How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Last Fourth of July in the U.S.A Before Heading to Abu Dhabi

I am sitting on the front porch of my parents’ cabin in Hiawassee, Georgia enjoying this late morning Fourth of July. Today Jim and I will grill shish-k-bob on a disposable grill I bought at Ace Hardware in town yesterday.  I will make deviled eggs, split pea salad, and scalloped potatoes. I will slice a cold fresh tomato and arrange the slices on a paper plate. We will celebrate the Fourth of July together, just the two of us. I retrieved dad’s American flag from the cabin basement and it is positioned in its rightful place on the deck where it flutters in the July mountain breeze. 

 Yesterday, it occurred to me that this will be the last Fourth of July in the good ole US of A that I will participate in for two years.  Sure, I can celebrate in my own small way in Abu Dhabi, but the fireworks, the American flags flapping from every street corner, the small town parade resplendent with red, white and blue will not be part of my celebration next year. The realization makes me wish I had mustered up my last bit of strength last night and enjoyed the fireworks display at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, but quite honestly I was just too physically wiped out from riding the roads of the Appalachian and Great Smoky Mountains all day.   My wander lust was satiated, but I was too tired to oooh and ahhh as the banging colors and booms turned the night sky into one of celebration, joy, and patriotism that transcends political lines for one brief evening. 

My yesterday:
Jim and I set off for Rabun Gap and the train museum that the students of Rabun Gap School built. After a self-guided tour of the museum, impressive in the fact that it is, and was, built and maintained by high school students, we stop at the The Dillard House to eat a late lunch. After we are seated, I keep waiting for a menu that never arrives. The waiter finally comes to the table carefully balancing a huge tray on which bowls upon bowls of food sit: butter beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, steak, ham, fried chicken, string beans, squash casserole, sweet potato casserole, cabbage, biscuits, yeast rolls, corn bread, and chow chow.  The waiter places the bowls on the table until the table top is covered.  Jim and I heap the food on our plates. As soon as we empty a bowl a waitress appears to fill it back up. For dessert I have hot blackberry cobbler a la mode (but I scrape the “a la mode” off and give it to my ice cream loving Jim).  Afterwards, we decide to meander and just see where the road leads.  No plan or destination. Just drive. 

We take a long route heading into North Carolina that leads to a small pit stop of a town named Cowee, North Carolina. The town is surrounded by pastures on which cows graze lazily. Old farmhouses dot the scene haphazardly breaking up the pasture land, and the most amazing old houses stand proudly, albeit vine covered, weathered, falling victim, as everything does, to time, but standing nonetheless. Still bearing testament and truth to the historic signs that relate their history.  Like ghosts out of a past that refuse to die completely.  Jim and I park, tromp around, read the markers, take photos of the houses, and wonder aloud about the lives of the people who once inhabited them. I get bitten by mosquitoes. I swat at my legs, wish for bug spray, and explore a stream with a stone covered bridge shading it. 

I love this old farmhouse in Cowee

A school teacher once lived in this old house in Cowee, North Carolina.

After leaving Cowee  we continue on highway 28, a twisty mountain road toward Lauada, North Carolina, which sits at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Highway 28 was originally established as a state Hwy 286 in 1921. In 1934, it was renamed Hwy 28. The two lane road curves and twists upon itself, sometimes making almost complete sharp U turns. The wall of the cut mountain and the thick forested back regions blanket one side of the road and the sheer drop off of the Great Smoky Mountains graces the other.  Small clapboard houses and dilapidated trailers cling to the sides of the mountain at almost every U curve.   Old junk cars are scattered about, laundry dries on porch railings, and power lines are draped heavy with kudzu. There are no discernible yards for children to play in, and I know there are children because I see bus stop signs posted every few miles, and on the porches of some of the homes I see toys scattered here and there. But I see not one living soul as we transverse the mountain.  Dwellings are planted wherever the mountain offers up a small, flat parcel of land.  If a scenic driver happens to miss one of the sharp U turns he or she will end up inside the living room of one of these homes. 

A trailer precariously perched on the side of the mountain.

 Laundry drying on a porch

 The mountain keeps curving upward and upward. My ears pop and stop up from the altitude, and no amount of gum chewing or yawning helps.  Fat raindrops begin to plop on the windshield. The sunlight slants through the random openings in the canopy of trees.  The road keeps turning and spiraling. We pass no touristy scenic overlooks. No antique shops, no fruit and vegetable stands, no cutesy motif theme generated “General Store”. 

 The narrow two lane, curvy patch of highway we are traveling was not built for tourists, but for linking the generational hearty and stubborn Appalachian residents to outside conveniences and necessities. Imagine how cut off from the rest of the United States the people living on this mountain were ninety years ago, before the narrow, dusty, bumpy dirt road was paved over and turned into a real road.   This past helps explain the oftentimes stereotyped clannish ways of these people and their suspicion of anyone who isn’t “from ‘round here”..  There were five counties in North Carolina that did not secede from the Union during the Civil War. They didn’t have a reason to.  The fight was nothing to them.  It didn’t encompass or effect their way of life. They lived according to their own set of rules, and still do.  The story of these people is told in the calm majesty of the mountain, in the way the varying shades of foliage hold and bend the sunlight, and in the quiet, kind manner of the people who have made the mountain their home for untold generations. Generations of these people have adapted, survived, and flourished in relative self isolation. To some extent, they still exist on the fringes of the American Dream, but are proud and self-reliant almost to a fault.

Darkness will be arriving shortly.  Jim and I agree that the day was a good one, but is now over, as we point the rented Tahoe in the direction of the cabin, over an hour and a half away. The sudden burst of rain has opened the pores of the land. I roll down the truck window and catch the scent of the earth; rich, dark, green. We are tired and weary, but filled with the peace of exploration, crisp air, and good food.   The sun slowly begins to settle over the ridges of the mountain tops and the sky turns purple and pink tinged with gold. The colors melt to pastel.  

A sunset whose colors rival a Monet

 Who needs Fourth of July Fireworks? 

July 4th, 2012
Jim and I spend July 4t painting the new covered porch that my mom had carpenters add on a few months back. At the end of the day I am covered in barn red paint and still have dinner to prepare if we are to eat. The shish-k-bob have been marinating since last night. I fire up the disposable grill, but soon give up, take the shish-k-bob inside the already hot cabin, and broil them.  I take a shower while the potatoes cook.  After three shampoos the red paint is finally out of my hair. Jim and I eat, and I sit on the porch and listen to the strains of a band coming from a nearby campground.  My ear picks up the pure notes of a steel guitar.  I close my eyes and allow the chords to work their magic. 

Twilight arrives quickly, and the sounds of children and the music drift my way louder and more insistent. I walk to the campground.  Some people sit in lawn chairs, others on the bare grass. I pick out a solitary spot on a lone bench. The band isn’t very good; the singer is off key and the lead guitar is one beat behind the bass.  But I am happy and I clap to the music and laugh when the singer tells a corny joke. I am in the midst of people. People who say “hello”, who smile, who make me a part of who they are by their simple acceptance of me..

Jim the painter. Only one of his many talents

 Me covered in paint, trying to cook shish-k-bob on a sorry excuse for a grill. Major fail.

 And that quietly and uneventfully ends what could be my last Fourth of July in America for quite awhile.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, Teri, you make this southern girl so homesick! Soak it up, stick some in a ziplock and bring it with you. You are so going to miss the south!