Sunday, November 13, 2016

The old family cabin, up in smoke

It was a lovely fall morning, crisp under blue skies, with just a touch of frost until the breeze when I got down to the big garden to finish putting it to bed for the year.  There were a few more peppers to pick, and old iron tiller to haul up to the barn, and a lot of weeds to mow down and tomato cages to stack and store.  It took about an hour to hack down the tough weeds around the last of the potato patch, and I was thinking of one more cup of coffee up at the house when I took a look around.

And my blood froze. There on the northeast side of the hill, was a perfect column of white smoke over the tree line, the smoke drifting a bit on an unfelt puff.  I jumped into the RTV, threw it it into gear and gritted my teeth as we crawled up the hill towing trailer and mower.  At the foot of the driveway where Fran and Hal Strickland began building the family cabin in 1965, more smoke was moving through the trees.  I dashed across the road and into our driveway, blowing the lame little horn, grabbed my cell phone at the house and went back.  Renters that morning had left the cabin and locked the gate, and it took a moment to get it open and up the hill.

At first glance, it looked like a woods fire,  burning in patches around the house, but not yet on it. But not far from it either, and the first flames were just about to lick up the deck posts of one of the finest views of Piedmont Virginia that can be had from about 3,200 feet of elevation.  By the time I had run back downhill and called in the alarm to the Patrick County dispatcher, smoke was heavier -- and just like that I could see the first flames on the deck.

By the time I got the garage open to see if there was a rake or something to pull some of the fire apart, I heard glass bursting, as if someone were throwing brickbats at the big windows that gave the house such a grand view. I knew what that meant. Because even if the volunteer fire departments serving this part of southwest Virginia got up to us in record time, the house would still be gone.

It was, as houses go, a modest place -- a modified A-frame with a four-bed loft and a spiral staircase that my father-in-law had designed in his 50s, and that he and Fran had made their summertime home  for roughly a half-century.  Martha and I were courting when the house was going up, and over the years we put a lot of sweat equity into running wiring, hanging wallpaper, cutting firewood and enjoying the incomparable paradise that Patrick County can be.  There were innumerable family gatherings -- birthdays, Easter egg hunts when the young-uns were little, anniversaries, memories of Fran and Hal dancing to Lawrence Welk on Saturday evenings, gatherings of the aging folk group The Villagers back in their heyday, memories of Fred Birdsong and Jim Garrison,  both of them lost far too young to accident and disease.

In this place my children grew up, hanging onto the rear hitch and later the rollbars of Hal's succession of farm tractors -- the Econo 14, then his first Diesel, then a 21 horse New Holland.  In these fields our children first learned to drive a stick-shift transmission. And every Thanksgiving that they could find a ticket, they have come back east to the hills for the best family reunions you can imagine.

They'll be here next week, too, staying with us in the house we rebuilt in 2011 after another house fire, evidently started by a severe electrical storm in 2010 while we were in Raleigh packing for the beach.  It ill be sad for them to see the pitiful remains of a little cabin so loved by a far-flung family living in California and Hawaii and Mexico and  Idaho and Utah and Texas and Georgia. We'll still have wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations and carry on as families always do.

But we will miss that A-frame cabin, and the magnificent views, and soapstone wood stove that kept us warm in cool weather, and the bonds that Fran and Hal Strickland forged in their children's and grandchildren's lives.   It was just a house, you know, but a palace could not have been a better place to raise kids, eat like kings and look out over one of the most astonishing views on earth.

Monday, September 26, 2016

New golf course opens at Rocky Knob Tractor & Yacht Club, then closes

Probably nothing more hazardous or hilarious than a group of 70-year-old men getting together and acting like college freshmen once again, but that sorta describes what went on last week here at the Rocky Knob Tractor & Yacht Club.  Since we live in Virginia now, we have to have a name for the house, you know, and RKT&YC is ours.  There are several others.  Burnt Downs is one, but that's another and sadder story.
Groundskeeper Jack Betts, left, and New Course Superintendent Bob Kulp at Rocky Knob National

This year a group of old boys who first met in the winter of 1964-65 at Chapel Hill, and went on to be pretty fast friends over a lot of years, came up to Belcher Mountain for the annual Beta Beach Trip.  It long has been at places like Beaufort or Ocean Isle or Savannah, but this time they came up here. We rented two houses and got use of another, all overlooking the Rock Castle Gorge and the Piedmont, plus the RKT&YC, which overlooks a hayfield.  They started rolling in on Tuesday and rolled out on Saturday in time for the football game in Chapel Hill.
Duffers Rob Crowder, Mike Waltrip, Pete Whittington, Cary Raditz and Clay Harrell at Rocky Knob National

 We smoked ribs one night, went to Dogtown Roadhouse in Floyd for pizza one night, and boiled up shrimp and wahoo another night. Some went to to see Lee Chichester, our neighbor down the road and author of a book on falconry, for a closer look at her birds.  Some drove out to Old Mill to play some golf.  Some went down to the Blue Ridge Music Center to play some music in the Friday Midday Music Jam there.  Some sat around and told stories for about the 11 gazillionth time.

But it was Dr. Bob Kulp, a crackerjack golfer, who had the best idea.  He brought up some clubs and pins and cups and flags and a bag of gently used golf balls from his course down in Georgia.  I had been mowing out a short course in our hayfield for several weeks.  We planted the cups and flew the flags and doled out the clubs, pairing non-golfers with veterans, and held a tournament.

Well, you might have called it mass chaos interrupted by too much merriment and too little golf expertise, but we called it a tournament -- the first ever at The New Course at Rocky Knob National Golf Club.  We believe it to be the finest tournament classic for a two-hole, 100-foot-long course anywhere in the free world.  That's our story, and we're sticking to it.

No one can accurately remember who won.  Things got a little hazy.   High spirits and such, if you know what I mean.  But everyone had the same chance to whack a golf ball and send it off somewhere into the toughest roughs you will find at any tournament sanctioned by Dr. Kulp. In fact, it was so popular that we had to close it down after two days, and sad to say, the New Course at Rocky Knob National no longer is open.  Okay, the cups are still in the ground, and it could be revived on short notice, but it's late in the haying season, and it's time to bring on the tractors.

Bill Gordon and Rocky Knob National Legal Counsel Scott Patterson

A bunch of old guys in the background, and announcer Pete Whittington with the Bug Light Microphone

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tom Dooley and Laura Foster, still pulling them in

We were packed into the living room of a home perched on the lower slope of one of those mountains surrounding Phoenix the other day, listening to a band called The Lion Sons singing and playing songs we had heard most of our lives.  Then Mike Marvin, the guitar player, paused and brought it all home.  Funny, wasn't it, he asked, that a woman who lived in the 1860s was still bringing us all together, time after time.
Tim Gorelanton, Mike Marvin and Josh Reynolds -- The Lion Sons

Everyone in the room knew who he meant, though it still took a moment to follow that line of reasoning, but he was absolutely right.  Had not Laura Foster died of stab wounds at the hand of Tom Dula in Wilkes County, N.C. in 1866, we probably wouldn't be going to considerable expense and effort to attend gatherings like the one in Phoenix all across the land -- and contemplating attending more of them next year.

But because Tom Dula (locally pronounced Dooley in the mid-19th century in Wilkes County) was accused, tried and convicted of Laura Foster's murder, and because someone wrote a song about Tom Dooley, and because a long time later an entertaining group called The Kingston Trio recorded a new arrangement of the song, and because that song went to the top of the charts, made the trio wealthy, and promoted a late 1950s folk music revival that still reverberates today, we join hundreds of other Kingston Trio fans in places like Alpharetta GA and Scottsdale AZ and maybe next year Astoria OR.

I know, I know.  Some folks chuckle at the idea of the Kingston Trio. It was, after all, the hottest musical group in the world for a few years, before the Beach Boys and the Beatles came along.  One story goes that the Beatles in their early years once opened for the Kingston Trio, but I don't know if that's true or not.   What many do not know is that the trio, in its current version, still tours with a couple of hundred concerts around the country each year.  One of its founders, Bob Shane, is still alive and performing his signature "Scotch and Soda," a great song that, another story goes, Frank Sinatra declined to record only because he could not do it as well as Bob Shane.  About the only person in the world I know who can sing it like Bob Shane is my buddy Wood Allen, who is a great singer and player.

Each year, about three dozen serious fans of the Kingston Trio pay about $4,200 each to attend the Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp in Scottsdale, AZ (after a week there in the Arizona heat, the former Party Doll Strickland has renamed it "Scorchdale").  During the week, the campers rehearse much of the day, and each night there's a new concert.  The group sings a number or two with the current trio of George Grove (a Wake Forest University grad from Hickory), Bill Zorn and Rick Dougherty.  Each camper also plays songs with a newly formed trio made up of other campers, and each camper sings a solo with two of the Kingstons.  There's a lot of music on that stage at Scottsdale Resort.

I didn't go as a camper, but as a guest of Wood Allen and as a hanger-on, because the resort makes rooms available for, pun intended, a relative song, to anyone who wants to hang out with these folks. They jam late into the night with others who come to enjoy the music and make some, too, and with a group of Bloodliners,  the name for ardent fans of singer songwriter John Stewart, who played with the trio for years and who produced his own albums, one of which was called California Bloodlines.  Thus the Bloodliners, and these fans are pretty tight with Kingston Trio fans, so every gathering is an enthusiastic reunion of old friends from around the globe.  My friend Tom Craig is a Scot, but he makes the journey every year to see other old friends, including Tom O'Donnell, a West Virginian who has a home in Great Britain not far from the other Tom.   It's amazing to run into recent friends and old buddies who have been on the music circuit for years in amateur and professional appearances.

And it was amazing to hear The Lion Sons, two of whom are related to Nick Reynolds, the original Kingston Trio performer who played that smallish Martin Tenor Guitar and was a fan favorite for years until his death in 2008.  Nick's son Josh plays with the Sons, as does Nick's nephew Mike Marvin, who pointed out the connection between Laura Foster and hundreds of fans' reason for coming to these gatherings.  Also in the group is tall Tim Gorelangton, but a story of Mike and Josh grabbed me in the gut.  Nick had taken a teenaged Mike into his home to live when Josh was still a small boy.  Neither of them remember Nick singing in the Reynolds home, with one exception: When Nick put the boys to bed each night, he would sing Woody Guthrie's "Hobo's Lullaby" before they fell asleep.  It's a sweet song with a soft pace, and when they sang it for the crowd that hot sleeping afternoon in Phoenix, I'll wager there wasn't a totally dry eye in the house:

"....Go to sleep you weary hobo,
Let the towns go drifting by,
Feel the steel rails singing,
That's the Hobo's Lullaby......"

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fretwell's Bass Shop: An All-American Institution

When you step off of West Beverly Street in downtown Staunton VA and through the doors of No. 17, you step into one of the great institutions of American culture.  No, not a museum, or a college classroom, or a majestic courtroom with all the trappings of a justice system built upon the best principles of the ages.

Nope. You're walking into a music store with a reverence for tradition, a respect for honest, well-built instruments that people can make a living playing, and the skills of the luthier and the ability to put back together stringed instruments that have had the daylights beaten out of them over the years. And the friendliness to make you feel good about dropping in. And the inclination to drop everything, pick up a bass or a guitar or a banjo, and start jamming with a stranger or an old friend.

You're talking, in other words, about Jerry and Mary Jane Farewell's Fretwell Bass and Acoustic Instruments shop.  Every good music town has a shop sort of like this.  Barr's Fiddle Shop in downtown Galax comes immediately to mind, and I've walked through the doors of a dozen more across the south in my 70 years.  The best of them buy, sell, trade, repair and encourage jamming.

Jerry Freewill

But Farewell's is special to me for several reasons.  They fixed me up with a wonderful old 1959 Kay bass fiddle a few years ago after my 1946 Kay burned to a cinder in a house fire.  And with Jerry's semi-retirement recently (he still comes in and works, but Mary Jane says if you're looking for him, head to the nearest golf course), The Fretwells and their staff, Travis Weaver and Sissy Hutching, his wife, agreed to a request from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation for a serviceable bass for use in the Blue Ridge Music Center's Midday Music Program.  That bass will be available for use in any of the seven-days-a-week free music performances from noon to 4 p.m. at the Music Center, located a few miles south of Galax near Milepost 213.
Mary Jane and Jerry Freewill

The Fretwells decided to donate a 1982 Engelhardt C-1 with new strings, new adjustable bridge and other work to make the bass look good again, as a way of paying back the folks around Galax for their loyal business over the years.  It's a good four hours from Staunton to Galax down I-81 and I-77 to the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention at Felts Park, and for years the Fretwells hauled a trailer full of 20 or so ready-to-go basses, plus boxes full of new strings, sound posts, bridges, clamps, glues and tools to restring and repair basses right on the spot.  Many's the night they stayed up late revitalizing old bases and jamming with the thousands who have attended America's oldest fiddle competition, as it's often described, and the Fretwells got a lot of business out of Galax. So when the Foundation, whose board I chair this year, recently requested a bass donation, the owners and their staff thought about it, did a little research, and decided it was a way for them to give back to a community that Jerry Fretwell says "was always good to us." And it leaves players in years to come a reminder of the Farewell's place in the region's tradition of old-time, bluegrass, folk, mountain and other sorts of traditional roots music.

The Farewell's generosity in donating the reconditioned bass is important.  When you're jamming, you need someone playing the bass, not just for the deep tone of the notes, but especially for the percussive time-keeping a good bass player provides.  If the bass can provide a consistent beat, everyone can play on time and sound good.  If there's no bass available, sometimes there's a musical train wreck.  I've been playing my old '59 Kay in the Friday Open Jam at the Blue Ridge Music Center for several years, but I can't be there every week.  We often has someone who can play a bass fiddle, but we don't always have a bass available.  Now, thanks to the Farewell's donation, we'll have a bass at all times for someone to play.  It's a huge thing to have access to such an instrument, and we're grateful.

Last week, Richard Emmett, the Foundation staffer who runs the music program for the Park Service at the Blue Ridge Music Center, and Broaddus Fitzpatrick of Roanoke, a former board chair who now chairs our board advisory committee on the music center, and I drove up to Staunton to see the Fretwells and pick up their donation.  We heard funny stories about the bass business, about music makers and the stars who have dropped in to jam with Jerry, about how the shop's craftsmen have put back together old basses with some life still left in them, and we heard them jam.  Here are a few more pictures from that session:
Mary Jane, Jerry, Travis Weaver and Sissy Hutching

Travis Weaver, left, on guitar, Sissy Hutching on the ukulele, and Jerry on his prized Epiphone B-1

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Denim Ball

Never knew Moses and Bertha Cone, of course, as Moses died early in the 20th century and Bertha died when I was a year old.  But I've always been grateful to them and to Moses' brother Ceasar.  You see, if they hadn't moved South back in the late 1880s to begin building what became the Cone Mills industrial dynasty -- and become the world's biggest producer of denim -- I would not exist.  It's a longish story, but the more important one is this:

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, which I chair this year, has raised millions of dollars since its founding for the Blue Ridge Parkway, perennially either the top or the second most popular unit in the National Parks system.  And Flattop Manor, the marvelous summer home that is centerpiece of the BRP's 3500-acre Moses H. Cone Memorial Park near Blowing Rock, needs help. The Foundation has committed to raising a lot of money to help preserve the house and to undertake maintenance and improvement projects all over the park, including the carriage house.  So we're holding a fundraiser on Saturday Aug. 6 at another grand place in Blowing Rock, Chetola Lodge, to help raise money to pay for those projects.  We're calling it the Denim Ball, which seems appropriate, as Moses Cone is often referred to as the Denim King.  Here's our logo for that function:

You can read more about the Denim Ball and the needs of Flattop Manor at our website and you can order tickets there, or by calling (866) 308-2773, ext. 245.  It's $100 per ticket, with dinner, entertainment, dancing and an auction.

I confess I care about this for a lot of reason. One of them is my passion for the Parkway, and the Cone Memorial Park is an important part of that.  The other is my family's connection to the Cones. I don't mean we were close.  But there were relationships.  My father John Betts' boyhood friend was Clarence Cone in Greensboro in the first quarter of the 20th century.  My uncle Tad Paine's father was a textile executive in his own right, and had a strong partnership with the Cones, and my cousin Sid Paine had summer jobs in those textile mills, fixing looms among the racket and clamor of the mill. And I grew up knowing Larry Cone, father of Kristin Cone, long a member of our Foundation's Council of Advisors.

But here's what I really appreciate about that extended Cone family.  In the depths of the Great Depression, my mother was a school teacher in Anderson, S.C., living at home because teachers' salaries were deplorable in those days.  She heard about a company up in Greensboro that was offering qualifying teachers a pretty good deal if they would come to Greensboro and do a little extra work for a little extra money, checking up on Cone millworkers' families to make sure things were okay at home, that sort of thing.  By today's standards this kind of arrangement would sound positively patronizing, I suppose, but the Cones did a lot of good in Greensboro -- built a YMCA, held patriotic picnics, sponsored a band, helped build schools and churches, paid for athletics programs and so on.

So Olive Minor came up from South Carolina to Greensboro to teach at Proximity School, surrounded by mill houses, and got an extra month's salary for her social work visiting students' homes.  And she met John Betts at a dance, and impressed him by accidentally sitting down on his fedora at a dance and they laughed about it, and after a long courtship and marrying in 1937, and enduring a world war, they finally gave in to my sister's begging them for a little brother, and she gave birth to me 70 years ago this week.  My parents never had it easy, but they had good lives, and I'll never forget what brought them together in the first place.

That's just one reason I'm buying tickets for the Denim Ball Aug. 6.  I hope you can, too, or at least send the Foundation a donation for this good cause.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Remembering an old sailor

From a Facebook post July 4, 2016:

Our family is spread out all across the United States these days, and have been for years, but I can tell you the children and grandchildren of John M. "Windy" Betts are toasting his 110th Birthday today from Virginia, Utah, Idaho and California.

 Born in a house just across the street from the Executive Mansion in Raleigh on Independence Day in 1906, he was a happy feller every one of the nearly 48 years I spent as his boy -- but none happier, in my memory, than when we were out in the middle of nowhere camping in a pine forest or on the water somewhere, hauling in halyards and flying along at, oh, 6 or 7 miles an hour tops. He left us in 1994, at age 88, having never uttered a complaint, and rarely an angry word. 

You can see the joy this man carried with him in this photo from, I would guess, about 1913 or so -- future sailor, but already a splendid person. Happy Birthday, B.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Spring, and grateful for it

  What I had in mind was sitting in one of the deck rockers, cool drink in hand, and gazing over rank on rank and row on row of apple trees, swaying gently in the wind with a variety of bright red and glowing golden fruit on the limbs.

   Maybe one day, but we evidently won't be there for years.  And we probably won't be sitting in rockers, either, for I have discovered one of the key rules about growing apples: don't plan on sitting around much, unless you can afford to hire people to do the work for you.

   Since sometime last fall, I have been running pretty hard trying to get a new fence in to protect the new apple trees and get them staked out and pruned and braced and fertilized and sprayed and..... I forgot what comes next, but it won't be rockin' and sippin' and takin'in the sights, apparently.

We are, however, making some progress. This is how things looked back in March, when the ground was still pretty hard and I was just beginning to bore postholes.  The only protection from deer were some smallish cages that didn't quite do the job.

And this is how things looked this morning -- posts in, fences up, stakes in the ground, trunk guards on, trainers in on some trees, and everything leafed out.

May 9    

And the lower part of the new orchard, facing an elderly Northern Spy and, further down the slope behind another tree, a Cheese Apple.
What you can't see is the whuppin' that nature brings these little guys -- battering from a late freeze, harsh winds, mean little ants and mites and crawlers, some powdery looking fuzz and some ugly spots here and there that make me wonder why I ever thought this would be easy. I'm spraying for everything and hoping for the best.  But everything is still alive, as of the moment, and the 12 heritage apple trees I discovered last year around the rest of this old farm now turn out to be maybe 13 or 14, now that we have had a crew in to renovate most of them and give the trees room and guidance to grow.  They are responding vigorously, and we have high hopes.

Our orchard is probably too small to be called an orchard -- patch is probably more like it, but we're not done planting yet, just pausing to catch our breath, and backing up about 50 feet to squint and see how good everything looks, here in the full glorious inhalation of Spring.   Thank you kindly. And come see us.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

On The Fence

The plan was simple:

1. Get our woodcutter and his cherry-picker over here no later than the end of October to take down the overhanging trees at the west end of our high field, shave off the leaners for a couple of hundred yards and clean up the limbs, chips and sawdust.

2. Get the new fence -- I did mention a fence, didn't I?  Years ago Diane Flynt told me if I wanted to grow apples, put up a good fence first -- up by no later than the end of November.

3.  Plant the rest of the apple trees no later than the end of the year, and disassemble the individual apple tree cages that initially kept the deer from getting at the apples, but by now were just restricting growth that desperately needed to be pruned, braced, tied back and otherwise trained to new shapes..
Not quite an orchard -- just an apple patch

4.  Prune all the trees in the apple patch -- it isn't really an orchard just yet, with just a dozen trees at the time, but it will be -- in January and spray with a urea solution all the old dead leaves on the ground.

5. Hire someone to prune the 12  old heritage apple trees -- neglected for many years instead of getting the pruning and other attention that apples need -- that bore fruit on this old farm in the Spring of 2015, and spray those trees too.

6.  Be ready to spray all the trees, new and old, with dormant oil and copper by the time they begin to bud and show leaves.


Didn't happen, for a variety of reasons that all have to do with the usual Rhythms of Life -- stuff happens, things don't quite work out the way you planned, you do the best you can.

So our woodcutter came by the first week of January and got the hardwoods at the end of the field cut down and trimmed back, and tidied up a bit. Then 13 inches of snow fell and the ground froze and the winds of February howled.  An experienced crew of pruners came and got 11 of the 12 old trees pruned to better shape -- renovated, apple growers call it -- before a sudden snowstorm stopped them in their tracks on a viciously miserable day in early February.  Haven't seen them since, and that 12th tree, thought to be a Northern Spy, still needs more work
ready to bore the postholes

The fence material was delivered in late winter, ground still hard as concrete.  Got 42 stakes in the ground precisely where I wanted them.  Never realized you could pound a plastic stake into ground hard as concrete, but when you are desperate, you can coax them in.  In early March a mild thaw and a warm rain loosened the dirt. Over two days I bored 42 holes with the 6-inch augur mounted on my tractor.  Most of the holes were in the same vicinity as the stakes I had marked them with, but on a steep grade some of them went in different directions.  Rhythms of Life, ibid.   Used an analog posthole digger -- a Mankiller, Barnie Day calls it -- to straighten out those holes that went hither, tither and yither.

Got the posts into the holes and the corners braced up with horizontal timbers, reasonably level and plum and ready for fencing.  Started unrolling the heavy-duty plastic deer fencing ( that we stapled to the posts with 1 1/4" long galvanized staples, and got ready to zip-tie the fencing to three strands of 12-gauge monofilament line that circles the 10,000-square-foot apple patch.   Got about halfway through the job before I fell, in an unguarded moment, from the utterly ridiculous height of, oh, maybe 2 feet maximum, flat on my back.  Still don't know how the leg got banged up but the back has been complaining petulantly and relentlessly ever since. Treating it with a potion of Knob Creek's finest and Rocky Knob Tractor & Yacht Club wellwater. Rhythms of Life, op cit.

Got the third leg of fencing up yesterday and hope to get the final leg up tomorrow.  Staples are going in much more slowly, and the hammerer is cussing at a faster and more alarming rate.
Down by the southeast corner

Had a 90-minute tutorial from Diane Flynt, founder and owner of Foggy Ridge Cidery,  last week on pruning young apple trees, and finally got our apples, at least the new ones, in some better shape for the new season. Opened up the middles of the trees, took out unwanted growth sorted through central leaders, braced horizontally as many of the remaining limbs as I could and began to remove the individual cages.   Too late for spraying urea, but dormant oil with copper will come soon for all the trees.
Diane Flynt demonstrates pruning a young apple tree at her orchard

We're holding our breaths that a herd of deer won't come stampeding through the new unfinished and as yet not quite functional fence.  I scrounged up a rusty, flimsy old gate that my father-in-law had discarded years ago, and propped that up where a new 10-foot wide mower gate will go one day.

The old gate is held together by habit and rust, mostly, and I think a deer could lick its way through the middle in about two or three minutes, but it looks heftier than it is.  So do I, but I am starting to win this long fight, and if the back doesn't go out again, I might have it all wrapped up in a couple of weeks, if the bourbon and the staples last.    If not, surely by the end of October.  Late November for sure.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Of saloon boats and fiddles and things that fly off the handle

A few years ago we were helping our friends Theresa and Brian Palmer bring their 42-foot Khady Krogen    trawler "Intermission"back up the intracoastal waterway from Vero Beach, Fl.  Brian is a Scotsman and a furniture designer, and I very much admired a little doodad he had put together that I immediately recognized as a handy thing.  I've forgotten what he called it, but I knew I was going to steal his idea and make one of my own.

Boat owners and recreation vehicle owners know that one constant of life on the water or on the road is that things are nearly constantly in motion -- from waves, from winds, from uneven roads and the swaying and heeling and corkscrewing that comes from rounding corners, trimming sails, speeding up, slowing down and sometimes even just walking around the vessel or the RV.   And because those vehicles move in unpredictable ways, the number of items that will slide off a table, or take flight during a bumpy ride, or otherwise vibrate to the edge of the known world and fall off, is endless:  Cups of coffee, paperback book, cell phone, wallet, glasses, bag of chips, a pencil -- you name it, if you put it down carelessly, it will soon be airborne.  And possibly broken or lost or worse.

What Brian made is a little wooden tray with a rim around it that sailors call fiddles. The rim keeps object from sliding off the tray or table.  And the tray has a little keel under it, a strip of wood attached perpendicular to the bottom, that fits in between the cushion of the settee in the saloon and holds it stead..  That's what sailors often call the couch in the main cabin.  So I call the tray a sofa boat or a saloon boat, and for our Forest River motorhome our saloon boat fits right in the slot between the settee cushions of our saloon, and holds all manner of things that once went a-flying at even the merest hint of a sway or a bump or a swerve.  I made it out of some leftover cherry and walnut that was on its way to the kindling bin.

Genuine authentic not quite exact knock-off of Intermission's saloon boat

Brian and Theresa are down in the Bahamas right now on Intermission, and we have been in Florida.  I felt compelled to tell Brian that I had stolen his idea. So I messaged him:  "Brian: I have stolen your sofa boat idea and adapted it to our RV. I have instructed my accountant to figure out what would be a reasonable royalty for a one-off such as this. I am happy to report that it works as well on a land yacht as on Intermission.  Cheers! Jack"

Truth to tell, I had in mind a glass of Macallan whiskey for a suitable royalty, as Brian is a Scot, but I was willing to consider anything up to, say, $1 in cash.  A glass of Macallan would be several multiples of that, so I was sure he would opt for the Scotch.

And Brian messaged back: "Very interesting, an excellent copy. My attorney will be in touch with you. This is a flagrant abuse of my design copyright #XYV 001-2645. Mind you attorneys are tough to find down here in the Abacos. It may be awhile before you hear anything.  Capt. Brian"

So if you hear of me being hauled into court and sued for stealing Brian's idea, you'll already know I have confessed from the get-go and offered what I consider a handsome royalty.  No need to get the lawyers involved. Anyone else drink to that?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Packing in the bivalves at Blue Dog Oyster Roast, Richmond

Baker Ellett, political consultant and real estate broker, has held for 11 years the annual Blue Dog Oyster Roast to benefit the local food bank in Richmond.  Friday he was joined by hundreds of friends and acquaintances toting donations for the food bank.  It was held behind his business, Blue Dog Properties in the Scott's Addition area of Richmond, and they stayed for hours, throwing down hot steamed oysters and cold Founder's IPA and sampling Barnie Day's wrap-cooked ham and all kinds of other goodies.  Here are a few scenes from the festivities:
Baker Ellett rakes oysters off the cooktop that have steamed for about 8 minutes under wet burlap.

Old friends former Virginia Del. Barnie Day, ink-stained wretches Jack Betts, late of the Charlotte Observer and columnist Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and political consultant and real estate broker Baker Ellett, organizer of the annual event.

Some of J&W Seafood's finest oysters from down somewhere near Deltaville. Not sure if these are Rappahannock or Yorks, but they were all good.