Monday, May 23, 2011


First of all, I suppose I should say, “If you don’t know what MerleFest is, then find out right away”. Your life will be richer for the knowing. It will be enriched even further by the going, and it’s not that far – just up in Wilkesboro, an hour and a half from where I live near Charlotte, and probably only slightly more or less than that from where you live. In any case, I went up for the festival with my nephew and best pal, Jason, just as I’ve done for the past six years, and I knew within the first few hours of the festival that I would write about it this year, as I’ve not done in the past, except for perhaps an occasional reference while writing about something else. So I knew I would write something; didn’t know what exactly (still don’t – exactly); but I’m not bothered by that. On the other hand, I don’t know and can’t quite figure out where to start, and that is bothersome.

I suppose I could start as the festival started – with the rain, but if I started with the rain, I’d really have to go back to fall of 2010 when I bought a tent at a yard sale for three dollars. Now I have tents, of course – two good tents, but they’re both small. This one was considerably larger, and I thought the extra center height and room to move around would make it perfect for a multi-day event like MerleFest, and for only three bucks! I couldn’t believe what a good deal it was, and it came in a very good, military green, canvas duffle. To top it off, I found a hatchet in the bottom of the duffle, and as you may know, I’m nuts about edged tools and weapons of which hatchets are both, a fact that makes them twice as interesting to me.

Now there are two rules for new tents: 1) Be sure that you know how to set them up before you actually have to. And 2) Try them out in the backyard before taking them on a trip. Fortunately, I followed Rule number 1, and after struggling for hours to figure out how the poles went together, I finally discovered that I had a set of pole for a second tent that had not been mentioned – no second tent, just a bunch of poles that I didn’t need. After this ground-breaking (and heart-breaking) discovery, it became a simple, although very laborious and time-consuming, process of trial and error to figure out which poles were actually needed and which were just Democrats. However, once that sorting out was accomplished, I was able to set up the tent in minutes, by myself, and my good humor returned almost immediately. In fact, the tent looked great! It was even bigger than I had estimated, with nice bright colors; and as it turned out, I also had an extra set of tent stakes, which actually is a good thing. Heck, once the tent was set up, it looked so good that I decided that Rule number 2 would not be necessary. I was as happy as a pig in mud, which bring me back to MerleFest.

As many of you know, a major storm system blew across the southeast on April 27th and continued on into the morning of the 28th. The death toll from this storm and the dozens of tornadoes associated with it topped 325 (most of them in Alabama) and property damage was brutal and extensive. When this storm rolled into the Carolina foothills at about 3:00 AM, I was camped in a field behind the Masonic Lodge in Wilkesboro, NC, in a three dollar tent. At approximately 4:00 AM, a restaurant owner from down the street came through the campground yelling that a tornado was coming, and I rolled off of my airbed to the rather rude surprise of my bare feet splashing in a pool of water that should have been the floor of my tent. I slipped on my flip-flops and (literally) waded outside to join the handful of other campers who had just received the same tornado warning. We stood around together for several minutes until one moderately annoyed individual remarked to no one in particular, “OK; a tornado is coming. Now what the hell are we supposed to do?” After half an hour and no tornado, the campers began to return to their travel trailers and tents, and I spent the remainder of the night in a lawn chair under our picnic table canopy. After the arrival of daylight and another couple of hours of strong thunderstorms, the rain finally stopped, and I stuck my head into the tent to survey the damage. It was worse than I had feared. Now my little problem was nothing in comparison to what the folks down south were waking up to, but every piece of clothing I had brought for a four day trip (including what I had on) was soaked, along with two books, my sleeping bag, my pillow, towels, and shoes.

I spent the next two hours bailing water out of my three dollar tent using a large borrowed sponge and a #1 tin can. As you may know, a #1 tin can holds a gallon, and I filled it to the brim six times and over half of a seventh time. This is in an environment where spilling a cup of water is a major problem. Once I had reclaimed the floor of my tent, we loaded up all of our wet clothes and gear, and spent the next two hours in a laundramat in downtown Wilkesboro trying to get them dry. However, after that adventure, it was finally time for breakfast. We drove across town to Hadley’s Restaurant and ate well; it’s hard not to eat well at that place. We finished our breakfast about noon – about the same time that the sun arrived, and for the balance of the week, we had nothing but great weather. By the end of the day Thursday, most of the puddles had dried up, and as the mud gradually began to stop sucking the flip-flops off my feet as I walked, my spirits rebounded and then soared when the music finally started.

But the rain was only one way I could have started my little story. I could just as well have begun at the end of the festival (or what was the end for me) and worked backwards. I saw my last group, the Kruger Brothers, on the Hillside stage [there are 13 real stages where performances are scheduled at MerleFest and countless other places where folks just get together and play] at 1:30 Sunday afternoon from the second row. The set ran for a little over an hour and included several of my favorites like “Carolina in the Fall” and “Appalachian Mist”, and I thought of the first time I had heard those songs – almost exactly a year ago – and of how it had sent me scrambling for the CD’s they were from. In playing through those discs, I discovered several other wonderful gems, the overall effect of which was to solidify my determination to learn to play the banjo. [I now own a banjo and am a happy, though struggling, student.] Seeing these master musicians again and hearing them play those songs that are so special to me, provided a very satisfying and uplifting theoretical ending for my MerleFest experience this year. The group concluded their set by playing the final movement from their newly released “Appalachian Concerto”, Jens Kruger’s amazing and amazingly beautiful tribute to the land and people of Appalachia, and I thought, “Yes. That’s what I came for.” After a lengthy standing ovation, I walked by the front of the stage and headed back down the hill. As I passed, I waved to Uwe and called out, “Good to see you again.” He nodded and smiled, and I suppose it’s possible that he actually remembered me, as I’d sat on the front row back in January to see the group in concert at the Hayes Performing Arts Center in Blowing Rock. In any case, it was good southern manners from the gentleman from Switzerland, and there are times when being treated courteously is just as important as being remembered, if not more so. I suppose I could’ve said, “See you next year”, but I hoped it wouldn’t be that long.

Yes, it might have worked to begin with the end, but somehow it just didn’t feel right. Later, it occurred to me that perhaps I should not try to have any special beginning at all – that it might be better just to discuss some special MerleFest moments in no particular order and then end with the single moment that most accurately represented my MerleFest experience this year. The more I thought about that, the more sense it made, so I set my mind in that direction and finally began to write. I returned to opening night and thought of Randy Travis – when he told a charming little story about his granddad and then sang “He Walked on Water”. Yes, of course it’s a good song, but that moment was a lot more than just the singing of a good song. It was full of themes that run through MerleFest, like the importance of family and the impact of multi-generational influences, but it was more than that also. Through the song and the story, Randy managed to tap into reality in such a way that individuals in the audience were able to reconnect with it and spend a few moments in that other world where the truth is known and understood. We all need that; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons that people come to MerleFest, although few might describe it that way. As Lyle Lovett put it so well a bit later in the week, “We all need a little bluegrass church now and then.” If there is a greater function of MerleFest than to provide entertainment (and there is), it is to provide the opportunity for reconnection on a multitude of levels. This reconnection is somewhat similar to that of modern day church revivals, but has much more in common with old-time camp meetings. Like those get-togethers of long ago, MerleFest has elements of a family reunion, a spiritual retreat, an all-night sing, and a revival meeting all rolled into one – a celebration of life, a particular type and way of life that many of us believe to be endangered and under attack.

Having had that quote from Lyle Lovett pop into my head, I focused my attention on his performance and thought again about MerleFest moments. The first thing that struck me was how intelligent his performance had been. He was a star with a huge following, but like Travis before him, the MerleFest audience was not really his audience. It could easily have been a disaster, but Lyle handled it perfectly. First, he brought Sam Bush (the one person on earth who exemplifies the spirit of MerleFest even better than Doc Watson) out on stage with him and kept him there, as if to say, “See, it really is OK, so open up and give it a try.” Then he carefully paid tribute to Doc and Merle, explaining that years ago, as Doc and Merle would pass through Houston, he and his buddies would sometimes get to open for them and how grateful he was for those opportunities and for the opportunity to be playing at MerleFest. Having covered those bases, he probably could’ve gotten away with anything on stage, but he didn’t try to. Instead, he played a very “conservative” and thoughtful set, which went over extremely well. He was perhaps most effective when, after telling a charming story about his family and their week-end car trips (too busy with making a living to take full week vacations), he sang “South Texas Girl”, a jewel of a song about his family and early childhood from the “It’s Not Big It’s Large” album of 2007. In reference to those early excursions with young Lyle seated between Mom and Dad, he sang:

Three in the front seat they sat on each side
That green and white ’58 Fairlane would fly
Down farm roads past open fields seeming like no big deal
As it was happening I never felt a thing

But now looking back it seems like it was everything
Singing with mom just so we could hear ourselves sing
Stealing a drink from the cold can in daddy's lap
Protected by only a small thin brown paper sack,

And it occurred to me that he had the whole childhood thing for us Baby boomers right there in a nutshell, much the same way that Don Henley did with “The End of the Innocence”.

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep, blue sky
Never had a care in the world
With Mommy and Daddy standing by

And as I sat there in my $225 seat, in that audience having an average age of around 50, with night settling on the hills, I thought, “Yeah, here we are. We’re the pride and joy of the Greatest Generation, the most affluent (and spoiled) population in the history of the world. We’re not just self-centered; we’re self-obsessed. We’re the generation that murdered fully one-third of it’s children before they were born, and we now have the nerve to wonder why we find happiness so elusive. Many of us have been asleep for a generation, but some of us are finally beginning to awaken, now that it’s too late. How embarrassing it is to see what we’ve done! What an unholy mess we’ve made of things during our thirty year drunk! Just look at what we’ve elected for leaders and what we’ve allowed this once-great country to be turned into. I was actually starting to laugh to myself when I heard the greatest Texas line of all time – “Home is where my horse is.” Leave it to Lyle to pull me back from the edge and back into the music. If I’d ever heard “Natural Forces” before, I had no memory of it, but I began to listen just in time to hear

Now as I sit here safe at home
With a cold Coors Lite and the TV on
With all the sacrifice and death and war
Lord, I pray I’m worth fighting for

“Yes Lord,” I thought, “and so do I.” It was indeed a powerful moment, but then again, there were other powerful moments.

I thought again about the Kruger Brothers’ performance – about a song they sang called “Choices”, an achingly beautiful song about the crazy collections of events that we call our lives and about the one who continues to love us while we waste our years making our own special mistakes.

When you find yourself alone
In a world as cold as stone
In the darkness there’s a light
That will guide you through the night

When the time has come to see
That the future’s meant to be
And the choices you recall
Were not choices after all

There’s no reason to despair
For there’s always someone there
Who loves you more than you’ll ever know
Doesn’t matter where you go

It may be that you need to have been in a battle with depression for some years, as I have, to really appreciate the profound eloquence of the truth expressed here, but perhaps not. In any case, I knew immediately that this was a song I’d be humming and singing for weeks, and hearing it was a festival-defining moment for me.

Then I thought about Doc. He’s eighty-eight now, and every performance he gives is historic. And while it’s true for all of them, it seems even more true for him, that every song I hear him pick and sing, could be the last one. I’m so glad to have been there Saturday evening to hear him sing along with Bill Mathis and the others on the “Tribute to Merle”. That song brought the festival back into focus for me, just before Sam Bush and his band came out for their turn on the Watson stage. If anything, Sam gets better every year, and he’s always white hot. Somehow hearing him do “Circles Around Me” that evening just felt perfect – totally real and honest, with a touch of sadness for friends he’d lost along the way, but absolutely amazed and delighted to find that he and the rest of us are still alive and kicking.

We were riding down through the grapevines
When I heard someone say your name
Hand on my shoulder, just a little bit older now
And I remember everything

High in Telluride, up on Bridal Veil
Ten thousand feet above the sound
The news came around and sent me to count all my blessings
And to thank you for the good friends that I’ve found

Hey, hey, hey
How in the world did we get this far
Hey, hey, hey
Holding tight to the tail of a shooting star
Hey, hey, hey
You’re running circles around me
Circles around me now

It was a moment of reunion for the MerleFest family as only Sam, who’s been there for every MerleFest since it began in 1988, could have arranged. Was it the highlight of the week that I’d been looking for? Well, it certainly was a highlight, but then so was seeing Red Molly for the first time and seeing the Del McCoury Band do “52 Black Lightening” once again.

Sitting in the sun on Saturday afternoon to see Tony Rice was a treat. He may well be the greatest flat picker alive. And seeing the Doobie Brothers again was a trip. I hadn’t seen them since 1972 when they played the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. They were the second of a three act show. The Marshall Tucker Band, a strong local favorite at the time, opened the show with a major bang, then the Doobies came on and brought the house down. Then, when the featured act finally appeared, the crowd was spent – tired, sleepy, and ready to head back to the dorms. So they played for a while, and we clapped courteously, and then it was over, and I doubt that Fleetwood Mac ever cared to visit South Carolina again. This time, the Doobies were the featured act, but once again I was tired and sleepy, and I listened to the end of their show from my campsite across the creek. And just in case you missed it, “Listen to the Music” never sounded better than it did that night by the creek.

You know, out of over 250 scheduled performances over four days, I only really saw about 30 of them and heard a few more from my campsite – not even 20% of the total. So from a statistical perspective, it is likely that I actually missed the greatest MerleFest moment of 2011, but that’s OK. I had some very special moments and brought some great music and memories home with me. In fact, while leafing through my festival program later, I found a note that I’d written while watching a band called Balsam Range, another group that I’d seen for the first time. The note simply said, “Here’s to the trains I missed”, and I recognized it as a line from a song they’d sung that I wanted to remember, because it sounded like it would be a good one. Days later, I found the song on Youtube entitled simply, “The Trains I Missed”, and after listening to it again, I realized that it was even better than I had thought it might be.

Here’s to the trains I missed
The loves I lost
The bridges I burned
The rivers I never crossed

Here’s to the call I didn’t hear
The signs I didn’t heed
The roads I didn’t take
The maps that I just couldn’t read

It’s a big old world, but I’ve found my way
And the hell and the hurt have lead me straight
to this
Here’s to the trains I missed

It was a wonderful song from a group that was brand new for me – another great MerleFest moment, and it didn’t even happen at the festival. It was two weeks after the festival, and I was still having MerleFest moments. And it occurred to me that perhaps I should just say, “Here’s to the MerleFest that I missed,” and be thankful for the one I happened to see. It’s largely a matter of chance after all, and it brought to mind my favorite poem, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden back.

MerleFest is all about taking chances and making choices. There will always be a road not taken, but whatever road you choose, I hope it brings you through Wilkesboro in the spring. MerleFest 2012 will be held April 26th – 29th of next year, and that’s only 342 days away. It will be the 25th anniversary of MerleFest, and I can’t wait to see who makes it in for the celebration.

Dean Greene
May 20, 2011

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dr. Katie

Katie has become fascinated by doctors, illnesses, and virtually anything else that is medical in nature. For instance, some time back, she found an old stethoscope (leftover from a blood pressure monitoring kit) in a drawer and instantly started trying to hear her heartbeat – or “beep” as she calls it. Well I’m not sure that she ever actually heard her heart beep, but she was delighted to find that she could hear “guzzling” sounds coming from her stomach. I explained that the noise was possibly her stomach growling and could indicate that she was hungry. She listened with rapt interest as if I might have been explaining the origin of the universe or why eight year old boys act so silly sometimes, and she took it all to heart. Ever since then, from time to time, she’ll say something like “I think I’m hungry”, and she’ll run grab the stethoscope. She’ll then proceed to listen to various spots on her tummy, after which she’ll look up with a very satisfied expression and say, “Yes, I’m really hungry. Think I’ll go pop some popcorn.”

However, serious self-examination of her gastro-intestinal system are not the extent of Katie’s medical interest. She also like to play doctor. She began her medical career simply as Dr. Katie, but now she routinely introduces herself as Dr. Quack from Rutherfordton – a small town in western NC that is notorious for the pitiful, if not criminal, quality of heath care available there – and then after a quick examination, she proceeds to find you guilty of one or more of her favorite maladies. Perhaps your heart has stopped beeping, you have loose eyelashes, or you’ve been eating too many snot buggers, although it’s hard to guess just what the right number might be of the latter. But regardless of the ailment, the treatment is always the same – a shot – administered with whatever medical device she can get her little hands on – an ink pen, door key, hair brush, or some other such instrument. And as part of her bedside manner and ostensibly to reassure her patient that it really is only a game, just before the injection, she always smiles and whispers “Don’t forget to pretend to cry.” Then the following moment, you discover once again that both the warning and the pretence are unnecessary, and you listen, as though far away, while she reminds you that your next stop should be at the scooter store (and it won’t cost you a penny out of pocket).

As much fun as Dr. Quack’s house calls are, I expect that sooner or later it will come to an end. She’ll learn of ulcers, yeast infections, and hemorrhoids, and then the magic of her examinations and treatments will be gone. But I don’t think the same can be said of her general interest in medical matters. There’s just too much to whet her appetite – grandparents with health issues ranging from prosthetic limbs to osteoporosis, my own high blood pressure and hypo-thyroidism, and an endless list of friends and teachers absent from school due to one disease or another. Of course, we get all the gory details everyday in Katie’s after-school report, but lately it seems that she’s getting harder to impress. Just yesterday afternoon she confided to me in disgust, “Luke was out yesterday, but he just had a stomach ache, but you remember Daniel? He was out today - with a temperature of 285 degrees. Now he was sick.” Given the facts of the case, I had no choice but to concur.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Watching the Blue Ridge

A couple of weeks ago I took a Friday off of work to go to the mountains with Katie. We left as soon as I finished up on Thursday, and headed to Hendersonville, NC. Katie was thrilled. All she knew was that we were going to the mountains, that we were going to stay in a hotel (anyplace that isn’t home is a hotel to Katie), and that it was just going to be Katie and Daddy, which meant – among other things - that she could have all the Cheetos she wanted, and probably other contraband substances too wonderful to imagine – things like buttered popcorn and Starbursts – maybe even Gummie Worms. She was as excited as if it had been Christmas – almost as excited as I was.

We stayed at this beautiful bed and breakfast called The Echo Mountain Inn. It’s well over 100 years old, built mostly of rocks, and sits way back on a ridge overlooking the town of Hendersonville and the surrounding area. I had been there several times before – mostly to rest up and to write. For that purpose, it’s the best place I‘ve ever been, but this was not a writing trip – not a time for remembering. This was a time for making memories.

We arrived at the inn well after dark, but fortunately we had already eaten our dinner in the car as we rode. The innkeeper had left our key in an envelope at the desk, so we found our room, unloaded the van, and settled down to check the TV listings. “Apollo 13” turned out to be a great father-daughter movie. Katie was fascinated, and I remembered. I remembered the black & white TV sets on carts in the classrooms at school, and I remembered how we waited and hoped and prayed that those guys would make it back. It was almost as if the world held its breath. “When will we go to the moon again?” Katie asked at one point. “I don’t know, Sweetheart,” I said; “Right now most people don’t see it as being particularly important. Space travel is very expensive, and they’d rather spend the money doing other things, I think.” “Oh”, she said in a voice laced with disappointment. I understood that very well. Our retreat from space has been a disappointment to me for the last 30 years.

We had a great night’s sleep and woke up early. After baths and clean clothes, we headed down to the dining room. We had a homestyle breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns at a table situated in a bay window. From our seats we had a panoramic view of the mountain ranges to the northeast of Hendersonville – the ones some people call the Black Mountains - and as we sat there, mildly high on the smell of frying bacon and fresh-brewed coffee, I recalled some lines from a poem that I had read back during my days at Wofford College, written by a fellow named Ed Minus.

“Five windows wide, less than half a pane high,
The Blue Ridge tapes the piedmont to the sky.”

and later,

“Carl Sandburg rested and tended goats;
F. Scott Fitzgerald came down to dry out.
Thomas Wolfe grew up alone;
Sidney Lanier died breathing blue stone.”

It would have been easy to sit there all morning with “Good Old Boys Like Me” playing over and over in my head, but that would have to wait for another day. We loaded our things into the van, said our good-byes to the owners of the inn, and headed on up I-26 toward Ashville. The leaves were several days past their peak of color, but still very nice. Katie was singing along with a Smokey Robinson song from the soundtrack of “The Big Chill”, and I was happy, nearly to bursting, to be out and rolling on such a gorgeous morning. Without saying a word, I set my thoughts on Mt. Mitchell and turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We took our time. The Parkway was almost empty, like it was back in the 60’s, and we stopped at every overlook. We swapped pictures of one another and told stories and gained elevation. As we turned into one overlook we saw a wild turkey running across the road just in front of a car that was leaving the overlook. He barely made it. Katie remarked that he was getting ready for Thanksgiving – by running away. When I had almost stopped laughing I said, “That’s a good one, Sweetie.” “Yeah”, she relied with a big smile on her face, “I get two points for that.” At Craggy Gardens, a normally crowded picnic area, there was only one other vehicle. Kate and I ran and played and rolled on the thick grass like a couple of kids, and for a few precious moments I forgot that I am fifty-two years old.

Above 4000 feet there was no color in the leaves, only the various tones of brown and grey that follow the russets and golds and reds and yellows of autumn. In a shaded curve we stopped, and I snapped a picture of Katie in front of a virtual waterfall of icicles, many of which were longer than she is tall. The photo has the appearance of a storybook illustration or a scene from the Superman movie, but it was just a two minute drive-by on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Above 5000 feet the leaves themselves were gone, or nearly so, and we no longer looked up at the clouds over the valleys. We were now on their level, and for the first time I think, Katie conceded that we were actually in the mountains. We took a short hike up onto a bare knoll and looked back down the Parkway where we had been. The mountains rolled out in all directions, but the highest ones still lay in front of us.

At the parking lot on top of Mt. Mitchell, at about 6500 feet, it was 41 degrees – just a couple of degrees below the year-round average - under a bright, though a bit hazy sky with almost no wind – nice enough for a picnic on the highest point east of the Rockies, and practically unheard of in November. Katie had all her favorite foods: macaroni & cheese, biscuits from Bojangles – even her beloved Cheetos - with Starbursts for dessert. And just like at breakfast several hours earlier, we had a view from this table too. From there, we looked down on the clouds, on the other mountains, and on nearly everything else. I had a very distinct feeling of being on top of the world, but then again, I’d felt that way all day.

Beyond Mt. Mitchell, the Parkway was already closed for the winter, and by now, the Mitchell park itself is closed. It will sleep undisturbed until bear cubs and Boy Scouts wake it up in the spring. The mid-afternoon shadows stretched out long and thin as I pointed the van to the southwest and headed for lower elevations. Katie didn’t make it very far. She was sound asleep well before we reached I-26, and she didn’t awaken until we were on I-485 somewhere east of I-77, just a few miles from home. While she slept, I had time to reflect on the day - how exceptionally good it had all been, and to consider the Thanksgiving holiday just coming up on the horizon. “What did I have to be thankful for?” I thought with a smile as a multitude of blessings rolled through my mind: a day off of work to be with Kate; a long ride on the Parkway with no traffic; mild temperatures; breath-taking scenery; good food; a dependable vehicle; the happy, healthy, and frighteningly intelligent and funny kid asleep in the backseat; that beautiful road through the Blue Ridge with the same number of Starbucks and Walmarts that it had when I was growing up; the mountains themselves; the road home; my family; memories – lots of memories. I thought of my Grandma Padgett’s last visit to the mountains. Four carloads of us went along, and we had lunch together at Craggy Gardens. That must have been twenty years ago. Grandma always said that it was the most beautiful place on earth, but I don’t think she ever traveled outside of the Carolinas. Now I’ve been around the world, seen black sand beaches and the spring in New England, but still so far, I’ve seen nothing to prove Grandma wrong.

As I rolled down the interstate through the night, I carefully added one more footnote to my Blue Ridge Mountains memories file:
Craggy Gardens – November 3, 2006. Dean and Katie rolled on the ground and laughed together. They were both five years old.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Walking Around the Campground

Today I walked around the campground – slowly, and I thought about how different it was now than it was at campmeeting time. Then it was the hot, humid days of mid-summer. Children were playing everywhere. Families were having huge lunches on picnic tables. There was laughter and singing and people sitting in the shade. The smells of food being prepared drifted out from the tents, and the whole place was alive with noise. Much different today. I am the only person I have seen so far. The only people sounds are those made by an occasional passing car; otherwise, it’s quiet today. I hear the breeze, the crunch of dry leaves under my feet, and the sound of my own voice inside my head. It’s little errie and a bit unnerving – like being alone in a hospital waiting room. Even though there’s no one around for you to disturb, you sit very quietly, and if you walk, you walk with soft, careful steps. I suppose it’s out of respect, or what some might call reverence.

In any case, as I walked those familiar spaces around the arbor, it was with slow and studied steps. I noticed things – a gum wrapper, a bluejay feather, the plastic toys left behind in a sandbox – and I remembered . . .

I remembered Katie and her newly discovered cousins running about in the twilight catching lightening bugs, just as I had done with my own cousins almost fifty years before. And when Elizabeth called her in, I already knew what she would say – “Not yet! Please Mommy, not yet! They don’t have to go in yet. Let me stay out ‘till they have to go in. Wait! I see another one – over there – no there - over there. Yeah!” Was it Katie or was it I who answered? Had it really been almost 50 years? Was Rick really dead from a ruptured blood vessel in his esophagus? Did Terry really drop out of school, join the army, and go off to Panama and get married? And had Robert, the youngest of our group, really been disabled for years with mysterious siezures that the doctors still can’t explain? Had I really grown up and forgotten what it was like to run and play with cousins in the magic of a mid-summer twilight? “Let her stay out for a while,” I answered on her behalf. “She’ll be in soon enough.”

I continued to walk. There was her favorite sliding board and the big swing where I pushed and pushed and pushed some more until my tendonitis flared up and I had to stop, and right there was the hand-hewn pew where she stood, in the fullness of her four years, and told the congregation of several hundred about how her beloved Grandma Pauline had gone up to heaven to be with Jesus. And I remembered writing somewhere that of all the places on earth, here on this campground is where I feel the most at home and the closest to heaven, because this is where Grandma Pauline lives in my memory. I stopped near one of the park benches and became aware of the fact that my face was wet with tears. I wiped my eyes with my shirt sleeve and looked around. I was well across the campground from our tent – ‘way over in the Waxhaw corner. We have friends over there, of course. Katie made them for us at Bojangles. And then, just for a moment, I saw Miss Judy waving at Katie. But that moment had taken place several months ago. The only things waving today were the leaves.

On one of our walks around the campground during campmeeting, Katie and I had noted that Tent #18 was in need of some repair, and as I walked I noted with satisfaction that the old tent had since been torn down and that the corners had already been laid out for a new cabin. As I walked on, it occured to me that a place in time like the campground can only exist in one of two states – either it’s growing or it’s dying. Unpainted, rundown, and seldom used cabins are symptomatic of a tendency toward death, while new cabins, new roofs, new porches and picnic tables are signs of health and growth. Underneath a huge, old pen oak, I stopped and said a prayer for those precious signs of life:

“Lord, please bless these and all other efforts to keep this special place alive, because if you don’t, Katie’s will be the last generation to know about it. A-men.”

I turned and headed back across the campground. The arbor filled my vision. There was talk of a new roof for the arbor; money was being set aside. It would be a major undertaking, but it would guarantee the existence of the arbor for another forty or fifty years – until Katie was my age and I was gone.

I slowly circled the ancient structure once again. Tent #65 would be warm and dry and nearly perfect for writing; however, it occurred to me that I had no idea what I’d write about. That thought had only partially dissolved away, when another took it’s place, and I said aloud, though only to myself, “Why not the campground – just walking around the campground?”

Dean Greene
October 7, 2006

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pleasant Grove Campmeeting 2009

After a long winter’s nap, the Pleasant Grove Campground has woken up and is returning to life. A new tent is being framed up on the Waxhaw side. Several old, diseased trees have been removed, and several new ones have been planted. Someone has added a nice screened back porch to their tent, and another has added vinyl siding, giving their tent an entirely new look. Lots of work has been going on inside of several tents, and recent work on the well has resulted in the best water supply that we’ve had in years.

The Pleasant Grove church building has been recently scraped and repainted, and it looks great – like a picture postcard. And we hear that there will likely be a new roof on the little church very soon. And the new roof on the arbor, that was shining in the sun like a new penny last year, after a year of weathering, has made itself completely at home and looks as if it could have been there forever.

The campground now has a website at, and for those of you on Facebook, there is a campmeeting group with nearly 200 members at Pleasant Grove Campmeeting, Mineral Springs, NC. All of these changes, improvements, and beginnings are signs of health, and we are extremely thankful for each of them. Youth Camp was three weeks ago, Vacation Bible School was two weeks ago, and Campmeeting 2009 is less than two weeks away. Right now, before we get too deep into planning meals, inviting friends, and moving in, is the perfect time to pause for a few minutes and consider what Campmeeting means to us.

I recall when our tent was being built a few years ago, how surprised I was at the number of people who pulled over, rolled down the windows of their cars, and asked what the place was? (And they didn’t all have New York accents either; many of them were local folks.) But when I laid down my hammer, paintbrush, or whatever and walked over to the car to talk, it was their turn to be surprised. They would listen like children as I told about how the folks first came there in 1829 to have a campmeeting, because there wasn’t enough water at the site they had been using, how that first campmeeting was held under a real brush arbor, and the people who came thought the place was so beautiful that they began to call it Pleasant Grove and decided to build a permanent camp there. Their eyes would get wide when I’d tell them that in those early days there would be five services a day and that the last one would sometimes continue until midnight, and their look of surprise would sometimes change to downright disbelief when I’d tell them that those campmeetings lasted for two weeks, that the preachers came in from all around on horseback, and that many of the people brought their livestock along with them.

I’d tell them how there used to be over 200 tents in two rings, but that now there was only one ring with 89 tents, and I’d always end my little seminar by giving them the dates of the upcoming Campmeeting and inviting them to attend. “You know which tent’s ours” I’d say, “and you’re always welcome to stop by and have a piece of cake after the service.”

I suppose that having found something special, it’s natural to want to share it, and that’s the way I feel about the Campmeeting at Pleasant Grove. Oh, by the way, Campmeeting 2009 starts with the 11 o’clock service on Sunday morning, July 19th and goes through the 6:00 PM service on Big Sunday, July 26th. Services will be held each evening through the week at 8:00 PM and Monday through Friday mornings at 10:30 AM. Rev. Rosemary Brown (Sun – Wed) and Rev. Talbot Davis (Thurs – Sat), both of whom are gifted speakers with incredibly strong messages, will be leading the evening services, and the morning services will each feature a different preacher from the surrounding area. You can get additional information about Campmeeting 2009 and see pictures from Campmeeting 2008 at the website mentioned above, so check it out. Pick some services to attend, and come on over. Come early and walk the grounds. Sit in the shade under those ancient oak trees. Visit with your neighbors. Pitch a game of horseshoes if you feel like it or maybe just have a bowl of ice-cream at the stand. Have a great time, but don’t miss the service, for it is there that you will come to understand why the Campmeeting has endured – how it has lasted through wars and depressions and the passing of generations – and how, through it all, that “old, old story” has remained as close and as warm and alive as a hug from a child, a clear summer day, or the next beat of your heart.

Yes, I do love to tell the story. It’s too good not to share, and it’s ‘way too important to miss, so I’ll see you there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Please Remember

I don’t suppose that Katie’s any worse about it than most kids, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t bad. It simply means that she’s just medium terrible. However, in one way she may be actually be worse than most. While virtually all kids will ask the same question over and over, most kids, I believe, will let it rest and move on to something else after they get the answer they want. But not Katie. She will continue right along asking the same question every few minutes until someone finally says, “If you ask that one more time, I’ll change my mind, and the answer will be ‘No’.” After that, she’ll normally wait at least half an hour before running the risk of asking again.

One of Katie’s favorite activities is eating out. Fortunately that’s something that Elizabeth and I also enjoy, and we’re often able to use it as an incentive for Katie. Of course she’ll continue to ask whether we intend to go, even while we’re in the car on the way to the restaurant. Well in any case, breakfast out on Friday is a long-standing reward for good cooperation during the week, and quite understandably, Katie has come to view it as something of an entitlement program. However recently, due to scheduling issues, we missed a couple of Friday breakfasts. This fact was not in the least overlooked by Katie. On Saturday she launched a pre-emptive barrage of questions, in an all-out effort to make sure that two weeks didn’t turn into three. Well, by about Tuesday, we’d had all we could stand.

Elizabeth actually had the conversation with Katie, and I haven’t seen the transcript, so I’m not exactly sure what was said, but it was effective, and the questions about Friday stopped immediately. Then Thursday evening as I was driving Katie to karate practice, she looked at me through the rear-view mirror and began:

“Daddy, when you’re talking with Mommy this evening, I need you to remember that I’m supposed to be going out to eat on Fridays for breakfast and remember that we’ve already missed two Fridays, and remember that I really like those Friday breakfasts, and Daddy, please remember that I didn’t ask.”

For the record: On the morning of Friday, June 19, Katie, Elizabeth, and I had breakfast together at the Flying Biscuit in the Stonecrest shopping center. I was still laughing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

You Need to Have Something On

I've been writing little true stories about Katie for several years. The selection below is very early but is still one of my favorites.

Our daughter Katie is almost 3 1/2 now, and is very much a real person. One of her favorite things to do is to take off and run through the house naked after a bath or while getting her clothes changed. During those moments she is oblivious to the cold, to the time of day, or to guests in the house. A few days ago, while my Mother (age 75) was visiting, I was helping Katie change clothes when she broke loose and took off through the house stark naked. My Mother followed after her exclaiming, "Katie, you need to have something on!" Well, it was a bit cool in the house - probably too cool for running naked, but then again it was Katie, and I knew she was not bothered one bit by the ambient temperature. Even knowing this however, out of deference to my Mother, I said, "Katie, would you like to have something on?" To my surprise and embarrassment she stopped and said, "Yes." I then asked the only thing that would come to my mind at that moment, "What would you like to have on, Sweetie?" She looked at me smiling and said, "The Rolling Stones", and then took off running again.

December 2004