Saturday, November 15, 2008

Autumn in the Appalachians Part 3


On Saturday I drove over and ate lunch at the Unicoi State Park lodge near Helen, Georgia, then made the short hike to Anna Ruby Falls.

Does this picture preach, or what?

Anna Ruby Falls


Then I drove over and UP to Brasstown Bald. At 4784 feet, it is the highest point in Georgia, and not too far from my cabin. It is quite a hike straight up the mountain from the parking lot, very steep, but a lovely walk if you take your time.


A view from the top.

I left Brasstown Bald and drove just down the road to my buddy Dan Easton's house, or rather "houses." Dan owns two pre-Civil War cabins. He lives in one and rents the other one. Mountain Man Dan, AKA Mr. Blairsville, is a local realtor and owner of Three Springs Realty. If you are looking for mountain property, Dan is the man! Since I'm giving free advertising, I can't overlook Sarah Davis, the wonderful realtor who helped me find my place in 2003. Sarah works for Cozy Cove Realty, and she is a lot prettier than Dan!

Dan's cabins

Front porch of the rental cabin

Inside the rental cabin.

This shot at Dan's cabin reminded me of Tennyson's poem "Mariana."
from Mariana
WITH blackest moss the flower-pots
Were thickly crusted, one and all;
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable wall.
The broken sheds look'd sad and strange;
Unlifted was the clinking latch:
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange . . . .
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Dan's kitchen

Dan's table

Dan plants a big organic garden every year and lets the deer eat all they want. Believe it or not, even though it was October, there were still a few tomatoes left on the vine, and I got to make a tomato sandwich. Dan also fried up some Nantahala sausage to go with it. Dan makes pinto beans and cornbread at least once a week. His kitchen smelled like my Granny Hinson's kitchen. Can you say heaven? You should stop in if you're ever in the area.

Nothing better!

Autumn in the Appalachians Part 2


It would be safe to say that this time my mountain trip was all about hiking. When I am in the mountains I walk almost every day at Meeks Park in Blairsville. Like most of the parks I have visited in Georgia, it is impeccably maintained. It has a loop trail that takes you up and over the hills, through the forest, and along Butternut Creek to the point where it flows into the Nottely River. Almost every afternoon you will find the squirrel man there feeding the animals. It is amazing how he has tamed the squirrels and birds that come down and sit on his head or perch on his shoulder. The day I took these pictures it reminded me of a scene from Snow White.



Tuesday afternoon I drove over to Tallulah Gorge State Park to participate in the Full Moon Suspension Bridge hike. The weather was cool, the sky was clear, and the gorge was breathtaking. It took a while for the moon to rise during the hike, but it was still nice. I was hoping for one of those big orange harvest moons, but alas that moon came Wednesday night. Check out the Tallulah Gorge web site for a wealth of information about the park to help plan your visit.


Hurricane Falls

The upper rim trail was paved with recycled shredded rubber tires. It was like walking on air.



Bottom of the gorge.

On Thursday I took a loop road trip up to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, across the Cherohala Skyway to Robbinsville, North Carolina, and back to Blairsville, Georgia. It was an amazing day packed with my favorite things . . . fall color, mountains, forests, hiking, and a waterfall to boot.

An abandoned roadside cabin in Tennessee.

When I reached Tellico Plains, I stopped at the visitor center, and then walked through the gift shop and museum next door. It was a small facility, but it contained several fine collections of telephones, radios, currency, firearms, and such. Back on the road, I entered the Cherohala Skyway. A few miles down the highway, I took a side road to Bald River Falls. The winding drive along the river was relaxing, and I enjoyed the many interesting rock formations on the banks. The water level was low, revealing even more craggy black rocks in the river bed. You need to click on these photos to enlarge them and enjoy the staggering beauty.




Bald River Falls

video

Scenic overlook on the Cherohala Skyway.



Santeetlah Lake

Remember the Rock City advertisements from childhood vacations?

My favorite fall foliage, a sugar maple, in Robbinsville, North Carolina.



The most amazing part of my road trip was hiking the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. So amazing in fact that I decided to give it its own post. When that post is ready, I will include a link here in case I post it to one of my other blogs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autumn in the Appalachians Part 1


I'm sure a lot can be said for springtime in the Rockies, but you can't deny there is something special about autumn in the Appalachians. Every October I trek up to my cabin for my favorite time of year, and once again this year my mountains did not disappoint. My original plans were to take a short trip like last year, but by the time I scheduled everything I wanted to do, I realized I would have to take off the whole week. I know . . . it was a sacrifice, but you do what you have to do.

I left on Saturday morning, and everything was great until I got halfway between Gainesville and Lake City. Suddenly, it sounded like all hell broke loose under the hood of my car. I lost power, the temperature gauge rocketed, and my dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. I limped to an exit, pulled over, and called AAA. I decided to relax and go with the flow rather than have a breakdown over the breakdown. I remembered in all the years I have been driving to the mountains, I had only had minor car trouble once before, and I was grateful for that. While I waited for the tow truck, I played with my iPhone and enjoyed the cool weather. My situation could have been much worse. An hour later the tow truck arrived and hauled me back to Pep Boys, one of only two garages open on Saturdays in Gainesville. While they worked on my car, I crossed the street and ate at Moe's, then hiked down to Borders, all the while counting my blessings and thinking how much worse my situation could have been. Within five hours from the breakdown I was back on the road. Don't ask me what had to be repaired. All I know is timing bar-something, serpentine-something, thermostat, and radiator cap. God bless Pep Boys!


A few weeks earlier, my longtime friend Sherry Cole had asked if she and her parents, Barbara and Bobby Bethune, could stay at the cabin for the weekend while her daddy attended a small Turkey Creek High School class reunion in the mountains. Although their time would overlap with mine, it was not a problem. It would be great to see them again. Sherry was still awake when I pulled in around 10:00 PM, and we stayed up talking into the night. Sunday morning I got to catch up with Bobby and Barbara before they headed to church and more reunion activities, and I headed to the Apple Festival in Ellijay. While we were getting ready, I played some old Singing Rambos and Lanny Wolfe Trio CDs for Barbara. Just beautiful, bittersweet memories . . . .



Monday morning we went for breakfast at the Sawmill Place in Blairsville. It was everything you would have expected. Crisp autumn air, the aroma of brewing coffee, a table spread with eggs, grits, biscuits, sausage, gravy, pecan pancakes, and stewed apples. It would be safe to say Sherry ordered everything on the menu.

Sherry just getting started on her personal buffet.

That big ole cathead biscuit sandwich is mine!

My longtime friend and me.

Bobby, Sherry & Barbara

When we got back to the cabin, we sat down and watched the Dottie Rambo Homegoing Celebration DVD and worshiped and bawled like babies. Earlier that morning Sherry and Barbara had let me know they wanted to watch the whole thing before they returned home. Only people whose lives have been touched by the Rambos' music for decades like ours have would understand.



While the Bethunes packed, I burned them some music CDs. Then we said our goodbyes, and they headed back to Nashville.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Uncle Olan!


We recently celebrated the 70th birthday of the man who, with the exception of my father, has impacted my life more than any other. Of course, my life is not the only one this great and generous man has affected. So, two weeks ago over a hundred family members and friends gathered at the Pleasant Grove Fellowship Hall for a surprise birthday party to honor a man we love, Rev. Olan Hill, Jr.


Early Saturday morning, Uncle Olan went out to breakfast and running around with his adopted son Carlos. The premise, or rather the lie, was that later Carlos would need to stop by the fellowship hall to take care of some item of business and Uncle Olan would go with him. Before Uncle Olan and Carlos arrived, the rest of us had time to visit . . . a LOT of time!

Chuckie, Aunt Mary Lou & Doyle

April & Doyle

Layna, John & Hanna

One of the conversations while we waited was about Layna's new hair color. April told us when she colored it she got it a bit darker than she had planned. Personally, I thought Layna's hair looked nice. Then Layna told us that Papa (Uncle Eugene, my daddy's older brother) said he didn't like it. I was thinking that was a pretty good sign, considering that Uncle Eugene has never been a fashion icon from whom any of us sought advice. But that wasn't all. Layna told us she said, "Well, Papa, your hair is yellow!" We all laughed so hard because we knew what she was talking about. Uncle Eugene and Aunt Mary have lots of iron in their water. Of course, Aunt Mary's hair is snow white and beautiful. Can't figure that one out. Layna, while you were at it, why didn't you mention the comb-over? NOTE: I don't have to worry about Uncle Eugene reading this because he refuses to buy a computer!

Surprise!

The family pulled it off.

The menu was Mexican, Uncle Olan's favorite.

C'mon, Chuckie, squeeze on some more cholesterol!

Mama & Baby Cruz

Daddy speaks about his best friend.

Is Javin a cutie or what?

Uncle Howie got lots of sugar.

Holli serves Uncle Olan his individual sugar-free cake.

Is that the most recent photo they could find for Carla's video tribute?

My turn to give honor to my favorite uncle.

I remember Uncle Olan’s fiftieth birthday party like it was yesterday, right here in this very room. Do you remember the “Over the Hill” theme? As Uncle Olan would say, it was just “the other day.” I have pictures in my archives and look at them occasionally. Interesting . . . I was only thirty at the time, I had hair then, and Granny Hinson was there. I guess it wasn’t yesterday, and in a few weeks it will be my turn to go over the hill, too.

I remember Uncle Olan’s retirement reception, also in this very room. Part of this tribute is excerpted from a piece I wrote for that occasion. But that was over a decade ago, and because the truth remains and it was such a well-written piece, I think it bears repeating. Besides, many of you weren’t there the first time I read it, and those of you who were, don’t remember it.

Reflecting on Uncle Olan’s life, I’m reminded of a verse from the Old Testament that speaks of orphans and strays, something both he and I can relate to.
The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land . . . .
Leviticus 19:3
I graduated from Asunción Christian Academy in July 1976. I was excited about coming back to the States, as Mama and I boarded the plane. Uncle Olan and Aunt Mary Lou had agreed to let me stay with them until classes started at Southeastern in the fall. Several days later when Mama returned to Paraguay, she knew she had left me in good hands. I know this is Uncle Olan’s shindig, but you can’t really speak of him without mentioning Aunt Mary Lou. If it weren’t for her, he would never have become my uncle or surrogate father. So I’ll put her first, like Uncle Olan always does.


How much closer to having my own mama could I get? She loved me as her own. She signed with me to open my first checking account and taught me how to balance my checkbook. (Somewhere along the way I forgot how. I think I need a refresher course.)
She took me to Southeastern to help set up my apartment. She thought she was just caring for me that first summer until I started college. Imagine her surprise when she discovered I was coming home every weekend for the next three years. But she didn’t let on.

I was there for Christmas and birthdays, and she bought presents for me just like she did for Holli, Doyle, and Chuckie.

She says I never complained about her cooking, and I always ate what she prepared. What was there to complain about? It tasted just like home.

If I got sick at school, I knew I could come home, and Aunt Mary Lou would make me feel better. She wasn’t too proud to hold my head. (Some of you know what that means.)

She often took in my friends from Southeastern—Jack & Denise, April, Jimearl—and they came home for the weekends, too.

Her love and care for me never wavered, not even to this day.

Uncle Olan loved me, too. I wasn’t even his blood kin, but it felt like it. He paid for my meals when we went out to eat . . . of course he usually paid for everybody seated at the table.

He bought my first car, a blue Volkswagen Flintstonemobile. I attempted to pay him back until I burnt up the engine. “Oh, that’s what that little red light means . . . .”

He bought my second car, too, a yellow Plymouth Duster hot rod with a Holley carburetor you could hear from miles around. I just assumed that mechanic services came with the car, because Uncle Olan was always there to help me when it broke down. Once, when I was stranded in the parking garage at Maas Brothers in Lakeland, he came to tow me home, breaking the grill on the front of his Plymouth Volaré station wagon in the process. (Yes, that was the same Volaré we too to Oklahoma when Chuckie climbed from the front, to the middle, to the back, to the middle, to the front, the whole trip.)

Another time when I was at home and couldn’t get the Duster cranked, he left work in Tampa and drove all the way to Durant just to help me get it going. Uncle Olan, don’t think for a minute that I’ve forgotten. I don’t care what anybody says about his proficiency at plumbing or painting, I’ve always thought he could fix anything.

It was through Uncle Olan that I began to see the laws of the harvest come full circle, about receiving a hundredfold return in this life. He was the man who would give you the shirt off his back, unless of course he needed it to wipe up spilt varnish from Aunt Mary Lou’s white leather furniture. And he got his returns. Let’s see, there was the video camera he won at the mall, and the truck he won at Disney World, and the Caribbean cruise, and the original oil painting from a Janette Oke book . . . .

Many times I have heard Uncle Olan tell the story of how he, too, was an orphan from Oklahoma sent to California with strangers on the back of a pickup truck, how he wandered the country, how his pants were so dirty he stood them up in the corner at night, how he made his way to Florida by way of Japan, MacDill Air Force Base, Montez Green, and Jesus. How Aunt Elsie and Granny Hinson and others took him in and loved him, and ultimately how Aunt Mary Lou agreed to marry him.

This Oklahoma orphan went to college, earned two degrees, became an ordained minister, a teacher, a public school administrator, a merchant, a notary, an accountant, and local justice of the peace. People from miles around—Mexicans, migrants, transients, rednecks, and what some would call “poor white trash”—knew there was a man at 1503 Sydney Dover Rd. who would help them out, loan them a little money, prepare their taxes, or marry them in the middle of the night.

Everyone just seems to feel comfortable around Uncle Olan. Perhaps that’s why one of the multitude of scruffy little boys who always seemed to live in the house down on the corner knocked on the front door one day and asked Aunt Mary Lou, “Can Chuckie’s daddy come out and play?”

I recall a phone conversation I had with April about Uncle Olan. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but it was “the other day.” I don’t remember our conversation verbatim, but I remember talking about how much we loved him, how he was always so positive and lifted our spirits when we were around him, and how no one else could have joined our family and become such a vital part more than Uncle Olan.

Yes, he loved me then. He loves me now. How do I know? Because every time he sees me, he puts his arms around me, kisses my cheek, and says, “I love you, babe.” He still sees me as his own, and he is mine as well.

Happy birthday, Uncle Olan! I hope you have seventy more. And Aunt Mary Lou, thank you for snagging this great man!

The clothesline pictures—some were prettier than others!

The "big" gift from the family. He thought he was getting an iPhone.

Heath stopped by near the end of the party.