It’s been a really weird week down here, particularly the last 12 hours or so. As a writer, I was tempted to title this essay, “You’re not in Kansas anymore” but that wouldn’t really tell the story. For what it’s worth, the essays you read here and other places are often sweated over for hours, days…and more. And then it hit me: Neil Simon would have had a ball down here in Old Fort, NC. Whether you know his name by heart or not, he’s written scores of hits that you’ve watched…but possibly never known. I could fill the rest of your screen with his creds. Just a handful: The Odd Couple, Biloxi Blues, Lost in Yonkers, Barefoot in the Park …and a little three-act play simply called: Plaza Suite. Each act takes place in room 719 of the Plaza in New York. Three different stories…same place, funny, bittersweet, insane…vintage Simon. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a five star cast and…oh, the humanity.
Which brings us to a funny, weird, bittersweet, vignette, which played out in the last 12 hours or so right in front of our house. Settle in, grab a cup of something that’ll chill you out and take a look at the beauty and strangeness of humanity on one small country road.
A tiny bit of background so that this will all make sense, right from the start. Dragonfly, the place we bought down here wasn’t at all what we thought we were buying…not even close. It’s on Catawba River Road which snakes along the river for three miles and dead ends at 350-ft. waterfalls.
It looks like a super sleepy little road in the middle of Nowhere…and it isn’t. It’s people from all over, locals, visitors from places I’ve never heard of, and to steal a line from Steinbeck, you’ll see wise men, prophets and holy men…as well as pimps and con artists and God knows what else. In other words, all of mankind. Since we put in the sculptures…all over, things changed. Every day, two or ten or twenty people pull over, and ask very politely if they can walk around and look at the sculpture. We always say yes, and as a result we meet some extremely interesting people.
ACT ONE of Catawba Sweet: Yesterday morning: I’m on my Kubota dragging branches and limbs to a big bonfire to clear the property next to the road where we already have a Pterodactyl’s Nest installed, plus a new sculpture titled: Wizard Lessons. A nondescript car pulls over and out steps an older man who looks like the father of all forest rangers. Olive drab uniform and hat and more badges than I’ve ever seen on a human being. I kill the tractor engine and prepare to get a ticket for…God knows what.
He walks up, we introduce ourselves and begin talking. I’m paraphrasing but it’s pretty close. He says, “I’ve been coming up here for the last few months. Today is the 12th time. I stop by your sculptures, have some tea, chill-out a little, just enjoy looking at nature, your stuff, the falls.” I look at him. I see the story in his eyes. I say, “Twelve times, that’s a lot. What’s your story?” He says, “I’m getting radiation treatments. Twelve so far and I got about 20 to go. After the treatments, I have to chill-out…so I come here.” I ask what treatments. “They’re for my jaw.” I ask the 64-dollar question: “So how’s it goin’?” He smiles. “It’s goin’ pretty well!” And then we talk for about an hour, just standing there leaning on the tractor.
He makes gorgeous walking sticks and he’s going to show me how to carve one. I’m going to show him how to braze. His name is Wayne…and he has a bronze medallion on the top of his hat with a picture engraved with John Wayne’s image. He says, “Sometimes I introduce myself as John Wayne…just for fun. You see, I haven’t done all that much, and sayin’ I’m John Wayne makes people smile.” I bite my lip and try not to go heavy right then. And I tell him truthfully that his walking sticks are the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen. That was a guy who just pulled over to shoot the breeze. Got a new friend now. So does Wayne.
ACT TWO: Yesterday afternoon: Pam and I are pouring a concrete pad at that same place near the road so that the Wizard Lessons sculpture won’t get knocked down in a windstorm. We are muddy, and filthy with grey concrete and a little car pulls over in about the same spot where Wayne did. Two women are smiling and telling us which sculptures they like. Turns out they are professors over in Asheville and we get to talking. The plot thickens a bit.
They currently have a large class of “mature” students who are getting back into life, making the”Third Act” of their lives as fun and exciting as they can. I ask, “How mature are they?” The answer: “Pretty damn mature,” and I joke with her, “When you go on an outing, do you have an ambulance following along?” The answer is, “Not so far.” And then she asks if she can bring all SEVENTY-FIVE students over to Dragonfly to spend the afternoon? Pam and I say, “Sure” at the same second. I’m not sure how it’ll turn out…or whether our plumbing will survive 75 mature men and women, but we’re going to give it a shot. This sort of meeting is actually a lot like the conversations we have every day, every week.
ACT THREE: Pam and I are back up at the house, cleaning the mud and concrete off ourselves, and still another little nondescript car comes idling up our really, really long driveway. At one point, they stop, not sure whether to keep coming, but I wave them up.
There are four 20-somethings in the car: two gals in the back, guys in the front. Except for the driver, they look like actors out of central casting for a Woodstock bio. The driver…not so much, a lot more conservative. True to form, of the three hippy-types, one is a painter, one a singer, one a guitar player. No big surprise there.
The driver, however,hesitates when I ask him what he does and then says, “I’m getting ready to go to life-insurance school.” From his hesitation, I say, “You don’t sound too psyched.” He says, “I’m not. I don’t want to do this. I just want to make a lot of money…and once I do that, I’m going to do what I want to do.” And then the conversation begins in earnest.
Nearly an hour goes by in the driveway, and by the end of that hour, things have shifted slightly for the driver. Friendships have been sewn and who knows what they’ll grow into? Keep in mind, this was about 12 hours worth of what is rapidly becoming a mind-blowing life down here. In the 30 years we lived at CrossBow in PA, this has never, ever…ever happened.
This last part will sound a little Walt Disney, but after the “hippy” foursome left, Pam and I went out on the deck to watch the truly weird cloud formations down here…sorta like over the Gulf when I was in pilot training, only today we saw something we’ve never seen before. Gorgeous clouds drifting by, but at one certain area, each one became a cloud-rainbow. It didn’t just go on for a few minutes. It was half an hour. We took movies, we took stills. Just amazing clouds colored like a brilliant rainbow. Maybe my original title for this blog wasn’t so bad after all. “We’re not Kansas down here. But we’re in a very weird very special place.”
I have no idea and no theory why people here are so open, gracious and friendly. I truly don’t. But, it’s been close to a year now, and this isn’t just a freak day, week, or month. It’s every day. And yeah………the book I’m writing about this place is requiring frequent re-writes to keep up with it all.
It’s amazing you can do all you do with the constant visitors, I lose an hour of work for every person that comes in and asks for the waterfalls. Shut of equipment, get off equipment, ask what I can do for them, give them directions to the falls, they drive out and head towards the falls, watch as they park in my parking area at the other end of the campground, start the equipment, go over to tell them this is not the parking lot, give more exacting directions, watch as they pack back in the car, when they drive off in the right directions start the equipment, find out that you are now out of fuel, walk back to the other end of the campground to get the gas, put the gas in the golf cart, drive back to the equipment and fill, drive the golf cart back to the other end of the campground, walk back to the other end were the equipment is, rest for 20 minutes because my breathing is short because of the walking, when I am breathing better I get on the equipment and start it, now I see another car pulling in at the other end of the campground. OH Well.
Rick, that is an absolute PISS!!!!
I knew you had a droll sense of humor, but this is terrific! You should be writing psych-up books for depressed morticians!
A thought: Go to the dollar store and buy a $2.00 counter. Next time, someone stops to ask a question, take out the counter and with a deadpan face, explain to them that it’s a dollar a question. Click the button, smile and say, “What’s that first question?”
Good show, my friend!
Those clouds look like angel wings. You sure do have a beautiful angel watching over you.
Love the stories.
Beautiful imagery, Carol!
Never thought of it that way.
First, I adore dragonflies. I am so very jealous of all the people who are getting to see your installations at your new place. You are both so talented and I completely understand how you welcome so many new people and experiences. I am so happy to have gotten to know you when I did. Keep sending me the updates and of course, the new book when its ready. Its 64 degrees today here in New Jersey….go figure! Wishing you both all the best.
You are always so wonderfully gracious! Thank you for that. You’d fit right in down here…and, if I haven’t said it lately, you have an open invitation to come on down. We have a full-service guest house overlooking a pond and falls..
I’ve always been fascinated by dragonflies as well, though the more you know about them, the more you realize how ferocious they are. They’re the tigers of farm pond, attacking anything in their way. A little secret: There are thousands of them down here, but naming our place DragonFly also hearkens back to my flying days when the jet I flew had the nickname of Dragonfly. It all just worked.
64 degrees in New Jersey? Strange, indeed!
Thanks for writing, Donna!
What a happy day you both had. Work accomplished & friends made!
It doesn’t get any better for us! We wandered into a strange place. Strange and wonderful.
Thank ya kindly, Maryellen.
Thanks for that little bit of happy.
My pleasure, Helen.
Loved loved loved this Henry! I think that the open welcoming energy that you both have, greats those open to it. They are doubly blessed to get to meet and know you. I like the reminder that everyone has a story….
Thank you. I’m forwarding this on.
Hi Lorelle! And thank you for the kind words, though in essays like this one, it’s the people and their humanity…and their stories that are the engines that drive the story. You should have seen Wayne’s walking sticks! Prince Charles would be honored to have one.
You and Pam found your true happy place. I am genuinely happy for you both. You love the community and they return that love….does not get better.
You hit the nail on the head, Phil! And it only took 68 years!!!
How goes it up in your neck of the woods? The weather down here has been nothing short of bizarre.
Sunbathing in February? I’m thinking our illustrious president must be responsible for it. Donald Trump…BEST WEATHER, BEST RAIN Hottest Sunshine!!!
What a guy…………………………………………………………