“A caution and a challenge!”
Things happened pretty quickly between Lance and Donna after they met that magical night but when Donna saw the enormous stack of beer cans in Lance’s basement practice room she was concerned she was jumping into a relationship with another alcoholic. This absolutely could not happen! She asked around, “checking his references”, to see if he had a drinking problem. She was assured by all that he was not a drinker. Smoke was his vice, and that just was not the same.
All those beer cans were from his bandmates. He just didn’t pick them up, leaving them in a ‘beer can mountain’ of a pile. He was okay after all! But after meeting Lance, Donna’s friend Annie Laurie did dub him “A caution and a challenge!” Which Donna will recount from time to time even to this day. So, after a short courting period, where they would go between his and her house, they decided to merge into one household. Lance and his kids moved up the hill and into Donna’s house.
Built in 1925, the 4,218 sq. ft. house was perched on top of Ashwood hill overlooking what is now Nashville’s famous Music Row. From the front of the house, it appeared to be a cute little two-story bungalow that belied its truly massive interior.
A Brief Tour
As you entered through the front you stood in a large living room with a fireplace and “sunroom” off to the left. To the right was a formal dining room. Walking forward and leaving the living room, you enter the hallway which wrapped left around the staircase which was like the spine in the center of the house.
The first door on the left is a bedroom. Down the hall to the left at the end, the master bedroom. Round the corner and the master bath was there on the left and a door that led downstairs to the basement was to the right. Through the doorframe straight ahead and you are in the kitchen with a large walk-in pantry. A cutting board/table served as the center point of all activity in the kitchen.
Many hours were spent sitting around this cutting board handcrafted by her friend Hap. To the left and out the back of the house was a small room she called her “religious artifacts room” which held a collection of items related to various religions. Out the back door and onto a deck revealed not only how steep the hill the house was built upon, but an astounding view of Nashville. Back inside, we continue through the kitchen to a breakfast room. Continuing on to the dining room, and returning to the living room completing the circle around the stairs.
Up the staircase leading to a sitting room, and a small bathroom with three more bedrooms at the front of the house. Downstairs to the basement led to a two-room apartment with a bathroom, converted into Donna’s office. Also a laundry/ furnace room, and an enormous basement room with fourteen-foot high ceilings. This was the room her former husband Arthur Orr had used as his painting studio. Now it was being used to make tie-dye and other art with the kids that hung out at the house.
Lance was still working for the ad agency as a “computer network manager”. This was a job that had been created with him at the beginning of computers in the workplace. There was no such position before. Working out of her home, Donna had her own bookkeeping business with two employees. Her clients were alternative people that couldn’t deal with the corporate suit and tie mentality. Some really couldn’t afford much so she did some barter as well.
Donna, and her three daughters, had a whole wardrobe of tie-dye from trades with one of her clients. After Donna’s youngest daughter came back home from living in New York, some of her friends began hanging out at the house. She welcomed this vibrant life after some of the previous dark years of survival with an alcoholic.
There were lots of young people regularly around the house as well as a few homeless people that crashed there. She was generous to the people around her supplying cigarettes, cable tv, and food for the ’tribe’. Donna was also cooking up a huge pot of soup to take to the park every weekend to feed any of the homeless people that came through there.
Donna was a true activist at heart. The homeless people came and lined up to get a bowl of soup while the kids played drums, and guitars and danced. It was a mini-festival every weekend down in Centennial Park.
Rainbow is a loosely unorganized non-organization of alternative thinking people. It is said, “there are many colors to the Rainbow” which is absolutely factual! Most are wonderful caring individuals that share in the Rainbow community, filling a need as they see it needs doing, in service to the community at large. Many are travelers, moving through this world in a nomadic fashion. There are many people that are Rainbow spirited that have never even heard of it.
And yet, there is another term in the community for those who just take; ‘Drainbow’. Our ‘homeless’ people were travelers and street people that began to just stay. After a while, it became apparent that they weren’t going to do anything to help out. They enjoyed being served as well as all the comforts afforded them in this caring household.
Maybe a Little Help Here?
We suggested that to help with food costs they might get food stamps but they were reluctant to the point of that never happening. Their solution was to “dumpster dive”, collecting food that had been thrown out at the markets. Granted, a lot of the food was good, just not pretty enough to be sellable. This did help a bit but getting them to do that regularly was difficult to motivate.
Not the Swimming Hole
One time, someone announced they were going “diving”. My 11-year-old son got all excited, ran upstairs and put on his swimming trunks under his shorts, and ran back down just in time to jump in the truck to go. When they got back with baskets of damaged vegetables, he was not so happy as he huffed, “By ‘diving’ I thought they meant we were going swimming! It was dumpster diving! Argh!”
This helped a bit but still, they weren’t helping around the house with cleaning or doing the dishes (loading the dishwasher) after meals. They did watch lots of cable TV and smoked lots of cigarettes since Donna was buying cartons of cigarettes for the community.
One night, she put her last cigarette on the cutting board announcing that no one should smoke it and she would buy more in the morning for everyone. Jeremiah apparently just couldn’t help himself so he helped himself to her last cigarette. She was so upset that she said, “Fuck ’em”, and she stopped smoking for the next five years.
No more cigarettes, so some people moved out. Donna got fed up with their lack of cleaning up after themselves and decided to turn off the cable. She wasn’t watching it anyway. Several more people left. Eventually, it came down to just a couple of people that were comfortable just existing on her dime and were eventually asked to contribute in some way or leave. They chose to leave. Then it was just us. There were still jams and music and visitors but the house had become her own home again.
A House Full
One time, we were told a NORML (National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws) bus had broken down in Nashville and was about to be in trouble with the police. If they were on private property they could not be harassed or searched without a warrant. So we went out to find them and guide them to park in front of Donna’s house.
Not long after, a Rainbow bus needed a place to park, and then a van full of Rainbows joined the household! In total, more than 50 kids were crashing at her house! I’m sure the neighbors were going crazy! There were kids everywhere drumming, singing, playing guitar… it was a festival! Donna organized food for all as they made a line circling through the living room, down the hall into the kitchen and back out the dining room, and into the yard. Anywhere you walked, you had to step over people. We had great fun.
The gatherings at the house continued with drum circles and feeding the homeless was a regular weekend experience. Once while serving up soup to the homeless in the park, several buses with Russian and American flags emblazoned on the sides with some logo text about peace between the nations rolled into the park.
Curious as to what was going on we walked over to find out and realized they were divvying up the Russian travelers/tourists between some church groups to host them. We went up to the people in charge and said we would like to host some Russians ourselves.
We Got Some Russians!
They said to wait and see. After a while, it turned out that two of the adult Russian chaperones would like to come home with us! Wonderful! We packed up the empty soup pots, put all the kids in the pickup truck, sent them to the house, and then loaded our Russian tourists into Donna’s La Baron convertible.
They were amazed that a woman not only had a convertible car but a house of her own. When we arrived at the Ashwood house, the general party atmosphere full of kids drumming and being generally free to do as they liked was mind-blowing to our guests.
Stepping over people that were sitting around in groups, we made our way to the kitchen. We sat around the large kitchen cutting board/table until the wee hours sharing stories, drinking REAL Russian vodka that they brought with them… and more things they couldn’t do back in ‘Mother Russia’. One special moment was when we presented them with an uncensored book that they absolutely could not get in their country… Gorky Park.
I’m sure that the night’s magical experience is one we will all remember for the rest of our lives! The next morning we said goodbye to our new Russian friends. And the party continued on.
After a few days of all the visitors, they were ready to leave. We also had tickets to see a traveling Broadway show and announced that the last people out should lock the doors, and we left. When we returned everybody was not only gone but the house, the kitchen, and all the rooms had been cleaned immaculately. The only thing missing was a beloved belt buckle her grandmother had given her. There’s one in every crowd.