After a long weekend in my father’s mid-west homeland (read about it here), I moved on to the part of the country where my mother’s roots are. Of course, visiting my son and daughter-in-love and my older grandsons was the main event, but Sunday we went for a hike in Mama’s beloved Smoky Mountain National Park, tossed the rest of her ashes to sail into the red and gold and green hills where she hiked as a young woman and fell in love with my father.
But before that, they took me to the Biltmore; which, in the twenty-four years I lived in North Carolina, I had never visited. It was a treat. It is, of course, ostentatious and ridiculous in its opulence. But setting that aside, it is a step into a past way of life—albeit not the life of my forebears on the Michigan farm—and an architectural marvel.
Every room, at least on the first floor, had a unique ceiling. (I did not photograph them all!)
Yes, indeed, a bowling alley and a pool. Also a workout room. Of the multiple food storage rooms, Kristy said, “I just want a little pantry in the corner of the kitchen.”
Meanwhile, I was perfectly happy in the paradise of Nicholas and Kristy’s home in the cove.
My mother grew up in east Tennessee, my family lives in western North Carolina. Asheville was high on the list of my parents’ options for homes after the war, along with Colorado and Washington. I wish my father had lived long enough to know that his first born grandchild would raise his children there.
Nicholas and Kristy, with dedicated help from 13-year-old Max, are wrapping up a ten-month remodel of the lower level of their home. Like my current home, theirs is the house Kristy grew up in. They have been re-envisioning it, since they moved in many years ago. They’ve knocked out walls, moved wet walls, replaced ceilings, put in Pergo floors, tiled a shower, and torn out a wall and fireplace faced with huge rocks (you can’t even imagine), made living space from the garage. They did nearly all but plumbing and electric themselves. I am speechlessly proud of them.
On Sunday, we went to the national park and hiked to an overlook to say goodbye to our mother/grandmother/great-grandmother. After making peace with the fact that these mountains of my mother’s are not the rugged trail, old- and second-growth evergreen forests, and sweeping craggy peak views of my Pacific NW hikes, I enjoyed the gentle walk through the hardwoods losing their leaves. It’s what she loved too. “The Cascades,” she said, “are wild and beautiful. But you can touch and be held by the Appalachians.”
We each sent her off, “returning her home,” as Kristy beautifully explained to seven-year-old Ethan. I love this family—Mama’s family—so much. Her passion for the natural world runs through us all.
We stopped for well-chosen pumpkins on the way home. The t-shirt I saw there says it all. Thank you, Mama.
After twelve days in the homelands of my parents, I’m heading back to Washington today, to the place they built together and in which they raised their family. It is my homeland. My heart is full.