When I moved back to Georgia from Texas in 1982, I became reacquainted with a high school friend. It didn't take long for Cindy to convince me to go to Cumberland Island. Our first trip in her van included another woman and her two daughters. We drove Friday afternoon and camped at Crooked River State Park. This is a gnat and mosquito infested place good for nothing except saving a few bucks. (Keith later changed the way we begin our trip by insisting that we get a room at the Riverview Hotel).
My early trips were more very different than our back packing ventures. We stayed at Seacamp only a ¼ mile from the dock with real flushing toilets, showers (albeit cold water) & electric outlets. The girls brought blow dryers and Cindy's idea of trail mix was a bag of M&M's with a few nuts thrown in the bag. Of course we had coolers with ice.
On this first trip I learned about the crafty coons that opened up the coolers and helped themselves to the individually wrapped sliced cheese, popped the top off the pudding packs and even got into chewing gum. There are cages at each campsite to store food but they aren't large enough for coolers too.
The trip was in July. Needless to say it was HOT. So I partook of the open air showers about 3 times per day. And on the last few backpacking trips, I usually run over to take a quick open air shower before departing the island. Ahh!! Going back to Seacamp for a shower sort is like a touchstone that melds all the trips together.
One good thing about being on the island in July was the timing was perfect for the watching sea turtles laying eggs. We searched the beach at night and found a huge sea turtle digging an amazingly narrow hole about 1 ½ feet deep and laying what seemed like hundreds of wet ping pong balls.
The South side of the island is complete with armadillos, and old car grave yard, ruins and sharks teeth on the paths. For years I searched for a painted bunting in Texas. And on one of my walks on the south side of the island I saw one for the first time. (No-it wasn't a whoopee fucker).
I returned many times to Seacamp, sometimes with Cindy and even once I drove down alone. Once I took my chances on getting a ride on the ferry. I met some new friends and we all convinced a St. Mary's resident to take us over to Dungeness Dock, the dock south of the main dock. We hiked north to Seacamp and bummed around until we found some nice folks that let us stay with them. Ah, the good old days.
For me it all began in 1982 when I went to work as bookkeeper for The Athens Observer and met the man who was destined to become my ex-husband. Ted and I wasted no time getting married. There was a keg at our ceremony, which is why I can't quite remember if any of the future Armadillos were there or not. Jeffery, of course, I knew, because he had been living in Athens with Ted at the time... I'll let him tell that part, or not. There was an old run-down brown house on Danielsville Road where we all wound up together for awhile in 1983-84. I remember Jeffery's bologna sandwiches, gallons of iced tea, the dirt front yard, the landlady-- what was her name? A year or two later, Ted and I and his three children were living in a big old house on Ruth Street that had a hot pink ballroom-sized living room. Keith and Jeffery used to come and visit Ted. They'd sing and play guitar a lot in those days. Keith has a photo from those days that Ted took with my old camera...it's of Keith and Jeffery in our dining room, absorbed in a chess game. That house had enormous bedrooms too, and ours had a big easy chair in it, and a piano. One time when Keith was over, he asked me to play Mozart on the piano. I remember him standing behind me on my left, urging me on, conducting faster than I could play. Another time, Keith brought a hymnal he'd found that used to belong to his landlady. It was an old, shaped-note, country hymnal. I played, and we sang for an hour or two, those fun old gospel songs like "I'll Fly Away." Keith grandly declared it "Landlord's Hymnal." Before long we had all invented this detective character known as Landlords Hymnal. He was a Brit, of course. And he had a sidekick for some reason we called Papyrus Tut - an Egyptian gone native. It all seemed funny at the time. Our humor was always off the wall like that.
For me the beginning goes back into a time now dim and folded, like an accordion, far enough back into the obscure past that all that is left are images. I trace the Armadillos to a day in 1976 or so, memory being what it is, especially for one who has trouble remembering significant dates even at his peril. I was working for the Calhoun Times, for these two old gentlemen who were truly good people to work for named J. H. Hobgood and John Hughes. But sometime about 1975, they decided to retire and sold the newspapers to a man named Ben Smith, from Alabama. He hired a man named Paul Miles to be editor and publisher (also another great boss) and Paul hired his own bookkeeper, namely Letha Beason. We shared an office, split in half by a partial partition, and became friends. She had three children, the oldest of which was a scrawny high school kid named Keith. We quickly became friends although our defining moment did not come until, again as best I can remember, the spring of 1979. In the meantime, my cousin Chuck, who was about 17, came by my house one night in 1977 I think and had this guy with him, a large guy. Chuck knocked on my door -- the house was the one Jeffery lived in with Johnny Jackson, which I once owned -- and introduced Jeff Mills. There is one other from those days who has since passed into normalcy. I leave off his name, since this is a public site, but he has been mentioned before. He was a friend of Keith's, a sort of raw-boned, sort of cowboyish, small, stout and somewhat handsome guy. He was a farm boy and became a sort of Alice in Wonderland in the free-thinking environment that developed from these connections. We all thought he was special. He had these gifts. I took a poem he wrote and turned it into a song and we, the four of us, once wrote a song together. He was a primitive poet and often surprised me with what he had written. That led Jeff, Keith and I to conclude that there was a aura of sorts around him, He was, in a sense, the classic fool, a genius who seemed to float through life with no clue to his destination but always with an unerrant sense of direction.
The defining moment for the four of us came at a party at my house in Adairsville in the spring of 1979. It was at that party, forever remembered for Saturday Night Hay, that we - or at least I - first felt a righteous rightness about these guys. The open spirit of our association then continues like a thread in the Armadillos now. It was also the night that we discovered that he (this nameless guy) was a demigod. Keith's friend Mitch was there that night, as was the husband of the ad secretary at the Calhoun Times. We spent the evening on this long, screened-in porch that went down the side of this old house and was only about a hundred feet or so from the railroad track, the Atlanta-Chattanooga line. Keith had gotten a guitar and we played and sang most of the evening, much to our own amusement. We even tape recorded it. It is a lot of bad music, primarily to the tune of House of the Rising Sun, the universal tune, with freight train accompanyment. It is also remembered for a moment of silence, late in the evening. There are no voices on the tape and no trains, just the night, then everyone bursts out laughing. We had been struck dumb and in a fitful moment of insight realized that we had been struck dumb. Well, you had to be there. Sometime over the evening the husband of the ad secretary disappeared. I went out to look for him and he was gone, home. Then later in the evening, Keith realized that his friend was missing. He went to the end of the porch to look for him and bent over laughing. We joined him. On the lawn, lying on his back and peeing straight up into the air, was our friend. Only, he was getting none on him. In was then that we realized that we were in the presence of greatness. For the next few years, until sometime in the early '80s, we stayed in contact. At one time or another we moved to Athens and had our get-togethers. Keith's friend drifted away, however, like the Beatles' original drummer. He got married, got divorced, and somewhere along the way decided to become his parents. He became a carpet executive and we disappeared. I wrote a song about us once that refered to this event:
"Jeffery's just a little bit crazy, and Keith is a bit off the wall, and --- is so wierd he fell off of the earth and we never hear from him at all."
He was the Lost Armadillo, because although he never became one, he would have made a great one. Much to my ultimate embarassment, I ran across him about three years ago. I was at a Calhoun Middle School football game. I think he had a son who played. In any case, he flagged me down and I walked off the edge of the field back to the fence to meet him. Only problem was, I didn't recognize him. It had been 15 or more years since I had seen him and the cowboy had become a man in sight of middle age. It was nothing personal. Hell, I didn't recognize this old lover that I had not seen in 18 years when she walked up to me at a football game. I still have the greatest admiration for him. He is not a person you forget, even if you cannot see the roguish cowboy beneath the cloak of respectability. The lover was another matter.
Actually, the Lost Armadillo was known to us at the time by another name..."Mahavishnu." Ted and I went on to have a much better recording session when we lived in Athens about 1983 or so. Over a series of weeks he and I recorded many songs that we had composed. I wasn't great, but it was fun. Shortly after that, Ted's guitar broke and mine grew silent. We lost touch with one another. I went to India...for lack of anything better to do with myself. I studied yoga under Swami Mariabakta, witnessed the collision of the primitive and pure with the modern and paradoxical, sold my bluejeans for 720 ruppees (about $60), and lost everything I had.
A photo I took represents it well. It is of an automobile trying to make its way around a man riding an elephant through a crowded street under a banner that reads: "Learn computer programming." Such is India.
While asleep on a train trip to the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi my lone bag was stolen with virtually everything I possessed. I arrived at the train station with literally nothing but the cloths on my back. Then I had one of those things that could be labelled "a profound moment." For an instant, I was completely free. As free as is humanly possible. Thousands of miles from home and traveling alone, no one knew anything about me, where I was, what I was doing, what I felt. As my passport was among the items stolen, I had no legal identity. I had no connection to this earth. I could have gone anywhere. I could have disappeared into the Himalayas with all my nothingness. But, instead, I flowed with events without really trying to escape them. They brought me back without any real effort on my part, I just witnessed them and responded. I came home after five months in a foreign land and saw America as an alien landscape that India was (and is) destined to become. Luckily, Jeffery was living in Calhoun. He called out of the blue to check on me. (I was still in a state of effortlessly flowing with events.) We went camping and backpacking. Our friendship renewed and, out of that, I found solidity and mass, incorporated my experiences, and moved on to whatever happened next...but this time, a bit more actively involved, as is my nature.
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