Oh, y'all. I had the best damn time I've had in years and years and once again I have Lis to thank and Lon, too. They got me off my ass and into their world and it was a whole lot of magic. I spent most of time in that tiny kitchen and how we managed to get enough food out of it to feed at least a hundred people three meals a day is nothing short of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.
Frankly, it's impossible.
Truthfully, we did it. And it was wonderful.
And while that was happening, music was happening everywhere.
When I first met Lis and Lon, they lived in St. Augustine and I would visit them and their people, their friends and loved ones, enfolded me in a way I've not known before or since. There seemed to be no hurdles to jump, no tests to take, no nothing to prove.
Here I was, I was Mary, I was the friend of Lis and Lon, I was loved. And I fell in love with so many of those folks in return. I look back now and I think about how I really did become a small part of that community. I would go over to folk festivals and help in the hospitality tent, making sure the artists had food to eat and things to drink. I worked side-by-side with Lis and when she was onstage, which she always was at one time or another, I watched with as much pride as a mother, a sister, a star-struck fan.
I just was.
Hell, I still am.
But I haven't seen so many of these people for a long, long time. Lon and Lis moved from St. Augustine to their little home deep in the heart of a different part of Florida on a lake surrounded by woods and water but I used to visit them fairly frequently and I'd go into town with them when they played and I'd still see some of those people and then I'd see them again when I'd go to the parties they had every two years or so.
And then came the time of greater and greater anxiety and I just didn't make it to all of the parties and honestly, I hadn't seen some of these beautiful folks for years.
But this year I had to go. I just did. And I swear, it was one of the hardest things I've done in a long time but I kept thinking about how Lon and Lis have come and helped with every one of my kids' weddings since they've known me. I mean BIG help. Make-the-wedding-cake help. Help-decorate help. Give-me-moral-support help. Wash-dishes help. Build-a-bridal-bower help. And I also thought about how Lis kicked my ass into going to Cuba with her and how that was truly a life-changing event and how much fun we'd had and how amazing it was.
And I knew there was no excuse big enough to keep me from going.
Plus, Jessie and Vergil were going with their boys and these St. Aug people had known Jessie since she was about five years old. And she'd brought Vergil with her to this gathering when they got serious and he'd proved his mettle with his mandolin and his harp-playing and he got everyone's approval with the way he so obviously loved Jessie, the fairy goddaughter of Lon and Lis.
So. Had to go.
When I got there on Thursday they were all still in prep mode. The men were doing tree trimming and setting up the fire pit and the parking areas and camping areas and they'd just finished building an outdoor shower for the campers. The fancy, schmancy bathrooms with AC had been put in place. And the women were getting all the food ready and when I pulled in, the first person I saw was one of those people I hadn't seen in forever and he leaned in the window of my car and hugged me and kissed me and said, "It's so good to see you again," and it was all okay. Better than okay. And THEN, I found Lon and Lis and I was just about in heaven.
The whole weekend was like that.
"Hello, hello. It's so good to see you. How are you?"
And you can't imagine how many times I was told how beautiful Jessie and her family were.
Three beautiful men whom I love. My husband, Lon, and Doc, as he is called. He plays music with the Williamsons and has forever, and oh yeah, he's a veterinarian. He always brings fish he caught and fries it up. The best. I made some of my almost world-famous tartar sauce to go with it. I told him the day after the fish lunch that I'd hardly gotten a bite because it got eaten up so fast. He fried some more that very day and sent me a plate to the kitchen.
Our fire-tender, T.J. The man can build a fire. He kept it going all weekend with the help of a fascinating woman I met for the first time. She's a sailor and lives on the St. John's river in a house off the grid and wears vintage Levi's that have no damn spandex in 'em at all.
Levon trying to chop wood with his shovel the way his Boppy was chopping with an axe. His technique is flawless.
August, whom we found in the kitchen helping Lis make the traditional birthday cake. The weekend that this party falls on is always the one closest to St. Patrick's Day and there are at least three birthdays of guys in the group and Lis always makes a cake. How she found time to make a cake, I do not know but not only did she make one, she let August help her until I coaxed him away with the promise of a few books. It was so much fun to be there with my grandkids. Everyone was so kind to them and there were other children too. Boppy helped out, taking August to the fancy potties, giving him a bath, watching him so that Jessie and Vergil could have a little more freedom. I felt so proud to be the grandmother of two such beautiful boys. Everyone was so kind to them.
I got to spend time in the kitchen with a woman I've known forever but didn't really know that well and now I feel as if we are bonded in a new and very sweet way. I also shared kitchen-space with a guy who always comes to these parties early to help and I have such an easy relationship with him. I told him, "Harvey, it's not everyone that you can say FUCK YOU! to who will take it as the endearment it's meant to be." He laughed his beautiful laugh as he made his mama's Georgia baked beans while I mixed up angel biscuit dough. A prince of a man. I got to see and spend a little time with the woman who comments here as Lulumarie whom our family calls, The Nicest Woman In The World! And she is. She had brought Lis a little ceramic bluebird on a wire to stick in a plant in her garden and she let August do the honors of putting it in just the right place. I got to meet a woman who's been a back-up singer for almost any artist you can think of and whose stories were amazing. And of course I got to see folks that I haven't seen in forever which was absolutely splendid. I also got to see my darling Liz Sparks (aka Liz of the west) and spend some time with her. She helped Vergil put up the tent while Jessie got the kids fed and she cooked eggs the next morning on a grill on the fire. I got to see and talk to people I've known since I was nineteen years old and had just moved to Tallahassee with the amniotic fluid still running forth from my ears and the crazy running from my soul. They took me in as they took in so many people and I will love them always.
And I got to spend time with Lon and Lis.
I can't even really talk about how much I love them. It's just too damn big.
And Lord, I cooked. I cooked black beans and I made that tarter sauce and pickled red onions and I threw together a cole slaw under Lis's directions. I got asked fifty times if I was making "those" biscuits. I did make those biscuits. I must have mixed up five or six batches of the angel biscuit dough to rest in Lis's giant bowl. When she pulled it out for me she said, "I don't think I've used this since the last time you made biscuits here," and I said, "OH! My baby!" and I gathered it in my arms and it nestled there for a few seconds before I set it on the counter.
Here it is, filled with the dough this morning, August ready to help me roll it out and cut it and bake it.
What a joy that was!
This morning, when the biscuits were ready and sitting on the table outside next to butter and cane syrup and honey and the sausage that Lon's sister and brother-in-law had sent over made from one of the cows they've raised on grass and goodness and which Lon had grilled, and so much fruit and muffins and even tiramisu, Lis gathered us all together to hold hands and she thanked us all and I seriously doubt there was a dry eye to be found among us.
And after all of THAT (and about forty pots of coffee) she called August to help her put the candles on the birthday cake.
Of course he has had a lot of practice doing that.
And the candles were lit and a more beautiful rendition of "Happy Birthday" has never been heard while the three birthday men stood together and then blew out their candles while Levon helped from across the table because that boy knows how to blow out a candle.
Leaving was about the hardest thing I've ever done. I almost cried like a child.
"I don't want to leave!" I wailed.
And the universe laughed and laughed.
But I tell you what, I'm going to sleep good tonight. I seriously worked hard, cooking and washing dishes and walking back and forth from the kitchen to the recording studio where we were staying and where things were stashed in the refrigerator there. But it was such a joy.
Before we left I cleaned up the biscuit project and made four loaves of soda bread to cook later when the corned beef and cabbage got made. I wished I had something else I needed to do so that I could stay a little longer. But we needed to get back. Mr. Moon wanted to check on our friend who has been in the hospital but who's home now and we'd left the animals with lots of food but no supervision. And of course we're home now. All unpacked and all of the animals are fine and as a true, sweet bonus, Miss Pansy has returned from her self-induced exile caused by roosters. Dearie and Viv/Vera are still sitting on eggs and I think that Viv/Vera's at least are probably not going to hatch. I'll deal with that tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I'm still floating around in the ether somewhere with all the love and magic. I've unpacked and washed the sheets on our bed and remade it. I've picked greens for salad and am about to go cook our tiny two -person dinner.
My regular life is about to resume but I'd sort of love to drive back to Gatorbone and help Lis clean up. I can't even imagine how tired she and Lon must be.
Well. That's the report.
There's far more I could tell but that'll certainly do.
I've missed y'all.