100 Wooden Benches

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There are one hundred of them. One hundred wooden park benches. One hundred wooden benches at the Colusa County Fairgrounds. You know, where the 2009 Fall CBA Campout happened this past October.

The benches are not just randomly scattered around the grounds. Many of our universities offer a bachelor’s degree in Recreation & Parks Administration, so somebody with that kind of background may be responsible for the strategic placement of these benches.

These benches, cozily resting under the many trees that generously give them intermittent shade throughout the day, share common ground. Benches and trees both sculpted in wood. One by the hand of man, one by other forces.

It’s easy to just drive or walk by the benches without noticing that each bench is dedicated to someone or something. Someone or something that has had a significant impact on someone or something else. The “writing” is on the bench, not on the wall.

Away from where most CBA campers made their temporary homes, in one of the “wide open spaces” of the campout, the benches dedicated to seniors and handicapped can be discovered. There are no names on the benches, just “To Our Seniors,” and “To Our Handicapped.” About one hundred yards away from these benches, over the fence that divides the fairgrounds from the street, is Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School. It’s easy to imagine the memories of the senior and handicapped citizens of Colusa drifting toward the now crowded school playground that has come alive on a Friday afternoon. Memories of senior citizens that mingle with the delightful laughs, and screams of the children at play. Children whose minds have not yet given birth to what lies ahead of them as they continue their journeys, held captive on the carousel of time.

On the Friday night of the Campout, after a wonderful spaghetti dinner by chef mike and many volunteers, two bands opened the door to the on-stage music of the evening. With youth on their side, Snap Jackson and the Knock on wood players led the way. This youthful, high-energy group performed traditional, original, and “memory lane” tunes. Considering the overwhelming audience applause they received, the potential exists to change the “knock on wood players” to “The Knockout Players.”

This band was a hard act to follow, but The James King band was up for it. Snap Jackson meets James King, or youth meets middle age, is one way to look at it. All in all, a nice combo.

Just behind the stage, and out the back door, where the band members gather before and after their gigs, is another group of seven benches. Unlike the senior and handicapped benches, these have names. Names that keep memory alive and well. Names of those who have gone on before. Trina Culley Burrows, Clark Mayberry, Joan Armocido, Jim Armocido, Dick Pescatore, Ester Armstrong, and Al & Rose Rogers.

If you were sitting on any one of these benches during the live music, you might have noticed something out of the ordinary. I perceived that at certain times “my” bench would vibrate, to a smaller or greater degree, as the songs made their way from the stage, out the door, and joined with these wooden memorial structures. It seemed that the vibrations were more profound during the Gospel songs. In any case, I chalked it up to the sound system’s volume. The big-rig trucks that roared by on the highway, not far away, could also be a factor.

Wandering around on Saturday morning, I began to notice things that were not in my awareness on Friday afternoon, after the long drive to Colusa. Deciding on a good place to camp, finding out what was happening when, where to get a copy of Cliff Compton’s book, and what was wrong with my ailing vehicle had blurred my attention to what I was really seeing on Friday. You know, like experiencing things on one level, and then another level as time goes by.

Specifically, I started to focus on more of the names that were on the many benches that I had walked by on Friday afternoon and evening. Numerous other benches do list Colusa County organizations, businesses, and fair board members that have made significant contributions to the successes of the events at the fairgrounds as the years have gone by.

But the people names is what came into focus. And not just the names, but also the different jam bands that were playing near or close to benches. The two suddenly didn’t seem to be so separated. Some kind of relationship was developing here. Or maybe not. It was, probably, faulty thinking on my part. Chalk it up to not enough sleep on Friday night, the night before.

In any case, first I became aware of a three-piece jam band that was playing close to a bench in memory of T.K. Marshall. T.K. was on the fair board for twenty-five years. I was thinking he would have enjoyed hearing, “The Banks of the Ohio,” being played on this Saturday morning. Was T.K. ever on those banks, I wondered?

“In memory of Clifford Jay,” on another bench. Cliff, in a way, was being serenaded by a couple from Eureka, playing banjo and dobro.

A large jam band was next to the CBA tent area, playing for John Cation, Mary Angelo, and Joe Jaconetti. No, I mean playing next to the benches that preserve their memory.

The benches dedicated to Nellie & John Sterk, Ernie Nicoletti, and Molly & Arthur Aubrey, were penetrated by the music of a seven-person jam. At one point this group sang, “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight.” A Coincidence?

As Saturday afternoon began, under a grey, overcast sky, “Main Street” came alive with the greatest number of jam bands yet. Main Street, where the largest contingent of CBA campers made their home away from home. The street where jammers popped up like California poppies in the Spring. Next to each jam was a group of two or three benches, all dedicated to someone.

The bench I was sitting on, the one dedicated to Gilbert and Ruth Allen, began to vibrate, just a little. This bench was very close to a jam of over twenty players. The bench, probably, was picking up the vibrations from the voices and instruments. After all, there were seven banjos.
Looking over at the bench next to me, with the names of Jean & John A. Sterk, I could actually see it moving. Just slightly. Well, sure, nobody was sitting on it, so there was no weight to hinder any vibrations.

As the sun was waltzing its way in and out of the clouds on the canvas of a grey, afternoon sky, all the benches began to vibrate. Just small vibrations at first, and then more and more, and finally you could hear voices coming from the benches. Voices that were actually singing along with each of their newly adopted jam groups. Voices, especially loud on the gospel songs.

A minute later, the sun was trapped behind one of the largest clouds in the sky, causing the light from the day to wane. Suddenly the names on the benches started to light up. Just a little, and then more and more until all the names on all the benches glowed like neon signs.

At first the singing and glowing was surreal, and then real, and then bewildering. This phenomenon continued into the darkness of Saturday night, until around midnight. It was getting close to Halloween, but this just couldn’t be. Or could it? I went back to my camp to check my blood sugar levels.

The next morning, Sunday, waking to a painted sky of blue, red, and grey, I suddenly remembered a dream I had during the night. A dream about wooden benches at the Colusa County Fairgrounds, where a CBA campout took place. I couldn’t remember exactly what the dream was. But that’s the way it is with all of my dreams….

(Note: The risk here is beating a dead horse again; see Slim’s Welcome Column for 11/7/09)


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