booth on the main level at Briar Patch Marketplace in Galax.  It was all a tremendous amount of work but it felt good to “clean house” and set up a new display in a new location.  There had been problems with theft, mismanagement, and lack of communication by the staff at Factory Antique Mall from the very beginning since we started into selling antiques there almost two years ago.  Some of that comes from the enormity of the place and some of it just from management and a lot of the staff showing little regard for the property of the dealers.  It is refreshing to be in a much smaller establishment where the owner and employees seem to genuinely care and the atmosphere is pleasant. 
This evening, I am sitting on my porch and the road out front is quiet with only a car passing now and then.  My cows have been milked for the day, and I know that all the animals are currently safe and content.  Mike is watching a football game on television. We have had a nice day attending church with those we have come to love like family and then having lunch and spending time with Mike’s sister this afternoon.  We ate good food, we laughed, and we had serious conversation.  I am just thankful for life’s simple gifts and for love that is ours both to give and to receive. 
As this month moves forward, I am deeply aware of what month it is.  This week marks a decade since my son Joshua left this earth.  My heart still aches in the way that only a mother who has “lost” her child can ache.  My mind still reels thinking of how my precious son died and the fact that we will never know for certain the events of that night and the horrors that were faced in those final moments of his life.  In some ways, there is never any closure when a mother can’t for certain say what happened to her child at the moment of his death.  I have often thought that if my son’s death were a clear suicide case, then I would at least know exactly what to say when people ask.   On the other hand, if investigations had revealed a clear murder case, then I would say without hesitation that he was murdered.  Instead, I am forever left not knowing for sure what happened that horrible night.  I have my dream, my vision that occurred at the moment he was shot, before I ever received the phone call telling me it had occurred.  I will never forget awaking from a deep sleep, the nightmare fresh in my mind of my son’s death and the feeling of his presence leaving this earth.  At that time, believing it was only a terrible dream, I forced myself to let it go and return to sleep, only to be awakened by a telephone call from my ex-husband telling me that what I thought was a nightmare, was in fact a reality.  I will never forget those moments with his life suspended between heaven and earth as machines and doctors kept his heart pumping, my own heart telling me that he was already gone and that as a mother, I needed to return his precious body that I had born inside my own to the earth.   Although my heart continues to believe that he would be here today if it were not for the young man who loaded three bullets into a shotgun and brought it from an adjoining room and either forced or encouraged my son to pull the trigger, never will we know for certain what happened that night and while it will always be murder in my mind, the courts determined it was assisted suicide.   This is not something a mother lives with easily, and I have had to learn to live with my deep grief, pain, confusion, and lack of answers.  What I have had to do is learn to find peace without any answers and in spite of the grief.  For a number of years, the grief kept me from really being able to live fully,  and so much of life passed me by as I struggled just to hang on to my sanity, but God is gracious and somehow through all the pain, all the hurt, and all the mistakes I have made in dealing with my grief, I have found myself in a place a decade later where I can recognize the intensity of the hurt, accept the fact that I will never know why or how it happened, love my son more than life itself, and yet be able to embrace life fully and live with joy.   Every previous September since Josh’s death I have struggled to function through the first two weeks of the month, dreading the 16th and the anniversary of Josh’s death and how I would face another year without him.  This September dawned upon me and I met it with a thankful heart for all that Josh has taught me both through his life and in his death.  Never would I choose this path but life chose this path for me, and that which I do have a choice over is how I live the rest of my life in spite of the broken pieces that will always be there.  The last ten years has been a journey learning how to pick up the pieces and live again.  While there is an element of aloneness in grief, I have not had to face my grief alone.  I have had a husband who, while not perfect, has stood beside me when others would have walked away.  I have a daughter who, in her own pain of losing her brother and best friend, has never abandoned me in my grief.  I have two wonderful step children whose love has born me through some most difficult times. I have a best friend who is never more than a phone call away and I have extended family and friends who have loved me through the dark days.  Most of all, I have never lost my Faith.  My beliefs have changed somewhat as such a deep tragedy caused me to question some things I had been taught by either words or actions of the Christians I have known throughout my life, but never have I lost Faith in a God of Love.  In fact, I believe now more than ever in that Love. 
September 10, 2018
It has been a difficult decade, since Josh’s death on September 16th, 2008 but if Josh has taught me anything during his life and death (and he has taught me more than I can ever express), he has taught me that living fully is the best way to keep his memory alive.  Those years of living so deeply in grief that I was unable to even walk through a day without falling apart in some way (although often in secret so that I did not burden others with my pain) were a necessary part of the healing process but had I become stuck there, I would not have learned the full lesson of what Josh’s death had to teach me.  (I don’t believe that God forces evil upon us in order to teach us lessons, but I do believe that life is full of minor difficulties as well as major tragedies that give us opportunity to grow if we remain open to the lessons.) It was a difficult process and grief takes its time.  It can’t be rushed.  It takes longer for some than for others and we cannot project our own timeline on someone else who is in pain.  But somewhere within that journey, one has to come to the point where they step out and embrace joy once again.  It starts small.  I remember the first time I smiled after Josh died.  I felt like I had somehow betrayed his memory by allowing myself a moment of happiness.  It wasn’t long after that the concept of joy and sorrow coexisting in the same heart took root in my mind.  I have stuck to that over the years, allowing both of these emotions to coexist, giving space for each of them and giving myself moments where I have held each emotion close and allowed it to grow and swell until it almost, almost blocked out the other.  Each still remain and will always remain but the knowledge that I don’t have to force one out in order to experience the other has given me the freedom to relax into my grief and to live my life fully also experiencing joy in its completeness.  I will have some down time this coming week where my heart will break and the tears will fall but I started out this week of remembrance giving into my desire to dance when a stranger pulled me onto the floor as guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, and the base together formed the old-time mountain music that I have learned to love so much.
 Both of these are acceptable, the dancing as well as the tears. 
Most of all, I will face this ten-year anniversary of my son’s death knowing that I, with the love of family, friends, and my Father in Heaven, will be able to face ten more years and then another ten if I live long enough.  That is something I never dreamed possible at the time of Josh’s death. I remember distinctly wondering how I could ever make it through one day without him.
 Not only will I be able to survive the years without him, but I will be able to dance some as well. 
Josh took up playing the guitar about a year before his death.  While the old time mountain music was not his music of choice, I couldn’t help but think last night as I recalled the events of the day, that somewhere on the edge of that circle of musicians sat my son, with guitar in hand and a smile on his face, playing his heart out while he watched me dance.  Josh was just a shadow, not visible to anyone but me, only a presence that a mother can discern, but I know that he was there, cheering me on, encouraging me to remember what matters most. 


Monday Journals

August 22, 2018

I seem to feel an urgency that comes with the knowledge that the seasons will soon be changing.  Sometimes the seasons kind of sneak up on us and before we are really aware, time has passed, and we are left unprepared.  Denying that winter will inevitably come is foolish.  We have much left to do and having had a taste of winter here in the Mountains, we are no longer oblivious to at least some of what is in store for us, although one never knows just how much snow and cold there will be.  Much of my time the past month has been spent preserving food for winter.  I have over 200 jars of canned goods on the shelves in the root cellar, most of which were canned this season.  While I would like to have double that amount, I am thankful and pleased at the results of my hard work lined up and ready to feed us this winter.  I also have an upright freezer full of fruits and vegetables.  In addition, I have been diligently making butter and cheese to store up for when my cows are dried off this winter.  This is what I love and I am thankful to be able to devote so much time to it.

As I think of changing seasons, I can’t help but think about that season of life we know as youth.  Too quickly that season passes and for myself, I think I was caught completely off guard when I realized it had indeed passed.  I think I was in denial, believing that my body, mind and spirit would somehow hold onto youthful vitality forever and then one morning I awoke to the reality that spring is not eternal.  Yes, I am one of those who woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and said to myself, “When did I get this old?” With the awareness and acceptance of how quickly time is passing comes a greater appreciation for each moment that we are given, and while it would be easy to bemoan the loss of youth, it makes more sense to embrace today.  I suppose the same can be said for the changing of the seasons from spring, to winter, to fall and finally winter.  Each season must be neither rushed or mourned in it’s passing so as to receive the gifts that each season has to offer. 

Mike arose early this morning, long before daylight, gathered a few clothes, climbed into the truck hooked to an enclosed trailer and headed North.  He left early enough to make the three-hour trip and be in Verona in time to take his mom to an 8:30 am appointment.  After bringing her home from having cataract surgery, Mike will work on mowing hay as there looks to be a three-day window of good weather for the area.  He is also working toward getting some equipment together to sell as we continue to downsize and mainstream.  He has people wanting hay, which he will have to deliver, and there will be people pulling him in every direction while he is there.  Being in Staunton is always labor intensive as we try to accomplish everything we can when there. We always get back to Laurel Fork completely exhausted, not only physically but emotionally too a lot of times.

  I remained behind to milk today and tomorrow morning, then I will make a 24-hour trip to help move most of our things out of The Factory Antique Mall as we try to clear out of there.  I dread the drive up and back but the positive out of it is I will be able to see all the grandkids. 

August 27, 2018

As evening ended, Mike and I pulled the Utility Vehicle out of the garage and headed to the back forty to check on the cattle there.  It didn’t take us long to find them and assure ourselves that they were all ok.  My eyes scanned the pasture field and my heart swelled with thankfulness for the abundance of grass and the room my cattle have to roam.  From where I sat, I could not see another house neither could I see the road.  The only thing I could see was rolling, mountain, pasture land surrounded by mature forest.  Moments like this are precious to me.  I wanted to hang on to it and just sit and absorb the beauty into my soul but we had work to do.  Some things have changes since we moved the cattle from Staunton to Laurel Fork, and one of those things is the amount of time I have to just absorb and reflect on the beautiful world around me.  I am perfectly content and doing exactly what I want to do, extremely happy that the Jerseys are here with me, but I have to make a real effort to step back and remember to just breathe in the moment in light of all the things we would like to accomplish.  Mike and I together, work hard to keep the balance that is so important to us.  We have lived a life out of balance for many years, and while that is necessary for a time, we don’t want to lose what we have found here by allowing our goal-oriented personalities to keep us from enjoying life and enjoying each other.  Before the cattle came to Laurel Fork, I would have insisted we go higher so that I could view Buffalo Mountain rising above all the other peaks and calling to me with the mystery of her ancient past.  But, we needed to move the electric netting and give the momma cows more grass to eat and it was going to be dark soon. 

Mike and I worked together to move the fence, pulling it up one stake at a time, being careful not to get it tangled, moving the fence to a new location, and then carefully stretching and putting each stake back in the ground.  Mike, having done this many times now, moved quickly and efficiently.  I assisted as directed and I while it took some time to move such a large amount of fence, I was impressed with how smoothly things went.  We had left the momma cows in the barn with some hay to eat while we worked and after the fence was back up and connected to the charger, I turned them back out to see the boundary lines before it got completely dark.  The calves ran, kicking up their hills as they recognized a new grazing opportunity.  The simple things are the best things.

I hadn’t gathered the eggs and I had left the vintage, wire basket that I use back at the house, so when Mike and I went together to get the eggs out of the already dark chicken coop, he held his phone for a light, gathered the eggs, and placed the gently in my shirt that I held up with one hand forming a large pocket for the 15 large brown eggs.  Holding onto my eggs gently with one hand, I used the other hand to open the gate so we could get the ATV back to the garage. 

As I cradled my eggs and walked back to the house while Mike parked the Kubota, I marveled at how quickly another week had past.  It had been a good week.  We had been greatly stressed for part of the week with Mike working so hard to get the things done he needed to accomplish in Staunton.  My time there wasn’t long enough but I had to return within 24 hours in order to milk.  We took the time to go see Kristin, Nate, the twins and our new grandbaby.  Holding a newborn is so precious and watching Hudson and Ella with Teagan was such a joy.  They love her so much and are going to be amazing older siblings.  She’s a lucky little girl to have them for a big brother and big sister.  I had wondered how we were going to be able to see all the grandkids now that the older three are school, but Analia had two different doctor appointments with a few hours between, so I was able to spend time with her between her appointments.  I needed about four hours to clean out the booth at Factory Antique Mall but only had two hours to work.  I did as much as I could.  The rest will have to wait until next time.  I did manage to get a truck load of item loaded and some other items marked down in hopes that we will sell a few more things before shutting down that space.  We ran by Sharp Shopper while in Harrisonburg visiting and picked up a few items there that we can get for about half of what we have to pay for them in Carroll County.  I told Mike that I really don’t understand why the areas with a greater number of impoverished people have higher priced groceries.  I see it in Carroll County and I see it in Chattooga County in Georgia where my paternal family lives.  Neither of us having eaten since early morning, we decided to grab a bite to eat at an Italian Restaurant in Bridgewater on our way home where we use to eat sometimes when we would go to Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction.  It was already 9 pm but as we sat on the patio and watched the traffic go by, we actually recognized someone that we know driving by in their truck with produce for his stand down the road.  I always breath a prayer of thankfulness that we are not killing ourselves with produce anymore each time I see some of our old acquaintances and friends from those days still working so hard to make a living in that manner.  It’s all good until you lose the joy of what you are doing, and I see the weariness in the faces of so many who try to make a living in this manner.  And yet, for those who do it, there is a drive that won’t allow them to let go.  Mike is like that.  I think his little honor system cart at the end of the road keeps him fairly happy, but I know from time to time he really longs to get back in the thick of things.  Yet, he realized the level of dedication it takes to do it and he is enjoying the freedom of not having to kill himself to meet the demands of selling produce. 

While I was exhausted when we got back to our house in Staunton where Alissa, Gabino and the girls were already sound asleep, I didn’t sleep long.  It was probably 11 by the time I got in bed and by 3 am I was awake and unable to calm my mind.  I was anxious to get back, check on my cows, and milk.  I also was anxious about the drive back.  Having come at two separate times and in two different vehicles to the valley, Mike and I would be returning separately.  I really don’t enjoy driving long distances anymore.  I get so sleepy and the traffic on 81 is always heavy.  I went ahead and got up a little after three, worked on gathering some things to take back with me to Staunton as we always try to take a full load back with us when we go, and then waited for the little girls to get up so that I could spend time with them before Analia went to school.  When they woke up, we read books and played until time for them to go.  I then met Mike at his Mom’s place where he loaded up a bushel of potatoes he had dug from the garden there and about 40 pounds of tomatoes.  Being late in the season, the tomatoes where not as nice as the ones we had been picking, but we had a few to sell and some for me to can. 

I made it back home to Laurel Fork without incident and in pretty decent time.  I did get super sleepy and pulled over once to try to get myself more alert before hitting the road again.  When I got back to the house, I had so much to do.  I unloaded the truck and milked the cow for starters.  I found that the cows had gotten into a storage building while I was gone and spilled paint, knocked a lot of things over and shuffled them around, as well as pooping throughout the whole building.  I straightened things up as best I could and then shoveled out the manure.  After catching up on those chores, I headed for the kitchen and made enough vegetable soup mixture that I was able to pressure can 7 quarts and freeze an additional three quarts.  I was just finishing that up when Mike pulled into the driveway, around 8 pm with the cattle trailer.  I had asked him to bring a young bull down with him.  I had intended to Artificially Inseminate my Jerseys this year and not keep a bull, but I have just not been able to organize and coordinate that whole process.  Having a young bull available, I just decided to bring him in and see if he can get the open cows bred.  I went outside to help Mike with the gates so he could unload the bull up by the barn.  Rascal was happy to get off the trailer and see familiar faces.  He is an easy-going bull and not any trouble at all, unlike the older bull I have in Staunton who is a royal pain, but mostly just a show off as we have never had him charge us personally.  The old bull does make a big show of pawing the ground, roaring, and presenting a strong presence.  After being charged a few years back by one of the bulls we had who smashed and ground my hand into the gate while I was trying to open it, I have always been extremely aware and cautious with Rudy. One morning back about five years ago when he was pawing and screaming at me while I was trying to milk at 3 am before watching the grandkids for a twelve-hour day, I just got incredibly angry with him for being such a jerk and I temporarily lost my mind.  I grabbed a stick and opened the gate screaming some not so nice words at him while I shook that stick in his face.  Except for the pole light, the area was dark as it was before daybreak and as I advanced screaming at him he began to step backwards, never taking his gaze off of me.  Had I not been so angry, I would have never done what I did, but I was exhausted from long hours and tired of him standing and harassing me every morning while I milked.  I shook my stick in his face, never touching him physically but beating him up with my words.  The further I advanced the more he retreated until he got to the entrance of the holding area where the cows gathered for milking and then he turned quickly and ran.  After he was gone and I realized what I had done, I started shaking and crying but for a few moments, I had battled with the bull and beat him where it counts, that being mentally.  From that moment on, while he continues to bellow and blow and paw the ground to this day in his fantastic show of force, all I have to do his shake my stick at him and yell and he backs off.  I have enough respect for him, especially having been attacked by another bull, to inwardly be wary of him, but one must never allow a bull to know you are afraid of them.  You must never turn your back or run. While I would advise others NOT to do what I did with Rudy with a battle of the wills, it was enough to make him think that I was bigger than him and worthy of respect.  I got lucky.  It could have easily gone the other way.  In the end, it meant that Rudy got to stay a whole lot longer than most of the bulls on our property. 

Old Rudy won’t be coming to Laurel Fork.  I won’t be putting up with his antics here, but we will try Rascal for a short while and see how he does.  I don’t expect any trouble out of him at all, his having been raised on our farm in Staunton.  He has a good disposition.  We will only keep him here long enough to breed the cows and then he will make the trip back to the valley.  I have been lucky.  Mostly, I have only had good, easy to handle bulls over the years and most of the bulls I have sold to others have been easy keepers.  There are always exceptions to that rule, especially when dealing with Jersey bulls, who are considered the most aggressive of the dairy breeds but with proper handling (that being hands off as much as possible), and making attempts to keep them within a herd situation so that they are not isolated, giving them plenty of space to roam, and having fences and facilities set up in such a manner that they can be moved easily, I have found the bulls to be fairly easy keepers and so much more convenient than having to artificially inseminate.   With that said, I don’t believe that dairy bulls are a good match for every farm and I would say they are not a good match for most homestead/family cow situations where many folks are not familiar with what it takes to keep a bull, keep him content, and keep all humans safe. 

Looking back over this past week, it has certainly been another busy one and looking ahead to this coming week, it will be even busier.  I’m thankful that age has given me a bit of wisdom and that I can see how things balance out with time and the right attitude.  Instead of looking ahead to this week that will have some difficult moments and letting the upcoming events persuade me that the hard times must define me, I can look ahead with the realization that there will be a lot of blessings this week that will balance out some emotionally challenging things I will have to face.  Life is full of seasons and this week and the tasks at hand are simply a part of the seasons of life.  With spring comes flowers, with summer comes increased light, with fall we have the gorgeous changing of the leaves, and with winter comes the softly falling snow flakes.  So it is goes with each day, each week, month and year that we live. 


Monday Journals

August 16, 2018

There is nothing like holding a newborn baby and that is especially true when that baby is your grandchild. 

Mike and I made the trip to Harrisonburg on Monday so that we could be at the hospital when Kristin and Nate had their baby.  Kristin went into surgery at 7:30 am for a Caesarean birth and we were aware that there would be a two hour recover period as she bonded with the baby.  However, we made the decision to go early because we couldn’t stand the thought of not being there in case she needed us.  We were so happy that everything went well and baby girl arrived at 8:05 am.  What a joy to hold sweet, Teagan Collette in our arms and look at her beautiful face.  Nineteen inches long, and weighing 8 pounds and 7 ounces, she is a nice sized baby to hold.   Kristin was tired and I believe hurting when we went to be with her, Nate and the baby.  We didn’t stay long so she could rest.  She has plenty of help this week with her mom in from Texas and Nate on paternity leave, so we told her we would make a return visit and help her at a later time when she needs us.  It was hard walking away and returning south by three hours.  We were “there” for all the other grandkids on almost a daily basis for the first five years of their lives and spent so much time with them. 

It was a long day.  We woke up at 3 am only to find that Mike had accidentally locked the garage door opener in the garage.  We spent a good hour trying to get into the garage and were finally successful with that.  I milked Princess and then processed the milk by straining it and pouring it into jars to chill.  After cleaning up all the equipment, I showered and we managed to leave by 5 am.  After spending half the day in Harrisonburg and the afternoon and evening in Staunton where I ran errands, worked at the antique malls and spent time with Analia and Rory, we made it back to Laurel Fork at 11:30 pm.  We had a truck load of things we brought back with us.  Still we bring as much as we can every time we make the trip.  I wonder if we will ever get everything moved?  A cooler full of beef, boxes of canning jars, “cheaper” groceries from Sharp Shoppers in Waynesboro, boxes of tomatoes from the garden are just a few of the things we brought back with us.  We fell into bed exhausted. 

Tuesday, I milked the cow, canned tomatoes, and worked around the house.  Mike worked outside.  It was a routine day other than the fact we ended up taking a nap as we were both so tired.  Getting older means we don’t go as long and as hard as we use to.  I am just thankful that we can still go and do and accomplish as much as we do accomplish.  Mike often comments that he can’t do half of what he used to do, but I remind him that he used to do far too much and that he does more now than many men half his age. 

Mike thought he might go back to Staunton and make hay this week, so he mowed the lawn on Wednesday so that I would not have to do it.  (He later decided not to go back to Staunton this week.)  I spent the day doing things like laundry, milking the cow, and making butter and mozzarella. 

Having caught up with the large amount of milk that needed to be used and being up to date with my canning, I spent today (Thursday) deep cleaning some areas that needed my attention.  We use the enclosed, small back porch as a “mud room”, a place to store wood in the winter, a place for my milking equipment, as well as an extension of my small kitchen.  I have an extra refrigerator in there and a small cabinet where I store some of my half gallon jars that I use for milk.  On top of the cabinet, I have a place to put my milking equipment to drain and dry after each use and cleaning.  There are coveralls, hats, boots, and shoes in the small space as well.  We walk through it dozens of times a day.  I pulled everything out of the room except for the refrigerator and cabinet, knocked down cobwebs, swept and mopped the floor, washed the small rug, and tried to arrange neatly all the egg cartons, various sizes of hot water bath canners, vacuum sealer, pressure canner, milk cans, and flashlights that are on top of the refrigerator.  I also made my way to the unfinished basement, knocked down cobwebs, organized and swept. I need to do the entire house the same way, but who knows when that will happen?  I use to think the dust from living in the middle of hay field (in Staunton) made it hard to keep a house clean.  Here there are so many bugs and spiders that the cobwebs from the spiders and the remains from the bugs mean my house is never “clean” for the crawling critters are back almost before I get them knocked down and cleaned up. 

  It was nice just to be able to stay in one place and do some of the more mundane things that needed to be done.  Of course, there is milking every day, laundry to be hung on the line early enough so that it can get dry before evening dew or afternoon rains, eggs to gather and the typical every day routines that sometimes get rushed when we are doing other things.  Having the time to just enjoy the simple things is nice.  We had thought we were going to make a trip to Georgia this week, but some things changed on that end and we are needed at a later date, so that was postponed.  It was nice to have an unexpected week to just fall into our normal routine here in Laurel Fork.

August 19, 2018

Friday morning, we got up early enough to get the laundry washed and hung on the line, to dry.  Managing the laundry takes thought when one doesn’t have a dryer to fall back on, especially with the damp mountain mornings and evenings as well as the frequent rains and thunderstorms.  Mike looks at the weather multiple times a day to see about making hay and I look at the weather multiple times a day in order to manage my clothes that are on the line.  It’s pretty funny actually.  We also needed to milk, take care of the animals and get our little “honor system” produce cart put out at the end of the driveway.  The produce care continues to be popular among neighbors and those who pass our house.  We make a few dollars, not enough to brag about, but it’s the spirit of the cart that makes it enjoyable for all.  I smile sometimes when I think about how “big” we were selling produce in Verona with our mobile produce stand and then think about our little cart at the end of the driveway.  There’s something to be said about keeping things simple and the joy it brings.   We finished our early morning “chores” and headed out by 8 am so that we could make it to the Foot Hills Produce Auction in the Roanoke Valley.  We had another load of boxes we wanted to take for resale.  We are getting pennies on the dollar for the boxes we are taking in, but still, we got a check for $70 for the past two trips and we enjoy the drive and the auction itself.  We are getting ideas about maybe growing some produce next year to sell at the auction.  I don’t know if that will come to fruition, but I think it would be a good project for Mike who will always love “dabbling” in the homegrown, produce market.  We just don’t want to get into it so big that it becomes a burden.  I bought a half a bushel of cucumbers while we were at the auction.  Our cucumbers have played out and I wanted to make some more Bread and Butter Pickles.  When we were in Staunton, I had a few folks that were crazy about my Bread and Butter Pickles and years ago, I would sell some of them, especially to a lady who lived down the road.  She would buy cases of them to take to her daughter in North Carolina.  I put jams, jellies, pickles and eggs on our little produce cart that sits at the end of the road and Mike just shakes his head because people will stop and buy those things faster than they will buy produce sometimes.  By the time I figure the ingredients that I use to make the products I am not making much of a profit.  If I figure in my time, I am not making anything, but again, it is a few dollars here and there and I can make the time to throw together a few pickles or jams and jellies from time to time.  It’s fun to see people enjoying these things.  When we bought this house, we were told that the woman who lived here years ago (and the story was backed up by a neighbor who has lived here all his life) canned large amounts of produce from their garden and sold the canned goods along with milk and eggs from the farm.  One version of the story is that the family actually had a small store about a mile and a half down the road in the “main” section of Laurel Fork (about where Highway 58 runs through now) and they sold a lot of what they raised or grew there.  We always get conflicting stories and information when we start asking about the former residents of the home, but I think people’s minds get clouded about details over time and each person’s reality is shaped by their personal experiences which lends itself to different versions of the same story.  As we learned of the history of this place, I thought it would be really fun to recreate that atmosphere on a small scale, where this little farm could provide a few home grown, home raised and home made goods to a few of the neighbors.  Watching folks deliberately come “up” or “down” the road to grab a tomato off the cart, get an onion to use with their supper, or a jar of jam to go with their toast brings us joy.  Only once did we come up short a few dollars in our money box at the end of the day, and while it is possible that someone might have cheated us, I prefer to think that someone just miscalculated their purchases. 

Saturday, again, we got up and did the necessary things to facilitate our leaving the house for a while.  The auction we like to attend in Galax was packed with a lot of small items for sale and the crowd was larger than most Saturdays.  The first part of the sale was outside and the weather was not cooperative.  There was cover but people were packed in and it was too close for me to feel comfortable, so I went inside where the crowd was much thinner as some of the elderly (and a few others) who found the conditions out doors to be unpleasant or too difficult gathered in small groups talking and waiting.  I had time to look over the merchandise inside and then found myself a seat on one of the sofas in the back that would later be sold.  The sale was a couple of hours longer than usual and the prices, overall, were higher than usual.  There were a few “deals” to be had but the pieces that were priced right, were not right for our booths.  Mike picked up some wooden crates outside that were reasonably priced, we got an advertisement piece that we probably paid more for than we should have, but I think we can still make it work for the booth and come out all right.  Mike is so sweet.  He knew I really liked the piece and that it would look good in the booth, so he bid it slightly higher so we would get it.  I also got a nice piece of art in its original frame that has a young boy and girl meeting at a well where the cattle are drinking from a large wooden trough.  I fell in love with the scene as soon as I laid eyes on it.  It is a lovely picture and the Jersey Cows made it irresistible to me.  I am drawn to pictures and paintings but because they are so difficult to sell typically, hard to display, and take up so much space in the booths, I won’t pay more than two or three dollars and often get a whole wall of pictures for a couple of dollars when I am careful and wait at an auction.  By paying so little, I can afford to sell one picture for a fair price, make enough money on that picture to make a nice profit and then move anything that doesn’t sell within a reasonable amount of time by donating it to a thrift store.  This works and I make money by having an eye for a piece I can get for pocket change and then turning it around, but it is work because I usually end up with multiple pictures/art in these large lots that I get for “nothing” that I have to manage for a while and then donate what doesn’t sale.  I often do this because there is one piece that I want in particular.  If another piece or two sells, then I have not only made a little money on the deal but have paid for the piece I kept as well.  This was not the case yesterday.  There were two P Buckley Moss pieces that went for well over a hundred dollars each.  There were a number of wonderful vintage pieces in gorgeous frames that sold and folks were paying more than usual for art.  I wanted this picture so badly for myself and I waited anxiously.  The way this auction sells their art is to hang all of it on the wall and then start the bidding.  The highest bidder gets to choose what items they want off the wall.  One doesn’t know what piece is causing other bidders to drive the price higher.  I usually play a game where I will tell Mike what picture I think the highest bidder is after.  Often, I am right, although occasionally I get fooled.  As the bids went well over a hundred dollars in the beginning, I sat with what I hoped was a poker face.  Several times, I saw individual get up for a closer inspection of the picture I was interested in buying, a sure sign that others are going to drive the price up and then grab what I wanted.  I observe and watch body language when I want a particular item.  I knew I was going to have to spend more than I usually spend for this picture, but I had given myself a limit of twenty dollars.  I held my breath each time someone bid higher than me and took a picture off the wall.  Finally, at sixteen dollars, I was the high bidder.  I was so happy to have that piece in my hands and eventually on my wall.  This auction always ends with the selling of “shelf items” which are sold very similar to the way the artwork is sold.  A whole section of small items is available and the highest bidder gets their choice off the shelf.  After everyone is finished bidding and making their choices off the shelves, then what is left is put together in groups and sold as a lot.  In this manner, the auction companies get rid of small, bulk items that wouldn’t sell but often, there are some good pieces left on the shelves and with a decent eye, one can pick out lots and get them for a couple of dollars and make decent money on a few items.  It requires work, because there is often a lot of yard sale quality items left that must be sorted out and given a home.  Sometimes I can use some of these items such as bed linens and towels.  Anything that isn’t in great condition, I can use in the barn for rags to clean my cows when I am milking.  There is usually a lot of glassware that is difficult or impossible to sell.  Most of that goes to the thrift store.  If it is a quality yard sale item, I will sometimes hang on to it for a future yard sale.  It’s work and requires time, organization and storage space as well as the willingness to make frequent drop offs to the thrift stores.  Mike doesn’t want to discard anything but I am diligent to go through the lots we buy immediately, divide it up, discard what isn’t easily profitable and move on.  Otherwise, a person ends up with a lot of “junk” piled up and that drives me crazy.  Mike is doing better at “letting go” and while our differences often lead us to disagreements, they just as often make us smile.  On the other hand, I have learned when Mike pulls out an “odd” piece here and there and says, “This will sell”, he is usually right. 

By the time we got away from the auction, went to our booth in Galax, priced our new merchandise, and straightened up our booth, it was past supper time and we hadn’t eaten all day.  Mike too me to our favorite Mexican restaurant.  I was famished.  We returned home and got the evening chores done and settled in for the evening.  I had way more interaction with people than a typical day, had stood in the crowd around the shelf lots with people breathing down my neck and bumping into me, and had tried to price and organize the booth with a large number of folks coming through the small walking space shopping while I was in there working.  It’s all good and part of it, but that much “peopling” without space for me to get away is exhausting to me.  Being an extrovert, Mike thrives on that kind of interaction and it energizes him.  Being an introvert, that type of interaction completely drains me, even though I enjoy it from time to time.  I was ready to get home to my quiet, little house. 

August 20, 2018

The place was packed when we walked into Floyd Country Store and the sound of lively, mountain music filled my ears.  We weaved our way through the front of the store past the few folks looking at merchandise.  I briefly noticed that the staff in the cafĂ© portion were as busy as usual putting together orders and carrying them out to the tables.  We stood between the merchandise area and the tables that are set close together to provide as much seating as possible for those eating.  At the back of the store two rows of chairs made a large circle with one row inside of the other, each chair holding an individual who held some type of mountain instrument:  banjos, fiddles, guitars, dulcimers, mandolins, harmonicas and a bass guitar.  The ages of those playing ranged from young teen to ancient.  The number of musicians gathered for this “jam” session took my breath away.  I stood unable to move watching from a distance and whispering to Mike, “I can’t believe how many people are playing!”  As I stood making mental notes in my writer’s mind, lost in absorbing the sights, smells, sounds and emotions of the moment, Mike being more practical about the adventure counted and whispered, “There are forty people playing instruments.”  His information garnered the appropriate “Wow” response from me.  In the middle of the circle a mature man and woman danced, obviously enjoying second of the moment.  I thought to myself as they moved together to the music how sweet they looked and how much they didn’t seem to care what others thought.  They were dancing because it made them feel good.  They were dancing because they enjoyed it.  Being raised strict Baptist, I wasn’t allowed to dance growing up.  As a teen, I would turn on American Bandstand on the TV when my parents were gone and risk a beating if they caught me, dancing wildly, alone to the music, but I always lacked the confidence to step out and dance in public.  Typically, I sit on the sidelines wishing I were brave enough to be in the middle of things.  I keep telling Mike that this fall I am going to take classes to learn how to Flat Foot dance.  I feel the mountain music in my bones, something more than just a casual liking of the upbeat sounds of the instruments, perhaps a tie to my own Appalachian Mountain heritage from whence I was so carefully, mostly removed as I grew up, but that still burns deep inside my soul as I recognize so many of my “good” qualities hail from the resilience of a people who faced difficulties with resourcefulness and whose loyalty to those they loved gave them the strength to face each difficult day.  The song ends and the couple sit down, the group sit for a moment deciding what they will play next.  Someone begins a tune and the others quickly join in, the music loud and happy.  I finally take my gaze away from the musicians and search for a place to sit.  It is basically standing room only.  We have been to the later gathering before, a much smaller group, the music a bit more reserved with some mournful Blue Grass tunes thrown into the mix.  This is our first time to the earlier jam session.  I spied a couple of bar stool type chairs sitting against a short wall right by a side exit and motion to Mike.  We carefully made our way through the crowd and sat down.  With the music filling my ears and warming my heart I watched as a larger group went out to dance, since this time it was not a couple’s dance.  The age of the dancers ranged from about four years old to advanced seniors.  Some of the folks were flat foot dancing and others were clogging, a few of them drawing a lot of attention with their animated steps but most sticking to the traditional methods of flat foot dancing.  Each person’s dance was unique to them and yet somehow connected to the music and to each other.  I am not an expert on the dance but from what I have learned and read, this is a tradition typically learned by children and passed on from older siblings, parents and grandparents.  I watched as the younger children danced with family members, watching their feet, mimicking what they observed, and adding to it their own interpretation.  My heart swelled at the goodness of it all, the smiling faces, the interaction of family and friends, the lively music, and atmosphere that transported all of us to a place of goodness.  I understood in that moment why our ancestors made music.  I understood in that moment why our Appalachian ancestors made THIS music.  One of the dancers, a man, would go out to the group of observers and pull people in to participate.  He chose the “visitors”, many who obviously were from far away places and totally different lifestyles.  I watched a group of young people probably in their late teens or early twenties who looked like they were completely out of place be drawn into the circle of dancers.  They had no idea what to do and did not come anywhere near dancing like the seasoned Mountain Dancers, but they stomped their feet happily after getting past their initial embarrassment.  At the end of the song, their faces were filled with joy and they laughed together at the experience.  After a number of songs and dances, I managed to tear my gaze away from the main activities and begin to scan the crowd.  I heard a tapping as someone kept time with the music with some sort of wooden device.  I was looking for some sort of wooden spoons or a wooden “clicker” when I saw directly in front of me a woman with a hinged, puppet type, wooden, dancing doll that was attached to a long stick.  She held the doll over a light board held under her leg and extended past the edge of the chair.   The doll’s feet just touched the board. With one hand she held the stick with the doll and with the other hand, she tapped the board causing the simple, little, wooden hinged, doll to dance in time to the music in such a way that it seemed almost magical.  Mike and I both exclaimed that the little doll looked like it was making the same flat foot moves that the old timers were making as they danced in the center of the floor.  I could now not pull my eyes away from the little magical doll.  When the song ended, I forgot my introversion and my dislike of making myself visible in large settings of people I don’t know.  I jumped down from my tall chair in the corner and ran over to the woman who had been creating such magic with the doll and asked her what type of doll it was.  She graciously explained that it was called a “Limberjack” or a “Jiggy Doll”.  She offered to let me try to make the doll dance but too self-conscious, I thanked her for her kindness and told her I would rather watch her make the doll dance. 

I always love the way the music connects so many different people whose lifestyles and self-expression through outward appearance might typically alienate one group from another.  I watched as the session was coming close to ending and a woman probably in her sixties stood off to the side, eyes closed, hands raised slightly above her shoulders, her feet moving to the music and her upper body swaying with some moves from the 70’s.  Dressed like a child of the 60’s with long gray hair pulled back in a pony tail, she had her eyes closed and was completely in tune with the spirit of the music that surrounded us all.  I envied her ability to be lost in the moment and in her own world.  I envied her ability to feel the music that deeply and be able to express herself without inhibitions.  I think we were all a little sad to see the session end.  Folks moved away reluctantly from the scene.  I tucked the feelings of that afternoon away and told myself that I would express myself through words for now.  I would write about how I felt and what I saw.  I would put all the emotions and feelings of that afternoon into words and try to recreate what I had seen and heard.  I would try to express that in those moments, somewhere in rural Virginia there was hope, there was music, there was dance, there was goodness.  The group of people that gathered to share in their loving of Appalachian song and dance, represented what it takes to make our communities and our world a better place. 

Beneath the  joy demonstrated outwardly by this  group of singing, dancing, playing people lies the very same grief, problems, pain and disappointment  common to all of humanity.  These people know the secret:   It's ok to express joy when it arises in unexpected places, even if it comes in  the midst of hard times...….ESPECIALLY  in the midst of hard times.  

Perhaps someday my soul will break free of the things that keep my feet from finding the freedom to break all inhibitions and outwardly dance and dance and dance.  
Until then, I can write.