Some things you take for granted; some things make you think. Other things make you rejoice. We take for granted the times when the weather is clement, think how hard the settlers had it when they had to somehow make it through the winter. We rejoice when in spite of bitter cold, we wake up without icicles hanging from our noses and our fingers freezing off. Such was OLD CHRISTMAS which occurred Jan. 8 and 9, 2011.
It was a quiet event to say the least. With the snow piling high and temps in single digits , one had to be nuts to even come out. Friday was a slippery day, snow and mud, and when Mike and I made the trek, we kept saying we had to be crazy to do it. When he approached the fort and spun a 180 on the snow near the main opening, we KNEW we had to be missing a few screws. We set up the Hillbilly Hilton as the Palatine German cabin and proceeded to admire the other cabins that the rest of the crazies were occupying.
Earl and Jacob Slagle took over the man-cave to cook a wonderful saurbraten and keep the place warm to serve mountains of food made by those who came. They slept in the Dutch cabin, manned by Chad Bogart. It looked so elegant, blue and white Delft, cheerful greenery, beautiful, authentic accoutrements. Ronnie Lail set up the Tavern in English style. That and the Talbot House, set up as a Scots-Irish Christmas scene by Tony DeVault and Bob McCroskey completed the scenario.
At night, both nights, Earl, Jacob, Chad, Mike and I slept in the fort. I did a lot of hard thinking in the dimness of candle and lamp light, listening to the wind, watching the snow fall. As I wrapped up fighting the creeping cold, unable to work on much, I thought of all the times I took comfort for granted. I thought about the women, especially, who had to live under conditions much harsher than in that cabin which at least had a wood floor, wondering how they dealt with cold and the pain of cracking knuckles chapping because they had to carry wood in bitter cold and keep their children safe and comfortable . Mike and I talked and told stories because there was not much else we could do and were grateful for Amy’s company late Saturday night. It felt like family drinking tea, sharing childhood memories.
The night was impossibly cold, zero degrees and frankly, I told Mike I was scared. This was going to be the test to see if our work in the fall was going to pay off. Would we all be safe? Would we all end up sick? I wasn’t worried about myself so much as Mike whose healed but shattered legs would feel the effect. It was almost like going up into space for the first time, wondering if we would make it back. Huzzah! In spite of the fact that the water froze in the pails and the food froze into hard lumps elsewhere in the fort, we were reasonably comfortable and appreciative of that. There was very little public in attendance on either day, except for a large family from California who didn’t know better. :o) Amy Aprile, her sisters and Mom, and Sherry Shook spent most of the day in the German cabin. In Cabin 4, there were no less than 8 and usually up to 12 people in that confined space. Mike would escape the sea of estrogen occassionally and go outside and read. Amy cooked a delicious cornish pasty, her first experience with open hearth cooking. Shockingly, Norma and Richard Richie made it in from Mountain City and visited with us and those in the Tavern too.
Most of the day, Saturday was taken up with cooking. Biscuits and venison sausage from the German cabin for all who were there, then a round of food all day long. Dave Shook, in his newly made Scottish regalia brought in a real haggis , oaken cakes all of which he made. The feast started with Chad’s full meal of sliced brisket ,sides and sweets. The first footers then made it to the Tavern for ham and veggies, the scottish fare. A short walk to the Talbot House for Guinness Stew, Irish spotted dick and mulled ciders and Amy’s pasty. Later in the day, we assembled in Earl’s and Linda’s baliwick for saurbraten, saurkraut, cheese, German sausage and I brought over the German venison stew in port wine, stollen and sweets.
Saturday night was fearful. I was really running scared, wondering if we would make it through zero degrees, wishing for my warm bed, creaming my bleeding knuckles, chapped lips, appreciating the settlers. We did it, though, and Sunday was a repitition. Everyone assembled in the Dutch cabin and Elder Shawn Roberson from Ronnie’s church in Unicoi, gave a marvelous sermon, reminding us all why were were assembled. The day was sunny and there were more people wandering though the camp, exploring their roots. Tim Massey, whose pictures you are looking at (God bless him), came to capture the rustic beautify of the fort and share his great company. One family came all the way from Knoxville, specifically to see where their forefathers came from. We ended the day, sharing our simple repasts from Saturday and sliding our way home.
It was a weekend of wonder, reflection, survival and joy in each other’s company. The fort rang with laughter, music and the voices telling tales and stories. For me, it was the experience of living as close as I ever did in the manner of the first people who occupied this place. It was scary at times, uncomfortable at times but always made me appreciate even more who I was with and who had been before and the 21st century blessings I have.