Dining Out

I am here at the Dulcimer Music Festival to make music (which I didn’t do today), see old friends (which I did a lot of), and eat—and tonight was certainly the one of the eating experience highlights!

About 30 of us piled in cars and traveled ‘down the road a piece’ as they say here, to an Amish farm which serves group meals.

Apparently, going there has become kind of a tradition among some of the musicians, though I’ve never been included. It was a perfect day, a little warm and humid but with clear skies. This is farm country, but not flat—there are rolling hills, trees, and plenty of lakes and streams. It’s dairy country, and as we drove we saw several working farm dogs and small boys bringing the cows in for milking. Because it’s Amish, and mid-American, it’s clean and unadorned. But then, the landscape doesn’t need much in the way of extra trimmings.

I rode with a car full of dulcimer players, most of whom had been friends for many years. Linda was a hammered dulcimer maker until she retired to paint beautiful watercolors; Peg is a seamstress and craftswoman; Jim is a teacher—well,you get the point. Lots of remembering, good and bad jokes, and gossip, and we arrived at the beautiful farmhouse in high spirits having passed a horse and buggy carrying what we later found out was one of our servers for the dinner.

We were a little early, so we paid a visit to the general store ‘down the road a piece’, and gazed at a huge selection of knick knacks: chiming clocks that played 5 popular tunes, 5 country western tunes and 5 Christmas carols and ‘were certainly made in Germany’; more natural and ‘home’ remedies than I could imagine ever having diseases for; gas powered clothing irons (there’s no electricity in an Amish home); and pattern books of Simple Clothes. Some of us came away with small plastic bags of things, and one of our number fell in love with the 15-tune clock and will probably be back to make a sizeable purchase.

Then we trooped back to the farm for dinner, and a feast it was. Salad, egg noodles, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, meatloaf, fried chicken, and 4 kinds of pie. Of course we all ate way too much, and our white capped serving women moved among us, urging us for more chicken and more pie. It was no-frills comfort food, impeccably served family style, and each bite was delicious.

We left before our hosts had to turn the gas lanterns on and were back here at the campground in plenty of time for the evening (and all night) music sessions that erupt in every corner of the campground as the sun goes down (and the mosquitoes come out). Me, I am skipping music for tonight. My body is far too full for my cane and new hip to carry from one music jam to another. And speaking of jam, I left out the part of the dinner where they served home baked bread and apple butter……

Vicky and Me

OK, Quick Draw. I am NOT acting like an invalid! As a matter of fact, I am sitting in a campground in mid-Michigan, attending the largest hammered dulcimer festival in the world. Of course, there are other instruments here too (like Irish whistles and hurdy gurdies) and lots of campers. Usually 6 k people will come through the gate during festival weekend (which is Thursday-Saturday). But as far as I am concerned, the best part of the festival is now, before the official festivities get started. People gather here three weeks ahead of the opening, just to camp and play music.

Well, it’s not really ‘camping’ in the eyes of the Camping Gestapo. We are at the Evart, Michigan, Fairgrounds, which has been newly renovated using money from a bottled water operation that wants the clear spring water from this area (not too many people here to pollute it…). So I have electricity and water, and hot showers withing 50 feet of my site.

I am camped in Vicky the Van, which I purchased some years ago. Vicky is a conversion van, and has all the conveniences of the finest small yacht: bathroom, shower, microwave, toaster oven, air conditioning, refrigerator and stove top. She’s the size of a standard van, but I can stand up inside, and there’s a fold-out double bed. Not too shabby.

I’ve been coming to this festival for years—I forget how many, but at least 9 or 10. I found out about it when I played hammered dulcimer, and I was looking for kindred souls. Little did I know that Michigan is the home of the hammered dulcimer, thanks to Henry Ford and others who cultivated it as a Michigan folk instrument. Did you know that Henry had a dance band? With a dulcimer in it?

I no longer play dulcimer, and in fact I am giving away the last of my dulcimer music. What I’ve learned is that life is cyclical, and I am in a new cycle of music as well as a new cycle of life style. I am playing other instruments, but the dulcimer brought me back to music (after 20 years of concentration on family and career), and it brought me many friends and wonderful experiences. And then one day I was at another music festival, heard a hurdy gurdy, and my life changed.

But I’ve kept the good parts of the dulcimer days—the friends, the love of the music, and this festival. Last April, as I was wondering if I could ever re-enter the Real World, I kept envisioning myself in my beautiful little camper tucked away in this rural fairground, listening to the sounds of all kinds of music. Last night I could hear French-Canadian rowdy dance tunes, voices singing spiritual songs, and hammered dulcimers, en mass, pounding out St. Anne’s reel and other dulcimer favorites. It’s a great way to fall asleep, all those sounds piling in on top of me.

Independence Day

In one of my favorite e-cards Sarah says “it’s time to put yer boots down and declare independence from whatever is holding you back.” Sarah, the cartoon Southern Belle, offers that advice on her Independence Day card—of course she is talking about her Great Grandaddy Detweiler, who raised hawgs until Sarah stomped her feet and said, “No more pork!”, and went out and opened her own feed and seed store.

But here I am, on the eve of my own Independence Day—walking now without a cane (some of the time), and driving my car. I had my last visit with Quick Draw this week (until May of 2009) and we shook hands and congratulated ourselves on jobs well done—at last. All the folks in the office were glad to see me out of the wheelchair and wearing something other than a sweat suit. After my parting from QD, I even walked around the very large grocery store, loaded about $85 of celebratory indulgences in the car, carried them in my house, and put everything away.

Monday I am taking the wheelchair back, and asking the medical supply place to come and get the hospital bed. I even drove up to the Leelanau County Democratic headquarters and got a couple of yard signs to plant out my my mailbox!

Quick Draw’s advice to me (well, he had several advices on some of his favorite topics—some of you will know what I mean) was to “Get over being a sick person.” He meant, go do stuff! Take my cane, or my walker if I have to, but go do stuff.

I think that’s what Sarah meant by declaring independence. I am no longer a passive sick person. I may limp a little, and I won’t jog the Tart Trail or step dance on the tabletops…but I have a lot of reasons to celebrate tomorrow, personal as well as patriotic.