The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

Published 8:45 am Thursday, May 7, 2020

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“John C. Campbell Folk School”

By Marie Craig

Every year from 1988 to 2017, I taught classes (tatting and genealogy) at John C. Campbell Folk School near Murphy. I started taking classes there in 1974. I became very interested in learning more about the creation of this school which was started in 1925 for adults who seek skills in crafts and want to enjoy life at summer camp.

Even though there is a history archivist employed there, I found lots of gaps in knowledge about the people who founded the school. So I compiled a book of data two inches thick about the early history of the school and the leaders in creating it.

Dr. John C. Campbell was born in 1868 in Indiana and schooled in New England at Andover Theological Seminary. He had a degree in the ministry but felt compelled to teach poor children in the Southern states. He married a woman from his hometown, and they moved to Joppa, Alabama, where he was principal and teacher at a school for poor children. They had a son who died at six weeks, and then his wife died of tuberculosis.

John then had a similar job at Pleasant Hill, Tenn., and later was president of Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. During this time, John’s parents and his brother and sister all died, several from tuberculosis. He became overworked and ill and took a cruise to Scotland. On this ship is where he met Olive Dame who was 14 years younger than him.  She was from Massachusetts and was traveling with her mother and sister. After returning to the states, John and Olive were married and traveled in Europe for a year.

The desire to help poor Southerners was still his goal, and he became an employee of the Russell Sage Foundation. He and Olive spent much time in the back roads sections of the South, learning more about the culture and their desires for the future. Olive became interested in preserving the mountain ballads and compiled these into a book.

They had two little girls – one died at 10 months and the other at 20 months.  John died in 1919, just two years later.

Olive could have given up after so much bad luck, but instead, she and a friend, Marguerite, searched for a location for a folk school for adults. They founded Campbell Folk School in 1925. John had kept detailed notes on their travels, and Olive and his secretary finished his book, “The Southern Highlander and His Homeland,” which is one of the first accurate portrayals of life in the rural South. They named the school for John, even though he’d never been in this area. The school purpose originally was to help the local people learn how to be better farmers and crafts people but has a more universal purpose now.  It continues to be a delight to those students who come for a week of fellowship and learning skills in crafts or music or dancing.

Olive also helped establish the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild. She died in 1954 and is buried in Medford, Mass., next to her husband and two little daughters.

One of the oldest buildings on the campus was originally a farm home.  That’s where Olive lived and had her office.  It has recently been a dormitory for students.  She was very straight-laced, and occasionally appears in this building to remind people to follow the rules of the school.

“Still Home”

By Gaye Hoots

I have gotten comfortable with being home. When I go out most of the time, I stay in the car with my three-year-old twin grandchildren, while their mom, wearing mask and gloves, picks up our groceries and take-out food. We have been fortunate as only one grand lost employment briefly but is now back at work part-time. None of us has been sick, and we are grateful.

I am still awaiting my stimulus check, which I realize is a loan, as is the rest of the stimulus money. Taxpayers will bear that burden a long time, but some of it was necessary, in my opinion.

There is a lot of debate about opening up for business vs. staying home. Our economy has taken a beating. The virus is dangerous, especially for the older and health compromised. My advice as a nurse is to stay home if you have that option until you feel safe venturing out.

Having spent some time on Facebook, I see it riddled with political opinions, medical opinions, and conflicting opinions as to the cause of the virus. I read it all, even articles from the satire sites often quoted as facts, conspiracy theories, and mean personal attacks on political figures.

The medical info is more straightforward for me to discern as a nurse. The economic info is more complicated. I know we can’t stay shut down forever and that every day is expensive us. It costs us as individuals and as taxpayers. It would be helpful if we could compare the number of essential workers who are contracting the virus with those strictly isolating.

My plan is to comply with government regulations and stay in for a while after the ban is lifted to see if the numbers jump. That is not an option for my children and grandchildren. They must work and will comply with their company’s guidelines as they must to survive. I support individual decisions for each of us, as no one knows the exact responsibilities and circumstances of another.

My Facebook posts are positive, mostly. I do have a mean sense of humor and sometimes post a smiley face before thinking through all the implications. I support kindness. We cannot look to our political party to save us. We must take responsibility for ourselves and support and help others when we can.

Our county has been fortunate in the broad scheme of things. The changes we see as a result of the virus, like the clearing of our atmosphere, should lead us to reevaluate our choices of working from home for companies that can permit it. Consider online education, especially for older adults. They don’t need the socialization experience and maybe for the first two years of college as that socialization process can often be a negative one. For now, I have cut out my daily fast food runs and hope to maintain that. No one else is going to save us or sink us. We must help ourselves and others.

“The Treasure Within”

By Julie Terry Cartner

   Sitting in my study, I look out the window at the beautiful linden tree my husband and I planted twenty-five years ago. Then a slender sapling, we watered and babied it through its first years. For me, this was so much more than a tree, it was, and still is, a connection. We brought it here from my family’s home, Linden Farm, aptly named for the numerous linden trees residing on the property. As a child, I spent countless hours climbing the beautiful linden trees in my yard, sometimes hiding, sometimes pretending, and often reading books as I escaped into the magic of fiction. There, I could sail the seas, conquer villains, and ride my glorious steed over prairies and through dense forests. There I could be the hero, the villain or the damsel in distress. I could be the participant or the observer. My life; my choice.

Now, all these years later, I look at my next generation tree, now fully grown.  It provides shade and shelter for many. At this moment, I see five cardinals perching on its branches, their vibrant plumage shining in the sunlight. It is not unusual for the tree to be a cacophony of color: the gem-like blue and orange-red of the bluebird, dazzling yellow of the golden finch, and the shiny, almost iridescent shimmer of the blackbird. Not to be ignored, the more subtle, yet equally beautiful, shades of the sparrow, wren and mockingbird adorn its branches. Often my cat shelters there also, stretching out on a long limb, relaxing in the sunshine.

Beneath the tree, my dog, Linus, enjoys the shade and the ability to hide his treasures under the low-hanging branches. Part dog, part raccoon, he gathers his version of shiny objects: a plastic flower pot, several tennis balls in varying degrees of  destruction, a purloined T-shirt and remnants of an old pink blanket that used to grace the floor of his dog house. Nearby, his sister, Lucy, lies in the shade, just waiting for the opportunity to steal one of his possessions. Like any annoying sibling, she has no interest in his valuables other than to annoy her brother by stealing them.

All these beautiful creatures are encompassed in, or under, this one tree growing outside my window. Right now I can see the individual branches, the birds perched upon them, my cat and my dogs because linden trees don’t bud as early as many others. A late bloomer, leaves are just starting to emerge on the branches, thus giving me, in my second floor study, a bird’s eye view of the tree and all the beauty contained within it. Soon the leaves will fully emerge, and I’ll no longer be able to see beyond the outer leaves. I will only be able to hear the joyous songbirds warbling their songs, and next autumn, when the leaves fall, I’ll be able to look through the bare branches once again, to see the residual nests from the various birds which found shelter there. Although I will not be able to see them nesting or perching until then, I will know they are there.

This tree, which provides shelter, beauty, and nostalgic memories for me, is like life itself with all of its treasures and splendor. We can’t always see what’s contained inside, but that doesn’t make the richness any less real. This spring we’ve been given the opportunity to slow down and look at life in a different way. This spring we’ve been given the opportunity to assess our lives and our values. This spring we’ve been given the opportunity to determine the paths we will take when this pandemic is over. Our lives will change; they already have, and they will again. It’s going to be up to us whether we make the changes permanent, or which changes we will make permanent. We have the choice whether we seek the beauty we know is contained within, or whether we return to our hectic existence of before that left little time for reflection or appreciation. Choose wisely. We know, as never before, how quickly and thoroughly life can change.


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