#2 Haywood County and #3 Jackson County
Please read the very first 100 NC Counties post for background info on our quest here.
As I drove away from my house and headed west for our mini mountain vacation, I seriously thought, “Oh Lord, what have I gotten myself into?” I was actually already exhausted from the full day of packing I had just spent. At one point my husband, who wasn’t joining us on the trip, said, “It’s going to take you all day to pack?” after I hesitated on something he asked me to do. Oh, if he only knew. Yes, it did indeed take the entire day! Plus, my littlest has been…well, a challenge…and we have mostly held off on traveling with him, or going to restaurants, or doing things in general. At that point it crossed my mind that our trip may be more work than fun.
After I picked my grandma up on our way out of town I never thought that again, not even once. It turned out to be a busy trip, but an energizing busy. A new-discoveries-are-being-made-everyday-so-this-is-awesome kind of trip.
When I got the idea to visit North Carolina’s 100 counties I thought, “How am I ever going to do that? We never go to the mountains.” Barely any time after that thought the way was provided. I received a text from fellow homeschool mom, photographer, artist, Classical Conversations tutor, and friend, Rachel Howard, asking if I wanted to join them near Asheville at the end of May. I never say no to such a question if I can help it, so I was in.
We stayed in cabin #7 at Pride RV Resort in Waynesville, Haywood County. I expected bare bones. We had stayed in the Outer Banks before in cabins that were bare bones (no sink, no stove, certainly no bathroom), and also more expensive. This cabin was not that. It had a bathroom, kitchenette, even décor on the walls. Small but comfortable, with plenty of space for all the groceries I brought in. Well-worth the $65 a night. But better than the inside was the fishing pond just feet from our screened-in front porch. At 8 o’clock that first night I was out buying fishing poles because we hadn’t thought to bring ours and the kids were dying to fish. After that they spent hours at the pond’s edge, catching fish and throwing them back. And I spent about half that time untangling fishing line, and cutting it out of the nearby trees.
The Howards showed up after dark that first night. I parked my car in the middle of the gravel road and shone my headlights into their spot so they could see while they hooked up their RV for the very first time. As I sat there and watched (I could be no other help!) I only wished I could have been equally as large a blessing as Rachel and her family had been to me these last two years.
I remember the day I met Rachel. It was 2012 and it was both of our first year as a part of Classical Conversations (CC, a homeschool group and classical curriculum), and her first weeks as a resident of the Crystal Coast. She had just moved back from Japan. We were at a CC practicum and she was easy to talk to. She had two boys, and my oldest was sandwiched in between their ages. So we kept on talking.
Sometimes, without realizing it, people we believe to be in our lives for convenience’ sake, turn out to be there for so much more. I happen to speak the “words of affirmation” love language. (If you’re unfamiliar with those terms read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.) I believe that if people are important to you, you should let them know. Life is too short to do otherwise. I know the Howards may not be people of mushy-gushy words, but they chose me as their friend, and I am.
I could not talk about Haywood County without them in it. In fact, we did less actual activities than I had intended in these two counties(I carry a three-ring binder packed with historical information and maps and places to visit, don’t you?), and more enjoying the people and surroundings. This was a goodbye trip, you see. The Howards had lived 10 or so minutes from us but it had been two years and now they had to move on. They were military, and orders had been sent. The Howards had bought an RV and were traveling across country to California, after which they would be LIVING in said RV for six months….or six to eight…now I hear it’s eight to ten. Apparently military time is a bit like Costa Rica time. After that, it was Japan again. Being a younger couple in our area, we are mistaken for a military family all the time. We aren’t, and we certainly aren’t accustomed to the goodbyes.
What we did see of Haywood and Jackson counties was beautiful. We saw tree farms on the side of sloping mountains. Wood carvers in the midst of their work. As we made our way along the winding mountain road between Maggie Valley and Cherokee on our way to Soco Falls we learned from my grandma how moonshine is made and what it’s made in, and then happened to come upon one such “still” (which I thought was “steel” because of her thick Greene County twang until I googled) in an adorable roadside store. Should you ever find yourself in this spot on HWY 19 and you see signs for Frog Jam and Moonshine Jelly, stop there. A cute little man may turn on Buck the Deer, which he fixed up himself, for the kids while you pick out fresh produce, jams and ciders, admire the hundreds of antiques lining every inch of the store’s walls, and find out where you may be able to pick up your own blue spruce.
There were friendly people at every single place we stopped. Even my Ingles (pronounced Ingalls) grocery store clerks were smiling and laughing, in no hurry and chatting away. No one behind me seemed to mind. Are all mountain people really this nice or did we just catch everyone on a great day? Rachel Howard fit right in there for the entire 36 hours she was there.
Over the past two years, Rachel had given me countless photography tips, sharing any and all of her knowledge with someone who bought a camera and a fancy lens with very little background info on what to do with them. I know this would have been a frustrating task to many other skilled photogs. She gave my oldest incredible art lessons which he LOVED and I can never thank her for enough, and that we may never find an equal to. She included me at times when I probably wouldn’t have typically been included. She was giving and unselfish and almost always up for whatever anyone suggested (my kinda gal!). Most importantly, she taught me about the kind of mom I want to be. The kind who teaches her children to be polite and respectful at all times, much like those amazing moms of decades past. The kind who teaches them to look people of all ages in the eye and communicate clearly to them. The kind who asks questions of her children and teaches them to be inquisitive, and who patiently and thoroughly gives or finds answers. The kind who realizes she has a small window of opportunity to instill some character and integrity into the world’s next generation. The kind who has her own dreams and desires, but knows that her first calling, in this moment, is mom. And she gives 100% everyday in order to live up to that calling. Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador, once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” She does just that every single day. She is the kind of mom who has high standards for her children, and never lets the world shake those down.
So I’ll always remember Haywood County with them in it, and how they immediately made friends with the park owner and manager and exchanged email addresses with the retired couple in the RV next door after ONE night because they are just those type of people. They’re the kind who remember a name the first time it’s said, and your cat’s name even when you don’t. They’re the kind who stop what they’re doing to say hello when everyone else is too “busy” to acknowledge you. They’re Marys in a Martha world, if you will. They’re the kind of people I strive to be more like everyday.
I’ll always remember that I drove away from this mountain trip a tiny bit sad, but mostly inspired and with a full heart. Great beauty tends to do that to a soul.
Until we meet again,