October 10, 2018
I am never quite sure what the day will bring. Mostly, unless Mike is in Staunton, I plan my days around whatever project he is tackling. Most of the time that means I have my own projects, but sometimes I assist him with what he is doing or I “ride along” with him when he has things to do away from home. Monday morning, he decided to tackle a most unpleasant task. I worry because he tries to do too much by himself and he is quick to remind me that there is no one else who is going to help do the things he needs to do. He has a point. It has mostly been that way for us. That’s not to say that we don’t have people who help us, because we do, but mostly one can’t ask for help with the unpleasant and difficult tasks. It just doesn’t work that way. Mostly, over the years, I have tried to “be the other man” to help carry the loads and lend what strength I had to the situation, but I am not in a position to do that at this point. In the unfinished basement of our home, old, inoperable appliance had been left by previous owners. In addition, with our continued bad luck with used appliances, we had accumulated non-working appliances of our own. And, there was an old, extremely heavy 1940-50’s era wood stove that could not be used and needed to be removed because we would like to install an operable wood stove. All of this is heavy and difficult for one person to manage. In fact, pretty impossible for one person to manage unless your name is Mike Cupp. Adding to the difficulty is the steepness and the narrowness of the old steps and the ill though out plan of the people who bought and flipped this house before we purchased it when they built the deck out from the back door and made it impossible to get anything in and out of the basement without squeezing it between the deck and the stairs and then having to make a sharp, half a turn back to get it down the steps. The set up makes bringing appliances in or out of the basement next to impossible. Somehow, someway that man of mine got a stand-up freezer, two dryers, two washing machines and a wood burning stove out of that basement and onto the back of the truck. There were times when I would steady something here or put a hand there, but I did not in any way help with the lifting. I did fret the whole time that he was going to end up with a serious injury, if not from stressing and straining muscles, then from a large appliance falling backwards on him as he came up the steep steps. Mostly, I couldn’t watch because then I would blurt out my fear and Mike would get irritated with me as I distracted him from the task at hand. I was relieved when everything was on the truck and we could make our way to the scrap yard.
It's a “good little ways” to the scrap yard but not an unpleasant drive. After Mike got everything off the back of the truck (a much easier task than getting everything on the truck) we laughed that the money we got from the scrap yard would pay for a few bags of feed. On the way home, we went into Hillsville and picked up some feed after stopping at a couple of grocery stores to pick up items we needed or wanted. Because the round-trip drive to the grocery store is close to an hour for us, we always stop in when we are in the area rather than make a special trip.
Back at home I had supper to fix and the cow to milk before we settled in for a quiet evening. It was nice to have Mike back from Staunton and be able to keep him home this week. He had originally thought to go back to Staunton this week and make more hay, but the weather coinciding with Hurricane Michael is keeping him from proceeding with those plans this week.
Tuesday, I woke up very early being in a lot of sciatic and lower back pain. When that happens, I just get up, no matter what time it is, and do something. I have had to eliminate coffee from my diet, but I can drink hot tea. I drink a lot of herbal teas and first thing in the morning when I am hurting, I usually get up and make a double cup of Turmeric tea with a touch of honey. While the water is heating on the stove, I typically put away any dishes I have left to drain from the previous night and then I straighten up the pillows on the couch. I have always been one that has to have certain things in order and the pillows on the couch drive me crazy if they are in disarray. I am convinced that my need to make order of things like this is because there is so much in life over which we have no control. The pillows on the couch, I can put back in order. I also usually start a load of clothes at this time because the sooner I can get them on the clothesline in the morning, the more likely they are to get dry before an afternoon thunderstorm threatens or before the evening dampness seeps into them. We still do not have a working dryer and keeping the clothes washed and dried requires some planning and diligence on my part. However, I always enjoy hanging clothes on the line and the idea of not using the extra electricity to dry them. Having accomplished my morning routine and seeing it was still only 4 am, I decided to lie down and see if I could get a little more sleep. The turmeric tea and the hour of movement were enough to relieve my back a tiny bit so that I could drift off again. I slept until a little after seven and Mike woke me up and asked if I would get ready and go with him to the produce auction in Boone’s Mill. He loves to do this and he enjoys my company. I always know that I can sit in the car and read or take a nap if things get too long. It’s also a good time for me to make phone calls in a location where I have decent internet service. The trip to Boone’s Mill is always pretty. We take the Blue Ridge Parkway for about half the way and then we take rural road down the mountain until we finally arrive at our destination. It’s really a lovely drive on most days. Yesterday, the fog was so thick that we could not see anything for most of the miles along the parkway. Mike even thought about turning around and going back home, but kept thinking that we would soon drive out of the fog. The items at the auction were scarce and high. That’s how it is this time of year. I bought a few New England Cheese pumpkins. I am always drawn to this heirloom variety of pumpkin. It is a pie pumpkin and I figured I could decorate with them and then use them for baking. I am going to take a few to our antique booth in Galax. They will look good with the farmhouse décor items we have in the upstairs booth. For less than the price of a crafty, fall decoration from Walmart, I have something I can use to decorate several locations and process and eat when I am finished. Seems like a win/win situation to me, or at least, that is how I justified my purchase in my own mind.
The trip back was better. There were still areas of thick fog but mostly it was clear. In one of the areas of heavy fog, we came up quickly on two motorcycles. It startled me when we suddenly came upon them. Both drivers were wearing all black and their bikes were black. If it were not for one tiny, little, red taillight, we would not have seen them. We followed them on the Parkway for a number of miles until they finally exited the road. I wondered aloud if they realized how difficult they were to see in the fog and how I wished that they would wear something reflective when riding in such conditions. We drove through some rain but when we arrived home, the sun was shining. These mountains are known for their numerous microclimates in the hills and hollers.
Back at home, I worked toward an early meal, and then milked the cow, took care of the chickens and gathered the eggs before pricing a few small items we have to go in our booth at Briar Patch Marketplace. It is getting dark earlier which means more time in the evenings for indoor things before it is time to go to bed. As a farmer’s wife, I have always enjoyed when the days start getting shorter in the fall because it always meant that Mike would be home earlier and we could begin to have a little time together after a long, hard, spring and summer. Our lives are different now due to the choices we have made and we now have more time together because of them. However, the shorter days still give me a sense of coziness as we settle in together for a longer evening.
October 14, 2018
We had planned to stay at home Wednesday. Mike hoped to get some work done on the large outbuilding that he is restoring. He has been working to put a new, metal roof on it. The building is huge and he has taken this project on without any help at all. I am not able to climb on the roof or to lift the long pieces of metal up to him. I don’t even know how he manages, but he does and he is slowly making progress. However, the rain started earlier than we expected and we decided to run errands instead. We had a number of things we needed to accomplish in Galax and Hillsville, so we just made a day of it. I was irritable and I don’t really even know why. I simply hated every minute of being out that day. I could not wait to be home again. I blamed it on impending weather, but that was just an excuse, I suppose.
We knew that we would get some weather off Hurricane Michael, but the reports that we read initially indicated we were only supposed to get a couple of inches of rain from the storm. We had been so prepared for Florence and that storm really ended up not being that big of a deal for us. We did get a good bit of rain from it, but being it came over such a long period of time, it didn’t cause us any real trouble. Hurricane Michael ended up being a totally different situation for us. Thursday morning the sky was dark and the rains from the previous day continued and intensified. Mike had always talked about the potential dangers of heavy rainfall here, and I acknowledged his concerns, but when it became a reality, I was taken off guard. I watched the streams on two sides of our home, and the one across the road in the neighbor’s meadow that comes through a culvert under the road to join our two streams where it becomes Roads Creek and then Laurel Fork Creek. The streams have risen and raged before but never got even dangerously close to swelling their banks. I was trying to work up some apples but I couldn’t keep myself from running to the dining room where I had a view of the water. I noticed at one point that it had risen quickly and significantly in the thirty minutes since I had looked at it previously. I made my way to another window where I could see our low water bridge at the end of our driveway. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw water rolling over the top of the bridge. We have never witnessed that even with all the rain we have had. At first it was interesting, a novelty of sorts, until I saw the waters rising even higher and starting to flood the main road. By this time, I was becoming just a little fearful. I knew that we were safe in our home on the bank and that it would take something the size of Noah’s flood to reach our house, but the site of the bridge under rushing water and the entire meadow as well as the road looking like a raging river was unnerving. I was worried about the water that was pouring down from the mountain ridges behind our house that I knew was going through the barn. We had left the doors to the barn open so the animals could get in, but also so that they could get out. Knowing that animals have good instincts, we felt that if they were not trapped inside the barn and things go too bad, they could move on up to higher ground which is what they did. I couldn’t get up to check on them for a while because of the torrential rains but we found them safe when we were able to go. The water had gone through the shelter area off the back of the barn and taken a good bit of dirt with it. It was wet where a stream had run through that section but it could have been worse. There is nothing that makes a person feel quite as vulnerable as raging, flooding water and the knowledge that there is nothing that can be done to stop it. I watched in horror as the streams continued to rise until almost as suddenly as it all began, once the rain slacked off, they began to recede. It actually didn’t take long for the waters to go down below the bridge once again, giving us access by vehicle to leave our property if we wished. The flooding really left us with no real issues. We never lost power and other than some unwanted debris and some more erosion caused by the running water, we ended up just fine. It will, however, be something that I never forget.
I was so happy that the waters receded in time for Alissa and the girls to make a trip down to see us for the weekend. I have not been able to stay more than 12-18 hours when I go back to Staunton since Princess calved and I have been milking her. My time there is always filled with work and business and with Analia going to kindergarten and Alissa working, it’s hard to get to spend any quality time with them. I was so thankful that they were able to come down and spend some time with us in our home where we could relax and make memories. Both girls didn’t’ want me to be out of their site. Rory, who called me mom for most of her 18 months and then started saying “T T” for Tita now has decided that it’s “Teesha”. She didn’t call me mom even once but repeatedly said “Teesha, Teesha” because she wanted me to hold her or at least to not leave the room she was in at the time. We had a lot of fun together playing, reading, seeing the cows and chickens, riding the ATV on the back 40, carving a pumpkin and just spending quality time together. This morning, we got up and readied ourselves for church. The girls walked into church like they had been to that church a hundred times but they had only been there once before. I think the love and kindness of the people at church had made such an impression on them the last time they visited, that they felt loved, accepted and uninhibited. Besides having some minor disagreements over the stickers I had brought to keep them busy during the sermon, they were really well behaved and quiet, but it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone if they had not been. After church we went to The Parkway Grill for brunch. It was the first time that I have dared to eat away from home since I got so violently ill almost five weeks ago. I was a bit nervous about eating out because it is hard to tell sometimes how a food has been prepared and I have some pretty strong theories on what some of my triggers are that cause me to have extreme reactions to the food I am eating. Having the food served buffet style allowed me to pick and choose what I thought would work well for me. This is the hardest part, not the being limited in what I can eat so much, but in how it restricts my being able to interact with those I love when we share meal times together. I know several times Mike has wanted to eat out and while I encouraged him to do it, he would not, knowing I would be so very limited. I’ve been pretty isolated from these incidents in the last five weeks, but one event we attended included a BBQ meal. (I may have written some about that last week.) I had to walk away because there was nothing there I could safely it. It made me feel very sad. I didn’t want to stand there and have to explain dozens of times why I couldn’t eat the food and yet to walk away and wait for Mike meant that he was constantly thinking about me sitting in the car and I know that detracted from his being able to thoroughly enjoy his time. But, we made it through lunch today and while it sent me immediately to the bathroom, I did not get violently sick. And while everyone was concerned about me either not eating enough or possibly eating something that would have adverse effects, we did enjoy eating out together and our time together. I was glad to leave the restaurant however. It just feels a little strained rather than fun now.
After eating, we drove a few blocks over to Floyd Country Store for their Sunday afternoon jam session. After experiencing the music and atmosphere at the store on several occasions, I would go every Sunday afternoon if I could make it. We were there about five weeks ago, the Sunday before I got so sick and had to go to the ER. It was the week that an older gentleman pulled me out onto the dance floor and I made a complete fool of myself but had a wonderful time. I told Mike then that I wanted to take all the grands when they visited, as I want them to experience traditional music and dance of the Appalachian Mountains. We had to wait a while. I think we got the wrong time and assumed it started half an hour before it was scheduled. The kids were getting restless and I began to think that maybe it had not been such a good idea but with the first note of music, I knew they were hooked. Analia ran out onto the dance floor trying to figure out how to make her ballet lessons work with the Mountain music. I could see she was struggling but knew she would work it out. After a couple of songs, I whispered in her ear to watch the feet of the other dancers and just try to do what they were doing. She did much better then, but was still threw in a ballet move here and there. After a while, some girls a little older than her who are regulars came to dance and they gathered round her and danced so that she would have someone to follow. Then, during a slow tune, one of the girls took her hands, never saying a word, and gently showed her how to dance to the slower music. Alissa had intended to leave around 2 but Analia was having so much fun and kept begging to stay longer. One more song was never enough and they stayed until almost 3 pm, Analia stalling even as she was being buckled in her car seat.
When the music first began I saw Rory’s head nod forward and she began to keep time with her body as the musicians played. She came over and stood beside my chair staring ahead at the musicians mesmerized by the music and the dancing. I leaned down and whispered in her ear, “Do you want to dance?” Before I could even get out of the chair, this child who is normally, initially reserved around strangers, ran through the spectators, through the musicians, and into the circle of dancers. There she stopped and stood dead still. We watched her as she stood there unmoving, staring at the dancer’s feet. I thought at first that maybe she realized she had run up there alone and had gotten scared until I realized that she was thinking about what the others were doing and taking it all in. It seemed as if she was studying their moves and trying to process in her head what she needed to do to make her feet move like theirs. She was transfixed. The song ended and all the dancers cleared the floor. Rory just stood there. I motioned for her to come back. I thought she might be afraid but she walked through the crowd of people and made her way back to me until the next song began and she ran out onto the floor with the dancers again. This time, we saw her little feet begin to move and they were keeping time with the music, a little slow and unsure, but definitely getting it. She was concentrating hard. As the music continued, she stood right in front of the man who is kind of the unspoken leader of the large, group of folks who gather on Sundays to play at Floyd Country Store. You could see that she was feeling the music and looking straight into his face. He was smiling from ear to ear, a man who usually plays with a straight face. As she found the beat, her whole body went up and down and both feet kept time together as she rocked up on her tip toes and back on her heals, over and over again. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she danced and the whole group danced around her. Finally, as the song ended, I looked around and I saw that I wasn’t the only one who had been watching her. There were smiles on so many faces as the dancers and musicians witnessed the moment that a little, 18-month-old girl fell in love with flat foot dancing and mountain music. My heart squeezed tight as folk clapped and congratulated her on a job well done. Never did she crack a smile as she was completely serious about the whole event. On the next song, one of the regulars who dances most every week, a very kind man who is encouraging but never overbearing, reached his hand out to her and she reached up and took it. From that moment on, they were partners. The man’s name is Mike and he with great patience danced with Rory every single dance because she wanted him to do so. When she got too tired but still wanted to be on the dance floor, he picked her up (with our permission) and danced with her. A couple of times, Rory’s new friend Mike tried to slow dance with a couple of the ladies he knows and dances with regularly. I told Rory she had to dance by herself and she went out on to the floor and danced until she saw her friend and then she reached up, without a smile with one arm and motioned to him that she wanted him to dance with HER. Mike’s partner smiled, bowed out, and he took Rory in his arms and danced wit her instead. This happened more than once and with more than one partner as Mike tried to dance with his friends. Each time, the women would bow out graciously and turn their partner over to Rory.
One of the ladies, who is a regular and who had also patiently shared her time and talents with both Analia and Rory, stopped me when I tried to apologize for Rory stealing her dance partner, Mike. She said that they are there to share. She relayed that years ago she had entered Floyd Country Store and an elderly lady had pulled her out onto the dance floor and taught her how to flat foot, igniting a passion in her that is obviously alive and strong today. She remarked that from then on, she has tried to “pay it forward” by sharing what she has learned with others.
At one point, my eyes filled with tears and I thought that the swelling of my heart was going to be more than I could control. I blinked hard as I turned to my Mike and said, “These people are so good. Look at them with our grandkids. They are just good people.”
Most every day there is something that I read, hear, or witness that causes me to despair. As I get older, I no longer have that youthful naivety that makes me feel as if I can somehow be an instrument to change the world is some grand way. In fact, a lot of days, I just want to hide away and make this old world go away with all of its pain and negativity. But then, there are these God moments.
There in a little Country Store in the Blue Ridge Mountains with the sounds of stringed instruments and feet keeping time with the old-time music on the wooden floor, I felt God just as strongly as I have ever felt him in a church sanctuary. The goodness of His children brought me to tears as I witnessed community, acceptance, love and good will. And, this wasn’t the first time that I had felt God’s presence there.
People refer to these mountains and these experiences like I have tried to describe here in my journal sometimes as “magical” and indeed it does feel that way. Maybe it’s the atmosphere that sets the stage but the real magic comes from open hearts of regular people who are brave enough and strong enough to just let love shine through and who reach out to others and share joy. The magic is in community, in the sharing of our common humanity. It’s possible. I feel it in the little mountain church that I attend on Sunday mornings, in the stranger who waves a thank you from the road after they pick up a dozen eggs from our honor system cart, from folks I barely know who once stopped to put our cows back inside the fence when they got out, and from strangers who set their own afternoon aside to teach my grandkids the joy of flat foot dancing. When the world starts to gets me down and I begin to despair, I need to remember to turn off the radio, television and computer, go out and pay it forward with love. There’s the magic.