MickDonna Farm. Sound familiar? Mick and Donna are my second cousins. Mick's daddy was my grandmother's little brother. Make sense? He's a decorated Vietnam War veteran, a wheeler and dealer at flea markets, and a kind soft-spoken man. His wife, Donna, has worked 30+ years at Dow Chemical in Charleston. Sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what I think of when I think of Donna. The two of them have created a piece of heaven and from their hearts they welcome in the entire family each year for the annual reunion.
The past few days have been almost heaven. West Virginia. Not the song ... the real thing. Our yearly family reunion for the Samples Family.
In case you're interested ... my grandmother's maiden name was Samples. All of her dozen or so brothers and sisters (now deceased) had lots of kids. Those family members (hundreds of them, along with friends and neighbors) gather once a year to recall old times, eat lots of good home-cooked food, and play bluegrass music until midnight.
I’ve blogged about the reunion in past years, but this year was extra special for Michael and me. We were blessed that Mick and Donna, who own the property the reunion is held on, asked us to stay with them in their trailer. Their home away from home. They live in a beautiful home in Charleston but during the summer and for reunion days, they stay in their 16 by 80 foot trailer nestled on their 90-acre farm. A farm high on top of a mountain. You can get real close to God up there.
Staying with family made the visit much more special as we didn’t have to think about going back to a hotel at night. Instead, we went four-wheeling, sat around the campfire until late, and enjoyed our cousins as they played banjo, fiddle, upright bass, mandolin, and guitar. We don't have to bring in any old band, most everybody who shows up, plays something. One sits down to rest, another picker takes their place. It's something to watch.
A fox invaded our camp the first night and took off with my shoe. (It sure didn’t help that I stepped in a pile of bear crap. Oh yes, true. Bear poop. There are lots of black bear the area.)
Our family tree was displayed this year. Written neatly on poster board, it was nailed to what else? A family tree. Along with pictures of family members now deceased.
I’m covered with chigger bites, but I don’t care. They’ll go away, eventually. Michael and I took the four-wheeler over the countryside, through several creeks, around the mountain, and across land that many of you only see in the movies or in your dreams. Despite the economic problems WV has faced, some of its people still live way below the poverty line, the state has made great strides in tourism. The Appalachian Mountains are breathtaking and majestic. They still hold magic for me and great stories that burn in my brain waiting to be written.
Daddy was a bit under the weather this year, but he was there in rare form. By Sunday he was hopping on back of a four-wheeler and heading off into the mountains with his cousins in search of the old homestead where grandma was raised. The place, now crumbled, is buried under generations of leaves and underbrush. Dad is one of the elders now. I suppose someday, I will be, too. Along with Mick and Denise and Charlie and Steve and all the rest.
There’s an old graveyard high up on the mountain where a confederate soldier is buried. Some of the graves date back to the 1700s. I stood and looked down at PVT. Clarke's grave. I wondered about this man and what he had gone through. Covered with lush mountain vegetation, if you didn’t know this old graveyard was there … you’d never find it. Believe me.
The “town” of Strange Creek is not a town for tourists. Only folks who have family or a reason to be there travel to Strange Creek. The one-lane roads and bridges that curve and dip into the area can be dangerous. You go slow. The wooden bridges, the windowless Masonic Lodge, and old houses dating back to the depression give the entire town its ominous and foreboding appearance. But the folks are truly sweet and friendly. Yet, Strange Creek is not a destination by any means.
And I could go on forever about the music. Tomorrow I’ll blog special about that. About my little cousin Clint Lewis and his family. About Rad and his famous banjo. If Nashville ever wanted to hear what bluegrass really sounds like, they need to head to the Samples Family Reunion every Fourth of July.
A slice of earth and sky, MickDonna farm holds a part of my heart. I only hope someday the rest realize how special this family is and will come to enjoy it as much Michael and I do each year.
Blessings to you and yours.