Sunday, November 2, 2008


YSNewsArticle-Oct.16 2008.docHeart Of Joy Folkschool is officially launched as of October 17-18, 2008, with our first event - a living local history-based folkshop, held at the Outdoor Education Center in Glen Helen, the nature preserve adjacent to the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio.

A group of us had been planning the event for months, talking about what a folkschool is, or can be; talking about the history of the folkschool movement; talking about folk skills, simplicity, community harmony, our multicultural village history, and the importance of honoring the wisdom and experience of our elders.

All of these discussions found expression through the folkshop, in one way or another. Friday evening we opened with a three-part program of "theatrics:" Kay Reimers' audience-involvement scene based on the mid-19th century controversy over whether the brand-new village should allow a railroad station or not. We, the modern Yellow Springers, had a ball reading our lines in turn, and hearing typical Yellow Springs town-meeting dialogue coming out of characters more than a century old. Kay has a great ear for dialogue. Actress Robin Jordan Henry, descendant of freed slaves who settled in Yellow Springs, gave a dramatic reading based on family stories of her ancestors' escape from slavery. She was assisted by her husband and two grandchildren.There's quite a tradition of abolitionists and underground railroad safe homes in this Quaker-values village, and so Robin's reading meant a great deal to her audience. For the third theatrical we traipsed out into the dark, led by flashlights, to sit on wooden benches before Mockingbird Theatre Company's big red theater wagon, to watch Bill and Phillipa Gay and their assistant, "California," perform an authentic old-time Medicine Show. We loved it, and we all sang along on the choruses of familiar old tunes and listened to the deadly symptoms of various diseases and the spiels touting the even deadlier-appearing cure-all nostrums.

After everyone left Friday evening, I stayed a while to put the beans in to soak overnight, for the bean soup I'd be making the next day. I was back at the O.E.C. by 8:30 a.m., cutting up carrots and celery, to add to the huge pot of simmering beans. Sarah Strong came ready to demonstrate paper-making, and later became a valued supper cook; Marianne Wolfe, our greeter and registrar, arrived full of enthusiasm and encouragement; JoAnn McKee came in to set up her knitting area; Sue Rudolf and other Embroiderers' Guild members arrived to set up their quilting area; Diana Nelson came in loaded with things for her weaving activity; Selwa Whitesell came in with spinning wheel and all kinds of fibers for her demonstration; Eric Wolf came prepared to lead tracking activities, which later became an herbal remedy-making class; Jim Rose brought in a great assortment of marionettes for his puppetry demonstration; Joe Cook set up his woodworking area outside, where during the day he fashioned breadboards, a whimmy-doodle, and two beautiful applewood stools; and the Gays returned with two beautiful draft horses. As I cut and chopped and stirred in the kitchen, I sang and did a little yodeling (you'd be amazed at how much yodeling can help your cooking along); and in between I could hear the hum of friendly conversation from the quilters and weavers and knitters and our spinning lady. Susan Gartner, who had written a wonderful article on the Folkschool for the Yellow Springs News, had brought along a videocam from Channel 5 and was documenting the folkshop, in between bouts of participating in needleworking activities. Sandy Morris, who'd planned to do some history-sharing, stopped in for a bit, too.

By the time the bean soup was nearly ready, as judged by Jim Rose, our "living treasure" master puppeteer, it was time to get the cornbread put together. I threw in the towel on cooking it from scratch. I had buttermilk, eggs, and butter - so I sent my friend Marianne out to pick up cornbread mix. People were perfectly happy to keep doing what they were doing - needlework indoors; and outdoors, there were several other activities: Bill Gay's horses were being thoroughly groomed, having gotten themselves into burrs the day before. Bill was preparing them to be harnessed for his team-driving activity. Joe was busy sawing boards and gluing and planing, making the breadboards for us to serve the cornbread on at lunch; and Sarah had her paper-making operation set up and was attracting interested folks to her activity.
Finallythe cornbread was stirred up and on its way to the oven, with the batter poured into two incredibly huge oiled cast-iron skillets. Jim Rose helped me get them lifted and positioned. Marianne Wolfe and her friend Bruce, a lifelong farmer who decided to come to the folkshop because there were draft horses there, began to set the tables for lunch. We pushed several tables together so we could all sit down family style. Finally we were gathered, and holding hands, singing a little gratitude song before we ate. It was just right. Just as the Friday theatricals had been just right, so was lunch, all together, just right.

After lunch there was dish-doing and so forth, with Diana Nelson playing a major role. Jim Rose and little Bonnie, 5 years old, began playing with Jim's marionettes, entrancing and entertaining us all for a good while. Smiles lit up the room, and our laughter just encouraged Jim and Bonnie to keep going. We nearly had a disaster when Bonnie stuffed the baby from Jim's PUNCH AND JUDY show into the crocodile's jaws....But we all remembered what Bonnie had kept saying: "They're only puppets."

I got a chance to wander around and see what all the groups had been working on; to go outside and try my hand very briefly at driving a team of work horses; to visit with Sarah the papermaker, and Joe, the woodworker. I was privileged to hear Bruce the farmer describe horse-farming as he had experienced it, comparing horses to tractors and sharing the history of the change from horsepower and horse wisdom, over to machine farming - from the farmer's point of view. The activities wound down for the afternoon at last, and there was some good quiet time. Then dancer/librarian Ken from Wittenberg showed up, zucchini in hand, to add to the supper fare; and the Gays, who had taken the horses home, came back to load up the theater wagon onto its trailer, and to have some supper and then call the dancing. More musicians showed up - Karl and Deborah Colon of CHANGELING, and Joe Cook; and more dancers - the dancing naturalists of Glen Helen! - , and so we had ourselves a lovely supper of leftover bean soup and cornbread, with zucchini on the side, and mulled cider to drink; and then we had ourselves a dance, and a lovely musical experience as well.

The event took place only a few days ago, and now people are asking when the next one is. I'd say that's a good sign.