Monthly Archives: April 2015

Montreat – An Extra Special Place!

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Based on this vacation photo of me from when I was two, I guess you could say I have been going to Montreat for well over 55 years. And this is a place that is very special to my siblings and me.

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To get to this special place, we had to drive through this gate…

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…which today looks like this. Montreat is still only approached through this one archway—the only way in since the town is nestled up against the Black Mountain range.

When we were growing up, it was the Presbyterian conference grounds (today, it is an incorporated town) and in order to pass through the gate, you had to be registered for the conference (thus the reason for the gate).   That was why we went there almost every summer—our dad was a Presbyterian minister. Each summer that I can remember, he would attend a weeklong church conference in Montreat and we would tag along. And each time we would drive through the narrow gate, I would worry that we would crash into the side since it was so tight.

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(Later in life, I would get to drive myself through the gate and still feel that childhood nervousness.)

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While I know, based on these old photos, my first visit was when I was two; my earliest memory of this place was this house where we would rent a room for the week. And while my dad was at the conference, we were free to wander and explore and play. I guess you could describe it as a fun summer camp where there were no organized activities; you just did whatever you wanted to do for as long as you wanted.

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In the center of the conference grounds, there was (and sill is) a lake fed by a gurgling mountain stream.

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Getting to swim is one of those fun summertime activities that all kids love to do. But this lake was so cold, that even in August you couldn’t stay in for very long without turning blue from the cold.

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A better activity we found than swimming was to go rock hopping on the stream. That way you only got wet if you slipped off a rock and landed in the stream. We would rock hop up the stream as far as we could go, and then get out and walk down the road back to the lake. I remember one time walking past a sign that read “Danger, entering the Montreat Watershed.” I had no idea what that meant but I just hoped we wouldn’t get into trouble.

There were also lots of places to hike in Montreat but our favorite was to climb Look Out Mountain.

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This was a challenging up hill climb but for us kids it was easy (As an adult, I have since found it a bit more challenging). From the top, we had a fantastic view of Montreat and the surrounding mountains.

We did also have access to making crafts. One of my favorite activities when we were young was hammering out ash trays from soft, colored aluminum on hard plastic dies (no one in our family smoked so I don’t know what our mother did with all of those ash trays). We could also make crafts with leather and I recall hammering a belt with Indian heads on it. When we were older, there was a studio where we could paint and fire ceramics.

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When we got hungry, we would always want to eat at the grill on the top floor of the Moore Center, overlooking the waterfall. My favorite food then (and still now) was a hamburger and those burgers were just the tastiest sitting on the porch, listening to the waterfall. They also had Biltmore ice cream and an ice cream cone was often our dessert afterwards.

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On the floor below the grill was the bookstore. Since this was the Presbyterian Conference grounds, most of the books were of a religious nature but there were some kids books too.

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After finding a book to peruse, we would sit out on the balcony in their rocking chairs, listening to the waterfall and having a wonderfully glorious time just rocking and reading.

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I was never that interested in fishing but since there was a lake, you could get a day’s fishing license and fish for rainbow trout. My Dad was a lifelong fisherman and my younger brother enjoyed fishing as well. I would tag along some of the time but I usually got bored fairly quickly waiting on the fish to bite (even a nibble was a welcome break). However, I certainly didn’t mind eating the fish that was caught which my mother would batter and fry for us just hours out of the lake.

I don’t remember how old I was when we first start camping rather than renting a room but this was another great kid adventure. The camp grounds were right next to that cold mountain stream that fed Lake Susan and everywhere in the campgrounds, you could here the rushing water. It rained a lot in Montreat and so the trails in the campgrounds were often muddy—but all the more fun for kids. There was also a spot we called the mica mine (not sure if it ever was a mine) where we could easily dig up small mica rocks. I remember being amazed at how many thin layers of translucent film I could continue to peel off of the small rock.

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After we got older, our parents would rent a house and invite all of us to come up for the week. The first one was the Kennedy house. It was certainly more comfortable than camping out but it didn’t have a great mountain view.

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View from Cloud 9

At some point, my parents found another cabin to rent that did have a great view, Cloud 9. I don’t know how many years my parents rented that cabin but when we first started going there, our kids were small and my wife worried they would fall off the second floor balcony.

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My parents were still going there even when our kids were in high school and college. In fact, one of the last gifts our dad left us—unintentionally since he died that spring—was renting Cloud 9 for a week in August.

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It was bitter sweet to return that year just a few months after his death to Montreat and to the cabin our parents had shared with us on so many family vacations.

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I remember looking over at the rocker where our mom and dad would sit in that front room and thinking how different it was without either of them there. I have only been back to Cloud 9 once since then, five years after our dad died when all my siblings and their families decided to get together in Montreat. It still felt sad without them present in that house and I haven’t been back to Cloud 9 since.

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In 2010, I decided to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), which passes within 30 miles of Montreat. I interrupted my drive of the BRP to visit all of the places in Montreat we went growing up and recall some fond memories.

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It has been a number of years since my last trip to Montreat and I would say I am way over due. I don’t know when my next visit will be, but I know a new thrill I will enjoy in Montreat will be getting to introduce the fourth generation of my family to Montreat, my own grandchildren.

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And I suspect this will give me a chance to relive all of those old childhood memories while making some wonderful new ones.

Vacations

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Growing up, family vacations were a very special time for my three siblings and me. With our father being a minister and the additional weeknight and weekend activities that came with that profession, vacation was the time when all four of us were together with both our parents for undivided fun. Even though many of these vacations were actually “working vacations” for my dad, we still had a very special time (interestingly, many of my own vacations over the last 15 years have also been of this variety).

My earliest memories of vacation are of a place so special, that it deserves a post all by itself. But other early vacations from the 50s and 60s, I only have my parent’s black and white photos as a reminder since I have no memory of them.

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In order to save money, many of these vacations were camping trips. For us kids, camping out was a blast although we did enjoy staying in hotels the times we got to do that too. Through a child’s eyes, I didn’t recognize that camping was a lot of work for my parents, especially my mom. Since my mother cooked all of the meals at home, it didn’t occur to me that she wasn’t getting a vacation from her daily chore on vacation. And while washing clothes at a Laundromat was a fun adventure for us kids, it was probably a lot of extra work for our mom. But with my adult’s eyes, I know now what a lot of work it was (which is probably one of the reasons I am not that fond of camping even today).

Growing up, our parents did a great job of taking us to the historical places that help kids learn about the history of our country. I don’t recall if we did this all in one trip or two but we went to Washington, DC and Virginia. In DC, I remember the thrill of going to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum since I was so interested in science and airplanes. We also visited the Capital and each of the president’s memorials on the mall.   I recall looking out from the top of the Washington monument after waiting in a fairly long line and being amazed at the view.

We went to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home on the Potomac, and I could not believe how people of that era could sleep in such small beds wedged into the wall. I assumed they must have been very short people. At Monticello, Jefferson’s home, I was fascinated by all of the interesting inventions Jefferson created and installed around the house.

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And in Jamestown and Williamsburg, we toured all of the colonial sites of early American significance. Having since visited most of these sites with our kids, I cannot fully sort out which of my memories are from my childhood and which are from when I was an adult. But sometimes, it is quite amazing what events we have vivid memories of.

In Williamsburg, I remember going to an outdoor glass blowing factory where pieces of glassware were being made by hand using the traditional method by supposedly decedents of the pilgrims who would have lived there in the 1700s. My mother liked to collect souvenirs from our trips and at this location; she wanted to purchase a small, hand blown vase. I have no idea how much it cost but it must have seemed quite expensive to my dad as the two of them had a heated argument about buying it. My mom, whose frequent expression was she would purchase the Taj Mahal if she could buy it on time, won out and purchased the vase.

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After our parents died and we four siblings were going through the house picking things we each wanted, it was this vase I selected to bring to my own home. Since the time of its purchase at least 50 years ago, it has been dropped, broken, and repaired several times but today it remains a physical talisman to my childhood that still brings to me fond vacation memories of my parents.

After we kids were older (and obviously easier on a long trip), we went out West to see the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, & Carlsbad Caverns. The enormity of the Grand Canyon amazed me. Carlsbad Cavern was fascinating, as so many beautiful structures had naturally formed under ground. We even went back at sundown for the nightly bat flight, which was so thick, it appeared like a smoke column rising out of the mouth of the cave. And retuning to our hotel, I remember we came across a movie crew filming a scene from “Gargoyles” that took place in the area.

Another long trip out west took us through Pike’s Peak where we had a snowball fight in the middle of the summer and as far west as Albuquerque, NM where we met our sister who had driven over from CA.

One trip out west, my parents drove all the way to Los Angeles. I unfortunately didn’t make this trip, probably because I was in high school and already had a summer job. As it turned out, missing this trip meant I never got to Disney Land as a child, a fact that was only corrected this past December when my brother and I went to Disney World together for my first ever visit to a Disney theme park.

These were great vacations and I have great memories of having fun on all of them. But whenever my siblings and I think of vacation, it is not one of these trips I’ve mentioned that comes to mind first. No it is Montreat that is foremost in our minds whenever we talk about vacation. This is where we spent most of our vacations and thus where most of our memories are. And Montreat is a vacation story all by itself.

 

Hidden Treasures!

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It was last fall while I was watching college football that I planned to “multi-task” and clean out this closet. Beyond just the fact that this closet had gotten completely out of control, my real motivation was to clear out the closet so that I could repair the water damage to the ceiling that had occurred over a year ago when we had a roof leak. Since the ceiling was textured with a hard to match “popcorn” finish, I decided to scrape off all of the popcorn, and give the entire ceiling a smooth finish.

At that time, the first thing out of the closet was a box of old photos that made me pause from my true goal. After perusing the contents of this box, I realized that there might be other treasures hidden in this bursting at the seams closet. But it wasn’t until March Madness rolled around this year that I got back to the task of cleaning out the closet. Only this time, to ensure I accomplished the ultimate goal, I emptied the closet and made the repairs first.

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Once the ceiling was repaired, the closet was ready for storage and I began my treasure hunt.

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I found many of the items could simply be thrown away. It seemed like I had saved the box of every Apple device I had ever bought, some of which I didn’t even own any more. And it seemed like a store of old computer equipment was hidden, that with hard drives now removed, will be heading for the e-recycle center. Much more detritus was uncovered as I went through the closet contents that made its way to the garbage. But among the many items for potential discard, I discovered many hidden treasures.

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Inside a plain white envelope with a price of $1.50 stamped on it, I found my first grade school photograph. It was so large; I couldn’t even fit the whole photograph on my scanner. Interestingly, I also found an empty frame in the closet that was the exact size. Maybe I had planned on framing this many years ago and just never got around to it.

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So it seemed appropriate to place the photo in the closet from which it came.

Among the electronic devices headed for the e-recycle center, my son found a functioning VHS tape player. With it, he is still going through the multiple boxes of tapes but one discovery he has already made is a video he took of me when I was test driving and purchasing my red Miata over 13 years ago.

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I also found my old basketball brackets going back to 2007 where I would chronicle the winners throughout March Madness.

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Obviously I lost interest fairly early this season, no doubt due to an early exit of my favorite team, Memphis.

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I even found the tape deck my brother had when he was in college. He had given it to our parents to use many years ago and it made it to my house after we were cleaning out our parent’s home following the death of our dad. I hooked it up to my multi-media system to see if it still worked. The first tape I tried produced no sound. Not one to give up easily, I tried another tape, which proved to be the greatest hidden treasure find from our closet.

As the tape labeled “Audio for Family Video” began to play, I was shaken to hear my dad speaking to us—from beyond the grave so to speak. He had recorded this narration of our home movies sometime after our mom died. She had written the text but never put it on tape. So my dad typed it up and read it as he recorded.

A little bit of background: a number of years ago, my sister took all of our parent’s old home movies of us growing up and converted them to VHS tape. Watching the home movies sometime after that, my mom wrote the narrative. As I listened to Dad’s voice, the first time I had heard it in over 13 years, I puzzled over the silent pauses. And then it hit me; Dad was reading the story as he watched the video in order to sync the story with the images being shown on the video. Upon this realization, I began to visualize the old familiar movies in my mind’s eye as I listened to my dad’s words.

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Multiple times, I would tear up as I recalled the images listening to Dad’s voice. And then all of a sudden during one of the pauses on the tape, I could hear my parent’s Westminster clock chime in the background. At that point, I had to take pause myself.

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Often whenever I get started on a project, I find it turns out to be a much bigger job than I thought. For this closet project however, it was not the job that was too big, it was the treasures unearthed that was the real surprise. What hour of what day that clock was marking, I will never know, but it along with my dad’s voice is now perfectly preserved for the future.

How We Met

Do you ever think about how different your life would have been if one single event had not occurred? Or of the reverse, that had one event occurred, how different your life might have been as well? From either perspective, we can speculate a lot about how altered our lives could have been. For some, it might be how better their life could have been. For others, it might be just the opposite.

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For me, it was a chance meeting that literally changed my life—for the better—springtime 37 years ago when I met the woman who would become my wife and life partner.

Many married couples have interesting stories about how they met. Ours too, is interesting because were it not for the need of a pair of shoes, it might not have ever happened. I must preface this story with the caveat that this is how I remember the events. My wife, who has incredible long-term memory, may recall it differently or be able to provide even more details from her perspective. Maybe she will write her story in the future. But for now, let’s go back 37 years.

At that time, my future wife had recently graduated from college and was returning to her sorority’s annual dance to receive an award for her tenure as president of the sorority. Her date for the dance just happened to be shorter than her and so she needed to buy a pair of flat shoes so she wouldn’t tower over her date. I just happened to be working at Goldsmith’s, a local department store, in the ladies shoe department.

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My future wife and her longtime friend

 

It was one night in the spring when she and her friend first stopped by to find said shoes. I’ve been told in my wife’s version of this story that I was looking lazy (this part I don’t recall) and she told her friend she would see if she could get me to wait on her. My memory is that I noticed two cute girls in need of help and I was ready to be of service. I approached them and offered to bring out the shoes she would like to try which I proceeded to do.

Perched on my little salesman stool with the angled ramp for the customer to place their feet, I buckled on the first pair of shoes, a pair of flat sandals as I recall.

As she walked back and forth to try them out, we began to talk. She shared the purpose for the purchase—to return to her sorority to receive her president’s gavel—and I shared that I too, was president of my fraternity. We talked some about our college experience and as we did, I noticed how easy it was to talk to her (I was a strong introvert at the time and conversation did not come easy for me).

She made her selection, completed her purchase and we said our goodbyes.

Over the next several weeks, I wondered if I would see that cute girl again. She might not need another pair of shoes so soon but surely she would shop at the store again, even if she happened to just be walking by my department.

Several weeks later, she did come back by the shoe department. We talked some more and I soon learned that she had recently purchased a new car—a red, two-door Honda Accord. Since I expressed I was most interested in cars, she offered to give me a ride around the parking lot and I took her up on it.

She proudly showed off her new car and I enjoyed the experience. It might have been at this time that I learned that we had both gone to the same high school and graduated in the same class although we didn’t know each other. (Even though it was a large school, she claims to have known who I was since she prided herself on knowing everyone and in retrospect, I seem to recall at least seeing her in her ROTC sponsor uniform).

My ride ended and she dropped me by the door to return to work. At that time, I was dating someone else who also worked at Goldsmith’s so I didn’t ask my future wife out for a date. But after this second chance meeting with her, I began to look for her a lot more while at work.

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It seems like almost a month went by before I saw her again. One reason was I had gone to Florida for spring break. But then one night in May, she was back. (How this cute girl happened to be back on that particular night is a part of her story, which I don’t feel I am at liberty to share and obviously didn’t know at the time.)

She stopped by the shoe department that night and we began to talk. I seem to recall that I learned more things we had in common. It was an easy and enjoyable conversation. Before we knew it, an announcement was made that the store was closing and they were beginning to lock the doors. When she expressed concern about being able to exit the store where she had parked, I offered to give her a ride to her car.

In college, a little more respectable without the big wheels

In college, a little more respectable without the big wheels

We exited through the employee’s door and approached my car—a 1973 AMC Gremlin with Levi denim interior—which I had bought new when I was in high school. It was nowhere near as nice as her car but she didn’t seem to mind. I drove her around to her car and we talked some more. At that point, I decided to ask her out and inquired if she could go out with me the following weekend. She said she could and so we made some plans. At this point, I must have gotten her telephone number as well.

I made these plans in spite of already having a date scheduled with the person I was dating that also worked at Goldsmith’s. (Turned out that person came down sick and left a telephone message with my college roommate canceling, so I didn’t actually stand her up).

I picked up my future wife and we went to dinner at Blue’s Alley, a blues club in downtown. I don’t remember what we ate (maybe ribs, although I’m sure my wife remembers). When the evening ended, I remember that I just barely had enough cash to pay for our meal (the waitress really got shorted that night, since I think I left less than a dollar tip). But it was the beginning of many more dates and before the year was out, we would be engaged to marry the following year.

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To this day, Goldsmith’s holds a special place for me—the site where we first met (this vintage photo of their downtown store hangs at our condo). Whenever we share the story of how we met with new friends, it is a richer story, as we are each telling our part so they get both perspectives. But it is this event—actually three chance meetings, that I would never change one bit. For it was a life-changing event that has brought me a bounty of joy and for that I am forever grateful for the need of that one pair of flat shoes.

seeing my wife try on shoes still brings back that memory from long ago

Seeing my wife try on shoes still brings back that “first time we met” feeling from long ago