Cobbtown Acres Thanksgiving

Writing about gratitude feels too small to capture the past week for us, but still, it captures what Holly and I are feeling today as we pack up to move on. We have spent the past week – including a genuinely sublime Thanksgiving feast – at Cobbtown Acres, a new homestead for nomads in the heart of the cotton fields of Georgia. This post is about people, how their spirits, like the strings of wind chimes, let them fly, pull them back to earth, wear and break, and get rebuilt in the company of good people.

This past week has taught us deeply that we belong out here, and that we have much to learn – and we hope, teach – among nomads, some of whom have been at this for decades. The words below are not written to tell others’ stories. That’s not my place. They are here to try to capture the alchemy that happens when people who are often alone and living with their own “feast of losses” find themselves gathered around a campfire that – like Jimmy’s – doesn’t go out.

Norm lit the fuse that caused this gathering. It’s pointless to enumerate his works, except to say that his boundless energy and ideas got this enterprise off the ground and kept it flying. His mastery of FaceBook convinced a band of skeptics to call this place home for a while. He cajoled, greeted, gathered, managed, organized and energized. When Anna met him, she said, “You should do stand-up.” Then he did some stand-up. As soon as I thought he was out of surprises, he showed up at the campfire playing Christmas carols on his classical harmonica, with Papa Joe on flute. Even as we wrap up Thanksgiving week, a train of nomads out of Michigan is en route. That posse includes an off-road Crown Vic pulling a teardrop. I’ll be sorry to miss it. Norm brought them here.
John owns the place. While he is not nomadic yet, he will be. It was his vision that led to this, and already people are coming and planning their builds and rebuilds here – and that doesn’t refer merely to machines. His own path is fraught, and it’s exactly that condition that made him picture a gathering place for people to do what it is that people need to do. It’s a scary thing, I’m sure, to open your three acres, plus a bit of woods, to a bunch of people from FaceBook. Takes faith. John has that.
Jimmy drove here from Illinois with bad front wheel bearings and more than one man’s share of doubt. The world can make a person wary. Looking inside can do that, too. I know what it means to show resolve, to press forward when the soul cries for retreat. To turn to things you love, to unshackle yourself from your own lies and traps – that’s what Jimmy shows. He is, in addition to many things, a sawyer. He found his spot in the woods and got to it, and in doing so, kept us, without interruption, warm. I saw that purpose can be rekindled from the cold ashes of loss.
As soon as Catherine mesmerized us with her cooking, she got to work building out the back of Jimmy’s truck. With the resolve that can only come from a grandma who has put her foot down, Catherine got it done. Many of you know Holly as a gifted designer and builder. Well, Catherine had a vision for Jimmy’s truck – all from scrap material – that had Holly saying dayum. Catherine made pies on a grill, turkey stew on a campfire and a home in the back of Jimmy’s truck – all the while maintaining a life of balance and conviction in a 40-foot bus.
What Catherine didn’t manage on her own, Rich took care of. That guy can cook! And install solar, and manage his own internal rebuild at midlife. What made an impression on me from Rich – and all of this tribe really – was the commitment to the principles of life on his own terms when the world, with machine-like perseverance and cruelty, beats its own demands into you. The strength to say ‘I’m not willing to do that’ is superhuman.
Papa Joe tells stories. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. His telling of “Little Orphan Annie” brought me back to my mother’s lap as a kid. But as he regaled us around the fire, what captured me was less his storytelling than his devotion to the life. He learned simplicity as a kid in father’s Skoolie back in ‘63. He drives the country in a little van, bringing music, song and stories with the simplest of belongings. Good wool clothes, a clean diet (though he did artfully demolish a pack of cookies), a fire-warmed soapstone for bedtime heat, a satchel of flutes. The push and pull of the world, the tide that casts many of us lifeless on the rocks, has not had its way with Papa Joe.
Sharon grabbed our hearts. Maybe more than any other person here, she taught me that what people need they end up giving to others. Whether it was to an abandoned dog or an abandoned person, she gave. She was the mechanic of the bunch. There’s no end of reasons to turn away from others in need. The world is demanding enough on good days. Just the demands of a holiday week can be too much, can often do nothing more than bookmark the loss and “milestones dwindling on the horizon” that can be too much to shoulder. Yet here was Sharon, feeding and warming a dog no one else would, fixing cars that would otherwise stay broke, and all the while keeping true to herself.

Even before we got to Cobbtown Acres, we knew we would be humbled in some way we couldn’t yet know. I couldn’t have predicted, though, to what depth. One family taught me that it is possible to make “every stone on the road precious”. Their interplay of togetherness, individuality, giving, recovering, reconciling and above all, making a home stir in me things I thought settled. I’m not readily willing to do that, and that’s why, weeks ago, I needed the company of these future friends.

Others here won’t be named, but they were here. The “scavenger angels” make me pause, gather myself, and move on.

The phrases in quotes are from “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz. Y’all should read it.

Photos by Holly Whiting, except photo of Rich, by Norm Flowers

9 thoughts on “Cobbtown Acres Thanksgiving

  1. I was so moved by the insight into each one of these wonderful individuals, and your time spent with them. I’ve found many skoolie and van nomads to be genuine and uniquely beautiful. I’m working toward the day I’m able to get my 6 wheels down the highway to my own adventures. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Wow, what a beautiful essay. I’ve had the immense pleasure of staying with John and his family in the past. They are amazing people with so much love. Thank you for sharing these pictures and stories of the people you met at Cobbtown Acres.

  3. Thanks! I love the attention you’ve brought each person..looking forward to Sandy’s “furthur” adventures…(tom wolfe, elec koolaid acid test)

    Soooo many travel stories are about what you see. I like hearing about the people you meet. You’ve graced them by telling us their stories so artfully in words and portraits.

    More please…lots, and lots more.


  4. I’m in tears reading this , thanks for bringing back some Of my favorite memories last year I was lucky to be a brief part of, love you guys

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s