A handful of years ago when I was just beginning to write weekly essays, I indulged in an experiment, that experiment being…writing an essay with a solid buzz going on. The culprit: a hefty Dewar’s-rocks. At the time, no one seemed to notice…and life went on. Years later, having just spent a week in the Asheville area of North Carolina, I’m returning to the concept. Tonight it just seems very appropriate, so here goes:
Most of you know that Pam and I have spent 30+ years in scenic Bucks County, Pa. I’m here to report that Bucks is still scenic as hell. It’s beautiful visually, but as it grew up, it got more sophisticated, way more wealthy, and with that, some ugly changes came about.
I think money and power tend to corrupt and with that, things changed and not much for the better. The cars are way more impressive now, as are the houses…mostly Mc Mansions, but that came with a hidden cost. Like the proverbial frog on a stove of rapidly heating water, the frog often doesn’t know it’s “too late” until it is, indeed, too late. Pam and I baled out, went to the Asheville area and here’s what 10 years of visiting and a couple weeks of living here have taught us: What I’m telling you, you can take to the bank. There’s no ambiguity here.
In ten days, we’ve made more genuine friendships than ten years up north. Why? I’m not sure, because I don’t believe that people are basically that different. But circumstances change people. Down here, you can walk cold turkey into a hardware store, restaurant, gas station, boutique, any kind of store and meet people with…a terrific sense of humor, grace, and an interest in communicating. Really. No b.s.
As a very typical example, Pam and I went to Gibbs Hardware store this morning, met Scott and then eventually Bruce and about six or seven customers. Stories were swapped. I contributed and the stories got deeper and more interesting. I think many of these people have suffered more than their share and how did they choose to handle it? They decided to see the humor, the irony in life. It’s a very attractive character trait. Personally, I have had it up to my ears with being snide and ironic and uppity.
As a small sidebar, some good friends of ours are down here this week as well. Why? Because they’ve sensed the same growing loss of humor and empathy. They’re about our age and have come to the same conclusion about life: It’s short and getting shorter and to steal from James Taylor, the secret to life is enjoying the passage of time. AND YOU CAN DO THAT IN SPADES DOWN HERE !!!
In the past week, both of us have slept…like we did when we were kids, something I had begun to think was impossible. There’s an old old song that begins, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning….” The mornings here border on being magical. Freshness to the air that is so palpable, you could slice it up and serve it with your bacon and eggs. Clouds… I never ever expected to see clouds like the ones you see on vacation in the Caribbean…but they’re here. Every day, “Oooh, Pam! Look over there! Looks like a Norse god fighting an alligator!” or something on that order.
The food tastes better down here because… Well, I’m not exactly sure why, but it does. You can order a lowly English muffin and they put it on a grill and add some real butter and some cheese, and you’re moaning with delight. The cost? Mind-blowingly inexpensive.
Our taxes? One tenth.
A bit of irony: On the last leg of our PA trek to NC, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was bumpity-bumpity-bumpity, tar strips and people cutting each other off for 2+ hours. Those two hours on the turnpike cost us $21.50 for the privilege.
But then, we turned south onto 81 South. The road smoothed-out within five miles. The road rage disappeared and we began seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cost for 7 beautiful hours on 81 South? Zero.
Kids actually play with each other down here, playing hide and seek, tag, chasing fireflies, shrieking and giggling….sans cellphones. It happens all the time, every day. If you’re spotted on your cellphone in your car in NC? You get a hefty ticket. Why? Because it’s fucking dangerous and will kill somebody. Reason enough?
It’s even affected our three pups, Moose, Gigi, and Scooter. We have never- ever- ever seen them happier, racing across the property, going for a swim, chasing Frisbees. They eat more, sleep better and parallel our own mood.
When I bring this up to North Carolinians, no one bats an eye. Many, many, many of these folks are expats from other states. They are happy, “doin’ their thing,” as we used to say.
Think you need a Maserati, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Jag, to show everybody that you’ve made it? Share a little of your life down at the hardware store, the restaurant, the bakery, the boutique, the…well…anywhere and you soon begin to remember what’s important.
Our friends who came down to see what all the fuss was about have decided to stay until they’ve found their dream home. It won’t be hard.
To my friends, I say, c’mon down for a week and see for your self! To my small treasured cadre of frenemies and/or out-and-out enemies…..I smile. I think Sinatra said, “the best revenge is living the good life.” You can do it down here.
To our many friends up north….we’re working on fixing up the guest house right now.
Henry and Pam
P.S. Well now, this really is weird… I thought I was done with this article, so I took a little break and walked out to see where Pam had gone. She was down in the lower field on our souped-up golf cart with our pups…just stopped. I didn’t know till I was half-way down the field that there was another golf cart parked close on the other side. Well, I was in my t-shirt and briefs, but it was too late to retreat, so I called down, “Pretend they’re swimming trunks!” They were our new neighbors, checking out 12-acres of sculptures in their own golf cart. And then an hour went by, swappin’ stories and getting to know each other. This never happened in 30 years up in Bucks. Made some new and fascinating friends just sittin’ in my skivvies in the golf cart. Life is weird and Life is GOOD!!! All it takes is good people and a sense of humor. H.
Just this morning I said to myself, “self, you need to write Henry and Pam.”
The plan was to write this evening, thinking that you may not be doing your essays as regular now that you found the good life on the South.
Thank goodness you haven’t given up your pen.
I’m delighted you are up to your skivvies in sculptures and new friends. I’m afraid to let Wade read it. He’ll be home sick.
I have said to him in the past when he’d get homesick , if he could find us both jobs (same salary req’d); a nice maintainable home and a comfy place for the horses, I’d gladly move.
Cheers to your new found happiness.
See you at the fork in the road.
Pam and Wade
You have a date for that “Fork in the Road”! I can really see now why Wade would be homesick.
Though we miss our friends in Bucks County, Pamela said yesterday that there wasn’t a dollar amount that would convince her to move back. Never seen her happier and that’s what it’s all about.
It sounds as though you’ve found you’re niche and nirvana. Congrats. FYI. Perfect Taste has closed. Maybe they went to Ashville.
Ps How the hell did you move those sculptures? They don’t exactly box up too well?
I haven’t seen Pam this happy…maybe in decades. Our friends, Dick and Margie Rex are down here house-hunting right now. They’d had a place in Doylestown, and then started coming down here.
Sad to hear about Perfect Taste. We went there a lot and really liked the atmosphere.
The sculptures and my big tractor took up a half of the longest Allied Van Lines semi you ever saw. Still installing the sculptures, but we already have people stopping by to see them. They’ve gotten more exposure here in five days then 30 years at CrossBow.
Life is really really good down here.
Big hug for the both of you.
Henry and Pamela
Well you and Pam finally made it…started that new chapter you always talked about. Good for you!!!
We may just take you up on your guest house offer. What’s the place like?
Tom and Shelley.
Okay, it’s pretty close to ideal, at least for us. It’s about a quarter mile from a state forest that has 350 ft. waterfalls. The road there stops at the falls so there isn’t any through-traffic. It’s like something out of a Disney movie. You go up a long curvy driveway and the road literally forks…guest house on left fork, our house on right. Big waterfalls on the property that you can hear everywhere, and then huge area that looks like it should have been a golf course….that’s where the sculptures are being installed. Big pond with island and…a stream that ostensibly has gold in it. It goes on and on and on. Hope to see “y’all” soon!
Henry and Pam
I am so happy for you both. Let me know when the guest house is done, I’ll be there with bells on. How far are you from Grandfather Mountain? Although I miss you and Pam I am grateful to have counted you as a friend, Sean sends his greetings <3
Hey Debbie! Great to hear! Not sure where Grandfather Mountain is. Pam thinks it’s about an hour away.
We’re just pruning back about a decade’s worth of overgrown shrubs. It’s all fun!
Henry, you are turning into a new upbeat person.
Keep it up. It’s good for the soul.
Thanks………I think. Maybe that’s what’s happened to the other folks who moved here. They gradually got a lot happier.
Just been out installing sculptures and cutting away a decade’s worth of neglect and overgrown foliage around the waterfalls. It feels like that Sleeping Beauty transformation when you can’t see the cottage for all the overgrowth.
Can’t believe it’s almost 10 years that Liz and I have lived here near Nashville… Much of what you’ve experienced we did also… Like sitting at the end of the first day of house hunting having a brew discussing the 14 places we had seen… A late 20s something couple inquired if we were moving here (not eaves dropping.. I’m just loud)… We say ‘Yes’, they replied ‘You’re going to love it here’ and turned and never said another word to us…
That exact sequence… ‘are you moving here’ – ‘you’re gonna love it here’ – happened everywhere we went… Same exact phrase… And 10 years later we still feel they were right..
Enjoy and with a son just up the road from you in Charlottesville ya never know when we might detour for a glass of wine and a cold one.
Hey Charlie! Hi Liz!
Nice image of the two of you.
It’s almost like something from an old Star Trek, or Twilight Zone episode. A couple moves to a place and everyone seems strangely…happy. For a long long time they wonder, “What’s the catch?” only to find that the place they’d been living wasn’t as friendly as they’d thought. It was really weird wandering down in the lower field and seeing people wandering around looking at the sculptures. Then it occurred to me, that’s exactly the reason I made em…for people to wander around and laugh or comment or whatever. One teenage girl thought one of our sculptures was a combination of God and some kind of KKK grand poobah or something. That’s the beauty of making these babies…people have their own delightful interpretations. You two have a permanent blanket invitation. This town had it’s Gold Nugget Festival yesterday, celebrating one of the largest hunks of gold ever found. We have a big creek and falls on the property and we’re gonna learn how to pan for gold. Doesn’t really matter if we find anything, just fun that there’s a possibility.
Oh God Henry. You’re gonna have everybody moving down here in no time, and
it’ll be just like up north! But what you have it’s really a different
vibe than some other places in NC. Our coastal region (like my Wilmington
and Wrightsville Beach) has become a little pretentious ( not so much in
the Outer Banks or Core Banks, which is much like what you describe) in
many ways, and the urban areas like Raleigh and Charlotte (not Asheville I
guess but haven’t spent much ty there) are full of that superficial bilge.
Oh well. I’ve seen so many changes in my town that I’m afraid we’ve lost
much of what you still have in Asheville and is still in many parts of NC.
I’m looking forward to my next visit to Britt and Lee.
Reminds me of an old Yogi Berra quote: “The place is so popular that nobody goes there anymore.”
It’s gonna take a lot to screw-up this area. I think we’re safe for now.
When you wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and you say Life is Good….then life IS good. You deserve it my friend. Wear it well. I did write you a personal email around Memorial Day. Did you get it? My best to you and Pam. Always your blue jeans and t-shirt friend,
Yeah, I did get your e-mail and the response your friend gave. I wrote a short answer back to you saying that he’d said it about as well as it could be said….which was pretty accurate. Sorry it didn’t get to you. The past few weeks have been bizarre as far as communication goes. Everything then nothing, then a little something, then nothing at all. I think I have all the wires plugged in right now, but there’s an itty bitty satellite dish that looks like it’s pointing at nothing at all.
A few friends have wondered whether I’ve indulged in a bit of hyperbole about being down here. I’ve I’d been doing that, I’d easily fess up and say, “Well…I’m a writer.” The fact is this place is absolutely blowing our minds. This morning I went into a store to buy some really mundane crap. It ended up like an Abbott and Costello skit. And everywhere we step out of the car, there’s someone who wants to shoot the shit and get to know us. We took down a bunch of our big sculptures to the new place, set em up in about a seven acre area that looks like a golf course. You’d have thought we put in…….I don’t know what…they just love what we’re doing and that we’re here. There is no amount of money that would entice me to go back to PA….and I really liked PA pretty much.
If and when you get a chance……C’mon down and see for yourself.
Wow you are now feeling what it is like to be “free”This is what I grew up doing “feeling the summer breeze” like they say oabout life “life is like a summer breeze it comes and goes” You make me miss the south sometimes I feel like my properties are in control of me and that’s not good. I want us to get sewers and then get out too. I am tired of so much hustle not much time to feel the beautiful day. I am thinking more and more to go back south to my roots.So happy you love it there just sorry you all did not get to see my Mill. Take care and stay happy!! Phyllis
Yes, freedom… It’s a strange new (and also old and familiar ) taste for me and it tastes GREAT! I had it briefly in pilot training down in Columbus AFB, Miss. I’d fly in the morning, study, and then take my motorcycle out and race around the countryside. On a motorcycle the smells change from one field to the next, clover, weeds, water, cow shit, roses in the space of a minute.
It’s never too late to choose a chapter of freedom. I know exactly what you mean about creating a Utopian home an then discovering it can also be a prison. I created CrossBow, our estate in Bucks County and it had it all, as I imagine your mill does. But ultimately, it’s people that are the spark plugs, not stuff.
…..you know you don’t have to do an all-or-nothing. Try a place down here where you know you’re gonna love it. Rent it, by it…whatever.
It’s years and years now, but that first time I met you in Drakestown, (didn’t know you from Adam) but you made a lasting impression…very regal. …and funny! and smart, and also beautiful even now. You pulled in the driveway and were fishing around for your attache in the back seat. You handed it out to me without even turning around. You said, “Here, take this,” handing it out to me. I thought, “Well, this is gonna be interesting.” and it was. You were exactly what we needed to sell a house that took magical powers to sell. Never forgot that.
P.S. If you and your husband decided to come on down and see what Asheville is all about, Pam and I would be honored to show you around.
I, too, love the South. Manners, a slower pace, beautiful scenery and a reasonable cost of living make it very attractive. No one cuts you off in traffic. People love to talk to you, even if you are a stranger to them. Not everyone would get it. You have to want to belong to the community, even if you are an eccentric, people will accept you for your candor if you are not mean-spirited.
You can assimilate, just don’t tell everyone you meet, “how we do it up North”. No one cares.
Good to hear from you. For years, every time I’d come down here, I wondered what the “catch” was. Was this some kind of southern promotional program that everyone had bought into? I kept waiting to see the “reality” behind what I was seeing. The truth is: folks are truly happy down here and content with their lives. There isn’t a lot of frustration that they don’t have the newest car or most expensive house. They’re doing stuff to help each other out and that’s the basis of real and lasting happiness.