crossville, tennessee

Two hours east of Nashville, in the mountains of Tennessee, you’ll find the town of Crossville. Head out of town a ways, down the winding country roads, and out there among the rolling hills are two of the biggest Van fans going – Don and Mary Bell, who have been into Van since his Them days. I don’t get to see Don and Mary half often enough, so we weren’t going to miss the chance for a visit. Mary came up to New York in February 2009 to see Van at the WaMu during Astral Weeks Live, and before that it was 2007, during what the Van fans called the Paid Your Dues in Canada tour, that I last saw Don and Mary. It was a short tour, with Van playing three shows in three nights – Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. I caught up with the Bells in Montreal and from there we headed out on the road, fueled largely, as I recall, with Tim Horton’s coffee and timbits. Not much has changed. Mary and her great-granddaughter, Riley, greet Bridget and me at the door, and Mary’s brief tour of the house before she heads out for Sunday evening church service includes our respective bedrooms, the bathroom, and the coffeepot in the kitchen. A day without coffee is a day without … well, there is no day without coffee.

A few hours later, Mary and I are huddled together in the kitchen, drinking coffee and sharing our stories from the road, when Don arrives home from a conference he’s been to in Orlando, Florida, and it’s time to put some music on. First up, because they’ve just got to hear this, is the Belfast show, in particular “It’s All In The Game,” complete with its No Plan B and THIS IS IT! And so begins our days with the Bells.

Bridget and I are loving this traveling around, exploring the nooks and crannies of places we’re seeing for the first time. It’s all new, it’s all exciting … and it’s all exhausting – the towns and cities and the roads that lead us there take their toll. It’s good to get off the road for a couple of days and simply relax. And no better place to do that than with my soul sister Mary and her wonderful Donnie.

Spring has sprung in Tennessee – the daffodils and hyacinth are up, and the buds on the trees and shrubs give an inkling of how beautiful the spring and summer will be here, nestled in the countryside. Despite the chill in the air, we find our favorite place – the side porch, complete with views of the pond, the flowers, cows, horses and ducks. We plunk ourselves down there for hours on end.

Far from the madding crowd, whiling away the hours and days, soaking up the atmosphere and rejuvenating our weary bones.

Nothing but good times with the Bells, with Mary’s down-home cooking to fill our gullets, mainlining coffee from sunup (not that we actually saw any of those) to sundown, hours upon hours of conversation ranging from music to politics, religion, history and genealogy, catching up on who’s in and who’s out on American Idol and Super Tuesday, communing with nature, and simply kicking back.

A heaping big thanks, Mary and Donnie, for opening your home to us, making us feel so welcome. We hate to leave but for sure, we’ll be back!

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