Travel with us to our writing retreat at Ghost Ranch!
For fifteen years together, our group of women writers (bereaved mothers at the start) have written together, traveled together to writing retreats and accompanied each other through life journeys. This time, two of us are traveling ahead of the rest, scouts of sorts (or cheerleaders—see story below) to Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and worked. O’Keeffe’s life and works has inspired many of us, not just with her art but her spirit and her independence has made us appreciate strong women in our families and our groups. Because we write—that practice has taken us farther along on our journeys—Dottye and Kay are recording some traveling thoughts, creating another map to move farther along.
And they’re off!!! Our first stop was at the NC/VA border so that Kay could take a photo of the “Welcome to Virginia” sign. We continued on a lovely drive along I-77, a part of the Scenic Byway “located along the lower elevations of the Appalachian Mountain Range,” which the AAA guidebook’s description continued this way, “Venture inside the Jefferson National Forest for a chance to listen to the soft breezes rustling through the leaves as you step into this abundant wildlife habitat. Practice stillness and wait for one of the local deer or squirrel to pass….”
Kay and I fully expected to see lots of reds, and orange, and yellow but thus far there has been very little fall colors in the trees. Unfortunately, in many places the leaves have either turned brown or have already fallen off the trees. But we have a vivid imagination and we enjoyed listening to Eva Cassidy’s voice in her rendition of “Autumn Leaves.”
We decided to stop in Abingdon, VA which is an old little town that’s the home of Barter Theater. Dottye and her husband have visited there on several occasions; it is close enough to their home to have a nice little getaway and they both enjoy live theater. Abingdon is also a great little town for walking about.
Since Kay had never visited there, we decided to stop and stretch our legs (very important to do on a long drive, especially when one is of “a certain age”!). We ate a delicious meal at the 128 Pecan restaurant and parked the car in mid-town to take a walk. We took a peek at the Barter Theater as well as “The Martha.”
The Martha was originally built as a private residence in 1830-32 for the William Preston* family (*a prominent surveyor who maintained a lifelong friendship with his colleague George Washington).
After the death of Mr. Preston’s widow, the property was acquired by the Methodist Church for the purpose of establishing a college for women, Martha Washington College, which opened in the spring of 1860. After 71 years of operation (including being one of the few colleges that continued operating during the Civil War) the college closed in 1931 due to insufficient enrollment and funding – likely a victim of the dreadful Depression. Wandering through this place made us recall connections to Salem Academy and College where one of us spent time as a teacher and one as a student in an all-female environment. And Georgia O’Keeffe spent some years at Chatham Hall, an all-girls boarding school in Virginia.
In the summer of 1934, the former Martha Washington College gained a new purpose when an unemployed actor from nearby Glade Springs brought a group of actors from New York to establish a summer stock theater: The Barter Theatre. Farm produce or goods were bartered for admission to the performances; their motto was, “With vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh!” In the late 1930s another building was constructed across the street for the theater and the Martha Washington Inn opened for business.
With renovations and restorations through the years, it has continued to serve as an elegant hotel. And the theater has thrived as well, adding a second stage next door to “The Martha,” and hosting performances year round.
Kay and I were back on the road and arrived at the Tennessee border right at sunset. Johnson City triggered a few memories for us about family members – my son Glenn used to travel there for comedy gigs during his stand-up days; her family used to visit relatives over a weekend, several piling into the car at once. Then as we got close to Knoxville, Kay remembered taking her kids there for the 1982 World’s Fair! Her boys had put a sign in the back of the car that read, “Follow us to the World’s Fair!”
I am thinking that as Kay and I continue this journey, we will be reminded of many family stories that we’ll share. Although we know each other pretty well after a friendship of over 15 years, who knows what else we’ll learn while being “stuck” in a car together for three weeks?! Honestly, there aren’t a lot of people who have such a trusting relationship to risk that. I am grateful.
Dottye noticed that some of the rooms on the hall of the hotel where we stayed included decorations for cheerleaders—there must be a cheerleading convention near here, we thought.
Long ago when our writing group had met together for a short time, Carol offered a writing prompt that included our writing a list which we shared with the group: three truths and a lie. One of my “truths” was that I had been chief cheerleader for my eighth grade squad and because I never knew the rules of football, I consistently led my squad in cheers for the other team.
Dottye looked aghast when I shared that. That’s my story, she told the group. Turns out, we had both been chief cheerleaders and for rival schools in the same county. Neither of us knew the rules of football, so we had inadvertently been cheering for each other’s teams.
This morning as we sat at breakfast and watched cheerleaders all around us, we told our story to the parent of one of the young women. (She didn’t say whether her charges knew the rules of football.) And we discovered that our elementary teams had the same black and gold colors and the same mascot, wildcats. No wonder we were confused about who we were cheering for!
Onward to Nashville!