The Comfort of a Circle

Our time in Texas is coming to a close and Dawny and I have been heartened by a blessed circle of friendships.  New friends, old friends, and unexpected friends.

Last week I was talking with Lee, a volunteer at the Escapees CARE Center (www.escapeescare.org), and we discovered that we know each other’s blogs.  Now we know each other.  How sweet is that?  She is a solo traveler, like me, with a four-legged companion (in her case, a “curious cat”).  Lee writes a beautiful blog, www.overtlysimple.com, where she journals her thoughts and experiences starting a few years before she became a full-time RV traveler two years ago.

I was also able to catch up with many of my old friends who reside at CARE.  Lorraine, who full-timed with a tiny towed trailer before settling down at CARE, continues to exercise her creative talents on her newest blog, www.threequartersandcounting.com.  In addition to nourishing her green thumb on pots upon pots of plantings, she builds bottle trees to brighten her tiny yard and the yards of many of her CARE neighbors.  Lorraine’s blog from her traveling days can be found at:  www.tabteardroptravels.blogspot.com.

Another friend from CARE, Brian, treated me to several lunches at the dining room–the cooks there are awesome–and shared charming stories that he has been writing about his life.  Bud, with whom I used to share a table at meal time and an occasional dance during Thursday afternoon jam sessions, greeted me with a great big smile and a big strong hug when I showed up again.  Tom, another former table-mate, is a newlywed now, married to Patsy, whom he met at CARE.  It brings a special joy to see new love sprout from a couple strolling through the twilight gardens.

A few of my old friends have, unfortunately, passed on, leaving a vivid reminder to let your last word be a kind word, your last hug be warm, and your parting smile, sincere.  For they may well be the last.  And it is a blessed gift if sweetness lingers when emptiness reigns.

Dawny and I are also grateful for new friendships, with Marsha, Mr. Mike, and Uncle Joe at the top of our list.  There is a real community spirit at this campground (Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park).  While Dawny has been showered with cookies and love, I have enjoyed our walks, many friendly visits, and an occasional movie at the campground club house.  Dawny’s Uncle Joe doubles as The Movie Man, showing movies two nights per week, complete with popcorn and a delectable assortment of sweet treats, all at his own expense and effort.  There are many other activities that take place during the week for those who enjoy socializing.

It has been a fine winter.  The Good Lord and Lady Luck willing, we will return to this area next year.  Meanwhile, we are preparing for our journey to Florida in a few days.  We look forward to seeing old-new friends at the campground we wintered at the past two years, as well as a visit with a good friend from an online RV forum.  Then, onward we shall roll to our old homestead in Virginia.

We are starting to wear a comfortable path on these roads we travel upon, with more and more way stations containing familiar, welcoming faces.  We are not randomly wandering.  We are not inefficiently zig-zagging.  We are riding on a giant circle of hugs.

Wild River, Beloved Land

A year or so ago, I saw the movie “Wild River” (released in 1960).  As usual, the TV was on as background while I was doing other things, so I didn’t watch too closely, but I got the gist of the story.  A government official shows up in rural Tennessee and must convince a stubborn old woman, Ella Garth, to leave her home and her beloved land to make way for progress.

The movie takes place in the 1930s when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began damming up the Tennessee River and many of its tributaries, submerging land that had been in some families for generations under brand new lakes.  The purpose was to control rampant flooding and to provide power generation.  On its face, a boring story line… unless you lived it.  And the ending was pretty sad, no matter which side you were on.  There was a romantic subplot, but it struck me as an afterthought–and not particularly engaging–compared to the struggle between Ella and the government man, the river and the land.

The picture at the top of this post is of the Cherokee Reservoir, formed when TVA dammed the Holston River in the early 1940s to help meet energy demands at the start of World War II.  The islands in the picture used to be hilltops.  Now they are islands available for intrepid boater-campers to use for a day or an evening of secluded fun.  In the movie, Ella is buried in the old family plot on top of her island, the only piece of the Garth homestead to remain above water.

I took the shot from the Panther Creek State Park Overlook (I made it, Lynda!). Way in the distance on the right hand side you can see the Cumberland Gap, which Daniel Boone helped to clear in 1775, enabling easier passage across the Appalachians for settlers heading from Virginia into Kentucky and Tennessee, a critical peg in the progress of westward expansion.  A few miles from the state park is Morristown, home to the Crockett Tavern Museum (housed in a replica building representing the tavern run by Davy Crockett’s parents near this location in the 1790s).

fullsizerender-1585This rich mix of beauty, history, and storytelling (Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, hosts an annual Storytelling Festival early each October) is one of the things that attracts me so strongly to east Tennessee.  That, and the people.

A couple who befriended me in the campground this summer has taken me on several long drives so that I can enjoy the sights from the passenger seat and not worry about traffic and mountainous, winding roads.  They grew up in this area, and its hills and mountains, rivers and streams, roads and trails are mapped in their bones.  They are not content to sit put, enjoying the view from a distance, but instead are always going out on long drives into the heart of the countryside which, ever-changing, never grows old.  Fortunately for me, they are generous, friendly souls, willing and proud to share this piece of their earth, this piece of their heart.

Enough with the sentimentality!  To wrap up, here are two lovely campgrounds near TVA constructs for interested readers:

  1.  Watauga Dam Campground near Wilbur Dam outside of Elizabethton, TN (link:  wataugadam.com).  A TVA-run campground, it is very small (28 sites) and absolutely beautiful.  You need to travel quite a few miles down a winding, narrow road along the Watauga River to get to it.  The campground lies right on the riverside and has level, gravel sites with E/W hookups for $25-$27 per night.  Thoroughly secluded and peaceful, it also looks to be very well maintained.
  2. Panther Creek State Park Campground on Cherokee Lake, Morristown, TN (link:  tnstateparks.com/parks/campground/panther-creek).  The campground is small (50 sites), with E/W hookups for $20/night.  Some sites will only accommodate smaller rigs, but there are larger sites interspersed.  When making reservations, you might want to call and talk to someone familiar with the campground before picking your spot.  The campground isn’t on the lake but it is a short drive to the overlook, boat ramp, pool, playground, and many hiking, bicycling, and horse trails.  At over 1,400 acres, the park itself is huge and has much to offer.

Happy camping, happy campers.  May you ever be happily ensconced on the high ground, with loved ones and friends to share the view.

(Dedicated to Becky and Roger, Karen, and Jean, new friends and gracious travel-guides during my stay in their home, east Tennessee.)

A Village of Angels

Sounds pretty nice, huh?  A village of angels.

Well, that just happens to be what I’ve landed in!

You know the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Well, that works at the other extreme of our lives’ stories as well.  As we age, it often takes a village to love one another well, to get to really know and appreciate each other, offer support when needed and desired, and share with generous spirits when some of our lives veer off into sometimes cruel detours brought on by poor health or deep, aching loss.

I made it to the CARE Center (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees) last week.  CARE is unique.  It is the only place in the country (maybe even the world) that offers assistance to RV’ers who need to stay in one place for a time for medical reasons.  It is actually open to non-RV’ers, as well, but the vast majority of residents have RV backgrounds of one variety or another.

Residents live in their own homes.  Their RVs–which have ramps built next to them for safe access–surround the main facility that houses the dining hall, multi-activities room, and nursing and administrative offices.  CARE also offers a daily care (ADC) program for people needing more concentrated assistance.  For more details, you can visit their website at www.escapeescare.org.

But CARE is much more than you will ever find on a website or in a brochure.  Most of the residents share a common love of travel, of RV’ing and camping–some for vacations or extended travel and many for full-time living.  This common element is a special glue that helps to bond the program’s participants–residents, ADC, staff, and volunteers–together.  Honestly, in my former work I encountered a great many people in a variety of retirement and assisted living communities, and I’ve never seen this kind of cohesiveness.  People here truly care for one another, watch out for each other, and give of themselves to the best of their ability.

The angel in this picture was made by a beautiful, extraordinary lady who attends the ADC program.  Her name is Frances.  She gave it to me as a thank you gift for helping her during the bingo game–I was her lucky sidekick who helped break her losing streak with a two-game win.

But what she gave me was worth more than she knows.  For Frances has some major physical challenges that severely impair her movement, hearing, and ability to communicate–things most of us totally take for granted.  I honestly did not know what Frances’ abilities were when I sat down to help her with her four bingo cards, and I was nervous about doing too much or too little or talking too loud and not being able to understand what she was trying to say.

By the time the 90 minute tournament was over, I had a real sense of the woman next to me.  Her strength, her intelligence, her abilities that went well beyond what you could see from the outside.  We were in sync.  Mostly without words.

The words came later.

Later, in the dining room, I was talking to Crystal, officially the CARE Volunteer Coordinator but in reality the beating heart of the place.  Crystal saw Frances looking at us, trying to get our attention.  She went over to her and I followed.  When I bent down, for the first time I could understand everything Frances said.  “Thank you for helping me.  I want to give you something.”

She struggled to stand.  Dawn, a beautiful caregiver, helped her with her walker.  Frances went over to a table with crafts material on it.  She picked up this delicate, lace angel.  She gave it to me.

A village.

Of angels.

Of love.

Of generosity.

And incredible strength.

I only hope and pray that I can return in some measure the priceless gifts I receive during my time in this very special place.