Memberabilia: I’m Now a Halfback
by Joan Birsh
Lots of painted memories. Here – a country church and view of Grandfather Mountain.
No, I haven’t been recruited by the Miami Dolphins. What I have done is rent a lovely house for the summer months in Linville, North Carolina.
Unofficially, transplanted northerners who winter in Florida and then migrate to NC in June are known as “halfbacks” because we are halfway back to our origins – e.g., Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nebraska.
This is the first time in my life that I have lived in the mountains and I signed up for this house in Linville last January “sight unseen”.My new summer residence did not disappoint. It turned out to be an attractive one-and-a-half story rustic chalet, located in Linville Ridge, a gated residential community that encompasses a members-only club with a beautiful golf course; tennis, pickleball and croquet courts; a gym and pool, and three restaurants.
Imagine Ocean Reef Club about 10 degrees cooler and 4,000 feet higher, with tree-covered mountains instead of an ocean. (As it turned out, unbeknownst to me, a number of OR Members discovered Linville before I did. Some are longtime homeowners.)
Living in someone else’s house takes a little getting used to.
I approved of the comfortably furnished living room and bedrooms (there are three, all with baths). But they were not, as you might say, “unencumbered”– everywhere there were souvenirs of somebody else’s foreign travel, family events or football team affiliation.
Fortunately, my son Tom, back from a year-long stay in Thailand, helped me hide the larger objects like bear sculptures, decorative bird cages and oversized candles. And I quickly began to feel at home, especially in my spacious bedroom, where I have an unobstructed view of Grandfather Mountain, the area’s premiere sight. Just looking out the window is so satisfying that the only incentive for early rising is the promise of morning coffee on my porch where I can continue to enjoy this panoramic view.
It is interesting to be in a place where “the view” (which can be found everywhere) is a major part of the entertainment.
In Linville (and the surrounding communities of Banner Elk, Boone, Blowing Rock), Grandfather Mountain presents the highest and most imposing peak. It is named “Grandfather” because its ridgeline brings to mind the profile of an old man with a recognizable nose and beard.
This mountain and others belonging to the Blue Ridge range offer many well marked and frequently traveled hiking trails. My grandchildren, all in their 20’s, packed a lunch and hiked to the top of Grandfather. They returned five hours later exhausted but ecstatic.
The next day I too was able to experience the giddy heights of Grandfather. I discovered that by paying a fee, it is possible to drive to the mile-high suspension footbridge at the top of the mountain and to walk across it savoring the incomparable view. (If you suffer from acrophobia, forget I mentioned this.)
Since hiking is not my NC activity of choice, I was more than happy to leave the peaks to the kids and to stick to the lower levels, where I always found something beautiful to see and attempt to paint. I may not be producing masterpieces, but I do end up with lots of little watercolors that give me the fun of looking carefully and creating some personal souvenirs.
In addition to watching the mountains and the clouds vie for the top position, I delighted in observing the hummingbirds vie for position at the bright red feeder that hangs off the edge of my porch. These tiny birds are territorial and a place at the feeder is definitely not “first come first served“.
I’m a New Yorker (a longtime resident of NYC) and a Floridian (an Ocean Reef snowbird), so there is a lot about North Carolina that feels foreign but welcome to me.
Top of the list is the temperature. Summer in NC feels like a long Spring. When the thermometer goes to 80, they are talking heat wave. A close second on the approval scale is the friendliness of almost everyone you meet. If someone asks whether they can help you, they look you in the eye and you know it is a sincere offer. And I have yet to come across anyone who isn’t up for a little chat.
The restaurants in the mountains of North Carolina offer lots of variations of Southern cooking. Most of it “comfort food”. Here are a few of the dishes I found the most comforting – shrimp and grits, biscuits with gravy, chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes; boiled peanuts; and Carolina bar-b-que. Don’t start counting calories, just enjoy the more than ample portions.
My top shopping excursions focused on the outlets in Blowing Rock, about 25 minutes away on the gloriously scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. (I’m a relentless bargain seeker and at Banana Republic, there was a 70% discount on the original sale price.)
In Banner Elk (minutes from Linville Ridge) at an interesting store called The Dande Lion, Inc., I found my favorite Krazy Larry pants, an attractive jacket and a couple of scarves, that will make good Christmas presents. I also bought two blouses and a beaded necklace at a craft fair (they seem to pop up frequently in the area). And in the art district of Asheville (about an hour’s drive), I splurged on a lovely linen stole. The artist explained the elevated price as a contribution to “the arts.”
Of course, if you want to be a real tourist, you can always browse the Original Mast General Store, which is not far off in the village of Valle Crucis.
34 – 32. Those numbers may not mean anything to you or me, but to the residents in and around Boone, NC, they represent a Game Changer in the true sense of the word.
THE GAME: Football. THE DATE: Sept. 1, 2007. THE MATCH-UP: University of Michigan (a Big Ten powerhouse playing in the home stadium) vs. Appalachian State University (the underdog from Boone, NC, whose chance for a win was so low that there was no Las Vegas betting line for the game). THE RESULT: Perhaps the greatest upset in the history of college football. A blocked kick in the last 6 seconds sealed Appalachian’s victory. The score 34-32.
Why am I telling you this? Because from all accounts the “Upset in the Big House” remains of singular importance in this area. Many of the shops where I frequently buy or browse, prominently feature tee shirts and hats that say “34 – 32”. And our waiter in a favorite Indian restaurant gave an unprompted announcement that “That game forever changed Boone.” Maybe he’s right. I know for certain it resulted in a significant upswing in applications to Appalachian State University, which currently has an enrollment of nearly 18,000 undergrads.
For me personally this nearby university about 25 minutes from my house has flavored my bucolic summer with a lovely dollop of culture. Appalachian State University sponsors a summer festival that offers first-class theatre, music, dance, lectures and films. My family and I were privileged to attend an outdoor (BYO camp chairs) concert featuring the Broadway musical star Bryan Stokes Mitchell. Who would have thought that just a short drive from my lovely mountain retreat, I can find unexpected and intriguing diversions?
Living in the mountains can be elevating in many more ways than just altitude.
I expected a mountain to be stolid, immutable, perpetual. A big chunk of rock that emanates an unchanging image.
Instead I began imagining my mountain, not as a grandfather, but as a lady of substantial proportions, who delights in dressing up. Sometimes she is in purple, swathed in a diaphanous cloud vail. Often she wears her favorite summer frock – a sap green number with burnt umber shading. At sundown you might see her in something with a dash of pink or orange. And for more formal occasions her choice is an old favorite – an all-encompassing gray cloak, accessorized with black. I have yet to see my lady of the mountain in her Fall wardrobe, which I have heard is delightfully gaudy and flamboyant.
Mountain High Praise.
I am truly in awe of the sights and scenes I’ve witnessed, the activities I’ve enjoyed and the people I’ve gotten to know in Linville Ridge, North Carolina.
Keep an eye on the roster – I am hoping to resume my position as a HALFBACK again next season.
Featured Above: “The view from my bedroom in the cottage I rented this summer in Linville, NC.”