The Gathering -- March 2011 -- Part 1
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As I traveled to Sumter from my home in Marietta, GA, I thought about the place I would visit on Saturday,
the Country Store, so I got off the Interstate up around Greenville, SC, and took the back,
rural roads all the rest of the way to Sumter.

As I cruised along through the beautiful and peaceful SC rural countryside, I was reminded of the simpler
times in my life. I suppose others have done the same thing. Small towns with the central core of stores, old
farm houses, other buildings that had seen better days, rusting farm equipment, old signs, and even a
lighthouse and a genuine, honest to goodness railroad steam engine greeted me as I quietly slipped across SC.

In the middle of all this nostalgia and feelings of good ole days, etc., I was brought back to reality real quick
when I stopped at a boat landing on the Broad River at the Newberry, Fairfield County line and saw
a sign that basically said,
"Your are near a nuclear facility and if you hear sirens, haul ass away from here!"

Anyway, besides that reality check, I continued to see many things that reminded me of what I would see the
next say. In a way that I could not explain, all the images I saw on my drive gave me comfort or reassurances in
a special way I guess, that all was right, life goes on, and it was good to be coming back home.

When I reached Sumter, I checked into my hotel and asked for a room with a window facing towards the East
because tonight was the night before the 100% full super moon that was going to occur the next night and I
wanted to make sure I could possibly see it and of course, get a picture of it.

Hearing that it might rain the next evening, I decided not to take a chance of getting a good picture of this
full moon that would be the closest to the earth than it had been in over 18 years so I grabbed my camera and
tripod and set up shop in the back parking lot at the hotel.

I was not disappointed. One of the most beautiful full moons I have ever seen rose majestically in the East
and greeted all that saw her with a spectacular show. I took lots of pictures and even got one by accident
of a high-flying jet plane passing by between me and the moon.

A little after 1 PM the next day, I went on out to Billy's General Store to help him and a few others already
out there to get things set up and to help with the cooking. I had agreed to help Billy Hall with that and after
a while I was cooking and standing watch over the three big pots we were using to cook a chicken bog.

Every event -- whether it is something like The Gathering or a traveling road show at a local art center --
needs and thankfully has, an event planner, coordinator, social director or whatever you want to call them to
make it all go smoothly. For The Gathering, Billy Hall fills that job and works tirelessly throughout the year
keeping folks posted on upcoming gatherings, arranging for the band and other musicians to come perform,
worrying about the food, and a host of other thankless jobs to make it all happen smoothly.      

"Thank you, Billy, we all appreciate your hard work."

Anyway, it was fun cooking on one electric stove top burner in the barn and on top of two gas grill type burner
devices outside that have seen better days.  These two things were fun to cook on because there was no gas
valve to regulate the heat -- they were either off or burning full blast. They also burned at greatly different
heat output levels so as the pots tried to boil, I had to keep switching them around so
the cook time would be about the same for all three pots.

I enjoy cooking and both Billys were content to let me tend to that while they did a whole lot of other work to
make the evening's event go off without a hitch. Bedsides, all this cooking activity gave me amble reasons to
enjoy a couple glasses (plastic cups) of some really great red wine that just kept saying, "Try me, try me!"  :-)

Food is served at The Gathering (you bring your own drinks) and to go with it this year was the fantastic
coleslaw that Billy Lane spent a long time preparing right there on the spot. Pat Martin was also on hand all
afternoon helping out and of course while all this was going on, we had time to enjoy a cool adult beverage of
choice so it made for a great time to work, talk, and enjoy the surroundings.

After the chickens had all cooked, Billy Hall and Pat worked their butts off and almost burnt their hands
while taking all the boiling hot chicken off the bones so I could add that with the rice later when
I finalized the cooking of the chicken bog.

There were lots of other great foods brought by several people who came later -- things like killer potato
salad, deserts to die for, and other wonderful dishes like someone's homemade
macaroni and cheese that melted in your mouth.

The afternoon slowly slipped by and in between times I was handling the chicken bog, I took the time before
the crowd arrived to quietly walk through the barn (General Store) and take pictures of all the things that
Billy Lane has collected over the years.

Everything in there was a reminder of our past. How Billy managed to acquire all the things that he did has
always been a mystery to all of us but one thing is for sure, we are all so thankfulthat he did get and
save all the things that he got.

He has the beautiful 10-foot tall wooden and glass doors from the "Capital" -- "the upscale" department store
in downtown Sumter when all of us were in high school -- mounted on the back wall of the barn. This back room
of the barn is where the band sets up later for the music at The Gathering.

Later, when the band is playing and it gets very hot and crowded in the music room, these huge doors are
opened wide and folks sit just outside in their folding chairs and enjoy the cool breezes while
they listen to the great music being performed right in front of them. When you look
at them from inside, it looks like folks in box seats at the opera. :-)

Also, between the music room and the front room where it is like a huge old country kitchen, are another set
of huge wooden and glass doors. These are from the old drug store that my Uncle Lyon owned and ran
in downtown Sumter when I was in high school.

Hanging proudly there over the Capital's doors is the sign from "Big Jim's" drive-in restaurant -- reminding us
all what a great place it was and the good times we all shared as we all went to it, cruised by it, or stopped at
it and parked under the shed and ordered curb service.

On another wall in the music room was another sign from our past that also immediately made you remember
the years of our youth so long ago -- "Cole's drive-in restaurant."

These two places -- Big Jim's and Cole's drive-in restaurants -- were the "Mecca" of our youth
and they will never be forgotten.