It was 1954. We were about 6 years old and Appalachian as a pickled ramp.
The yellow bus pulled up in front of the Keith House. Miss McCombs’ first grade from Murphy Elementary piled out and went through a red door and into another world.
There were jokes about chickens and stories about Jack and tales requiring animal noises and sudden movements. There were good things to eat. We were world class connoisseurs of floppy store-bought white bread, cornbread (never, never put sugar in cornbread) and cathead biscuits, but we had never tasted anything like the Folk School’s warm, dark whole wheat. There were puppets that tried to dance and fell into a pile. There were songs that made you laugh, and some that made even 6-year-boys thoughtful. There were people who treated you like somebody important, even though you were a kid, or never been there before, or didn’t know what to expect. I was all of that.
We had never heard anybody talk like Georg Bidstrup. Later we found out he was Danish. We could tell he was saying something nice, and “Welcome” or some longer word with “Welcome” in it. Whatever he was saying was very nice, we could tell that and we were all nodding our heads and smiling like we knew what he was saying. Finally I leaned over to my cousin Luke and grinned real big and asked, “What’d he say?” My cousin Luke grinned real big and said, “No idy!”
Finally Georg Bidstrup said something like “Make a Beeeg Circle!” We understood that much, so we made a big circle and held hands and for reasons that turned out to go very deep into the history of Cherokee County, North Carolina, Prussian expansionism in the mid-nineteenth century, the American rural settlement school movement and the Appalachian Handicraft Revival, we little boys and girls from Hanging Dog and Murphy and Martin’s Creek did a dance that was Danish as a pickled herring.
A few years back, one of our neighbors came to office and took me by the hand. She said, “Jan, come in here a minute.” She led me into the Living Room and pointed at the corner said “Right there is where it happened.”
“That’s where I decided I would marry him.” Her husband had passed away recently. They were both students in the early 1930s. “I wanted to see if that window seat was still there.”
Yes, it’s still here. And a lot of us have found our lives changed in that Living Room, around that fire place, on the stage, and on the dance floor. When most of us say we’re “going to the Folk School,” it is likely that the mental picture is of the Keith House. Normally, I write these letters asking you to support the annual fund, but today, we have another important task to accomplish together. I am asking you to make a contribution to help us renovate our most vital building. The Keith House is not simply an important structure because it has stood at the center of our campus for over eighty years but because it has been home to our most memorable and wonderful moments, a witness of our joy.
With Love from Brasstown,