On Being a Folk School Host

On Being a Folk School Host

Becky Souris, who recently finished her four months of hosting, shares thoughts on her time at the Folk School.

It’s Saturday and students and instructors are leaving as breakfast comes to a close. I talk with several who come up to say thanks, chat, or give a goodbye hug. It has been a great week with a really congenial group of people, for every group has its own personality. I hope our paths will cross again.

After going to unlock a studio for an instructor who gave up her key too soon, only to remember a belonging which she left behind; someone else calls out to me. Now, I’m off to get my vehicle and “jumper cables” to help someone start a rental car so she won’t miss her flight from Atlanta later in the day. On the way back to Keith House, an instructor hands me his studio keys and I unlock the office and put those away. It is really my weekend off but I’m not going away and the other host is as busy as I with guests’ last minute needs.

I go to put my laundry on to wash and then, off to town for some toiletries. It is 11:00 am. I hurry back as I am going to help with “Empty Bowls.” On arrival, my fellow host and I tote tables and chairs from Keith House to the Dining Hall for the evening’s event. I shift one load of clothes to the dryer and reload the washer before getting ready for the event, which turns out to be a huge success. It is gratifying to see this community raise a very considerable sum to feed the hungry in Clay and Cherokee Counties and I realize how many potters and volunteers have contributed to this annual event. Now to return tables and chairs to Keith House, where we also move the 100 chairs in the Community Room for Sunday’s orientation.

It’s 11:00 pm and my laundry is not finished. Tomorrow will come early and studio rounds start at 1:30 pm, then instructor orientation at 4:30 pm, student orientation at 5:30 pm, followed by dinner where we will sing the blessing and be sure to enlighten guests on more dining hall procedures. Now it is 7:00 pm and our evening studio rounds begin. We gather paper towels and flip charts, markers and myriad other items to deliver to different studios and check for other needs. My fellow host is taking a course this week. As I have chosen not to do so, I drop her off to try to catch up with her class at her studio. I’m thinking that a cup of hot peppermint tea would taste good.

At 9:30 pm, a guest and I walk across the field to Hubbell House. It is a nice night for a walk but he is mortified that he has locked himself out of his room. I, however, am overjoyed, for it is not a toilet overflow. Tree frogs chirp, and the ring of keys, jingles, as I stroll back. The moon is a fat crescent shape and shows me a partly cloudy sky. A late arriving student awaits me in Keith House for directions to his housing and studio. It’s 10:00 pm, I dump the coffee grounds out of the coffee machines and rinse out the containers, then make my daily “sweep” of the downstairs communal areas to turn off lamps, check thermostats, and pick up used cups. I remember that I never had that peppermint tea. Suddenly, I’m weary, so I’m off to bed, because tomorrow will come early again. I’m glad my fellow host is leading Morning Walk at 7:15 am.

It’s Monday and someone asks if I am taking a course this week. “No I’m not taking a course this week,” I answer. “Oh really, you’re not taking a course again,” comes the judgment. “Why?” “How can you miss out on the opportunity?”

I’m puzzled that anyone else would assume the ability to recognize the opportunities which would best serve me or feel that I am unwittingly depriving myself. I’m actually pretty good at taking advantage of opportunities.

So if you see me walking briskly across the field behind Davidson Hall or lying on my back on the sun-warmed planks of the Rainbow Bridge, seeming to be doing nothing, be assured that I know what I am doing. I’m LISTENING….and I’m good at it and good with it. I’m listening as the water flows and burbles in the creek beneath me, as the crows cry out harshly across the field toward Orchard House. I’m still listening as the songbirds twitter nearer by and incidentally I’m also doing some FEELING. I’m feeling grateful to be here living this moment, this now, which will soon enough elude me.

Rainbow Bridge- a perfect place for relaxation and contemplation

Now if you should walk beneath the windows of my temporary quarters in the historic Keith House and hear some rudimentary dulcimer music, know that I am up here APPRECIATING. Yes, I’m appreciating the contentment that I feel at having learned to play some tunes on the dulcimer. That feels like something I will continue to do for my own enjoyment. Know that having just taken a weekend and week long course on playing the dulcimer, that it seems a really good idea to me to reinforce the skills I have learned, instead of beginning a new skill this week, while juggling host duties on a daily basis. It’s okay if you don’t feel that way, but I have my own plan, and by the way, I’m also appreciating my own moment in the history of this old building with it’s warm and mellow wooden walls and floors, this building which is more than a building, now approaching a century of age. I have the contented feeling that friendly spirits do indeed move about these halls, as many claim to have experienced.

If you should see my light on late at night, it could be that I’m painting, sketching, or writing. Taking two watercolor courses enhanced and reinforced my love of painting. Then there have been at least six other courses besides my painting and dulcimer courses. By now, I have pretty well identified what pursuits feed my soul or bring contentment and when you identify those, then you just need to do them.

Perhaps you haven’t lain in a hospital bed, awaiting a verdict which you prayed would offer you hope, when suddenly life is threatened. Perhaps you haven’t faced your own mortality as yet or suffered even greater loss. Those who have will relate to the ways in which your perspective gets altered by stark reality.

I know what renews me and I know it because of years of living and introspection. I know it because of need born of trying circumstances. I know it because of years of working in a field which brought me in continual contact with too much human suffering and misery.

The classes here are only a part of the whole and I’m here for the WHOLE EXPERIENCE, and I am earning it. I’m here to savor interesting people from near and far and share good experiences. If I can make others’ experiences a little more convenient and help things run a little more smoothly, well, know that makes me happy, too. By the way, I’m also here to enjoy interacting with the staff who work here and even to be fed well for four months by some hard working, warm and talented people.

Oh, and the music, the glorious music from old time to bluegrass to English and Irish Folk and more, on a daily basis. It’s a rare experience in this world and a very special thing in this place. So I soak it in and appreciate all who share with the rest of us, just as I daily am awed by the myriad works of art that are produced here.

This host experience offers me escape from city traffic and hostility and a more deliberate and gentle pace. I’m here for the woods, the fields, the streams. I’m here for the Snowbird Mountains and the way it makes me feel when I watch the changing play of light on those mountains at different times of the day. By the Grace of God, I’m here to breathe, and if that is not the same “why” that you are here, that is alright. I’ve no judgment to make on that. Puzzle not for me though, and don’t be threatened by my contentment with little things, as I wish the same for you.

  • Barb Haynes
    Posted at 07:36h, 08 April

    What a beautiful tribute to your time at JCC. I talked with you before the “show and tell” started on your last Friday before returning home. Your courage inspired me…..You are indeed a survivor….I’d be interested in knowing what your next adventure might be. Thanks Becky.

  • Sherri Hyder
    Posted at 23:04h, 21 April

    I so enjoyed your write up. It sounds like being a host is something really special and that you were really special in that capacity. Thank you.

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