The Keith House is one of many buildings and the Community Room one of many rooms in it, but to a lot of folks, it’s where “The Folk School” is. Or is at. The room feels and looks like it did when I made my first visit as a first grader, though I don’t. And I look at things nowadays as one who wants to preserve the history of it by keeping it essential and well-fitted for constant use. I look around and know that, thanks to you who have donated over the years, it is now air-conditioned, sprinklered, got water pressure, fans, insulation, all-new siding and 111 new windows. But it smells the same, so it must be the same.
The Community Room opened in 1927. It was The Community House then. The rest of Keith House was added in 1929. When the loftier roofline of Keith House overtopped and enclosed a triangle of the Community House’s roof, an attic room of wedge profile was created, and a hole cut with a trapdoor. When the trapdoor is opened, one can look straight down on the dance floor. Why? To provide another point of view, I am certain. Filmmakers have used the hole to do Busby Berkeley shots of square dancing.
Most of the time we are unaware of it, but some call it the Confetti Door because of its long association with New Years’ Eve. That’s where me and the other children, for about thirty years now, have awaited the joyous new years. That’s where, at the strokes of those many midnights, we have rained balloons and confetti on the Auld Lang Syners at the stroke of midnight. It’s a great long-running gig, sort of a Dick Clark/Guy Lombardo thing. Many of my early accomplices are now responsible adults, while others are banjo players.
We had a nice dance tonight in the Community Room. I played fiddle and that seemed to be tolerated well. My fiddling undoubtedly goes down better if one has something to take one’s mind off it—like dancing. For me, playing for dancing is a privilege. I love watching people move around our dance floor, the gentle and supportive way experienced dancers welcome newcomers and steer them right, the great range of ages in our dances. I look out at the crowd and see people who have danced on that floor for over five decades, and some who haven’t been dancing (or walking) much more than five years. It’s a microcosm and a metaphor for the larger Folk School community around the world and just down the road.
The Community Room is also where MorningSong occurs. It’s where, on Mondays, I tell about the history of the Folk School.
Oh, it is a tale of tragedies and inspirations, sometimes touching on ballads, chairs and coverlets, banjoes, groundhogs and possums, but it is mostly about the remarkable characters who started the Folk School. At the center of the story is the moment when John C. Campbell first meets Olive Dame. Here’s approximately how ol’ Jan has told this part, in the Community Room, about a thousand times.
“What we think happened was that John finally managed to get up from the deck chair where he had been covered up with blankets, depressed and downhearted, not enjoying any of the shipboard recreational opportunities, and he was making his way to the stern, where he would look back whence he had come. And at the very same moment, young Olive strode up on her twenty-fifth lap around the deck and was on her way to stand in the bow and see where she was going. Amidships, along the promenade deck, they encountered each other, looked each other in the eyes, and fell in love.”
To my way of thinking this is about as good as it gets, in having good material of which to make an oral narrative that might bring about the storyteller’s golden moment, when people know that just for a flicker of an instant, amidst a stream of blather, you have told a truth. That’s when there comes a hush, or you could hear a pin drop, or everybody smiles and takes a breath together in the room as if it were a yoga session. For the teller, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Until yesterday, when I told it for about the thousandth time, a big, red, heart-shaped balloon appeared from above at the exact word “love.”
I thanked the special effects department, whoever they were. It didn’t take me very long to suspect the work/studies and hosts, denizens of Keith House. It was a great surprise to me in one way, but in another, it was what we live with every day here.
Keep it going.
With love from Brasstown,