Asheville for the weekend, then across VA to Williamsburg. We logged some miles on the family van on this trip. This trip will always be memorable because we spent it visiting two friends in two different cities. I go back to my childhood with these women… we have known each other since we were sweet little girls!
I’m going to go backwards for this post, starting with the Williamsburg part, because of the circumstances of the trip. I’ll say right off the bat here that my father passed away on May 20, 2013, shortly after we walked in the door from our 4-day excursion. It was not totally unexpected because he was weakening and he had a stroke a week earlier. Mother’s Day, May 12th, was the last day I (and my three siblings) had a two-way conversation with dad. The most consequential thing I can say in this paragraph is Ralph left this earth peacefully, in his own home, per his wishes. Quality of life was monumental to my father, and a great feeling of peace surpassed the constant worry on my shoulders when I heard that my dad closed his eyes for the last time.
So… the trip was memorable for lots of reasons as my photos will show. After all, I was in two beautiful and scenic cities, Williamsburg, VA, and Asheville, NC. Both cities are favorite destinations for Gary and I. After a couple of days in Asheville, we backtracked almost to Durham and then north into Virginia. We spent the night in Willamsburg and the next morning we met my friend Colleen Moll Febach in the parking lot of the outlet mall in Williamsburg. Colleen and I lived close to each other in Cascade and we went through First Communion together. She was a year older in school, but we went through school together until I moved to Great Falls in 1967. We’ve said many times, it does not matter if months or years go by between visits, we pick right up where we left off. And our visits are fun, warm, lovely, and today was no different. Colleen lives in Deer Park, WA and comes to Williamsburg every year or two with friends.
Colleen, Gary, and I walked around, did a little shopping and of course we were talking non-stop. A satisfying lunch at a nearby Chili’s was wonderful as we reminisced about family. I believe lunch was satisfying; all I remember is talk, talk, talk! Colleen is a retired nurse, hospital administrator, and Navy nurse, so our array of topics included clinical, pharmaceutical, elder care, geriatric issues, and lots of catching up on family. She is mom to three grown daughters and I don’t think she’d mind me saying she is a breast cancer survivor. In one of life’s unfair slaps to the face, Colleen was diagnosed with breast cancer after her devoted husband, Ken, passed away suddenly. All of this has happened over the last few years and Colleen continues to display physical, emotional, and spiritual strength she’s always had.
As I attempted to talk about the prospect of losing my father, my friend felt my pain and reminded me that although she still has her mom, she lost her dad, Wally, while she was in her 20’s. I took a mental note to remember how fortunate I am to have had a loving dad for so long. It was a comforting visit because she knew Ralph & Margaret and I knew Wally & Lola Mae, and we still have some pretty great memories of each others families. After I got back home to Greenville and got the call from my sister Karen about my dad, I immediately sent Colleen a message. Just hours earlier she and I and Gary were together, and sharing stories. I’m not sure when or where our next visit will be, but we’ll pick up where we left off … as always. I’m glad Gary was a good sport when I said, “how about we leave Asheville and go back home via Williamsburg?” We did take some time to walk around the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, the second oldest college in the country, which is such a beautiful campus. I shot some pix there, but I have more on another blog post of Williamsburg.
Now – back to the beginning of the trip, the Asheville leg of the trip. My other friend I’ve had since childhood, grade 4 actually, is Janean. I have a blog post about this from last fall: Dear Penpal. Janean and I did not grow up together in the same town or school, but we were penpals since 4th grade. Neither one of us can remember who drew whose name from the box, and we each kick ourselves for not saving any of our old letters! We assume that our 4th grade teachers were friends of some sort. However it happened, Janean from Auburn, IN and Cindy from Cascade, MT became lifelong friends, despite seeing each other maybe a half dozen times in our lives. Our visits will increase now that she and her husband Bernie have retired and moved to Asheville, NC.
I wanted to get back to Asheville sooner than later for a couple of reasons. Janean and Bernie bought a house there, retired in Asheville, and invited us for a visit. My dad would remind me now and then to be sure to get to the Biltmore House in Asheville and do the tour. He had been on the tour himself quite a few years back when he visited A’ville for a big coaching convention. I really wanted to be able to tell Ralph that we finally toured the Biltmore. And I did tell him over the phone the day before he passed away, but it was a one-way conversation while the caregiver held the phone to his ear. Nevertheless, I’m certainly glad he was persistent in promoting the Biltmore House tour.
Janean and Bernie are super hosts for many reasons, including insisting we leave Remy with them so we could go to the Biltmore House and not rush through the tour. Wow. What a comfort. They took care of Rem like she was their own and it is obvious they love dogs. Gary and I took off for Biltmore in the morning. I was disappointed, but understood, that photography is not allowed in the house. The pix on this blog post from the Biltmore are of the exterior. The Biltmore House is the largest family owned home – still – in the country, still owned by the Vanderbilt’s. It is a big tourism draw for the City of Asheville, I’ll tell you. The grounds are impeccable, the acreage is vast, and the interior is – well, so impressively crafted from the woodwork to the draperies to the wallcoverings and even the giant drapery rods. I would imagine that some Vanderbilt family members never even saw all of the rooms in the house. There is a winery on the grounds and a little village where we had lunch. It’s worth the price of admission, I’ll tell ya, to see that house at least once. Your mouth will hang open as you walk through this mansion.
Janean and Bernie’s home, up on a mountain overlooking Asheville, was like staying in a beautiful home and art gallery all at the same time. Bernie has created many (maybe most) of the abstract paintings in the house and any photos do not do his artwork justice because of the intense colors and textures. In his semi-retirement from his optical business in downtown Chicago, he has some creativity going on in his noggin that I sure admire. He and Janean have many special, interesting things in their home. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it has a story. I love that. In all my picture taking, I did not get a recent shot of Bernie because the day after our arrival he was feeling pretty punk and came down with a nasty cold, sequestering himself and his germs from the rest of us.
We went to a great restaurant the first night, thanks to Bernie and Janean already knowing some of the great eateries in Asheville. (For lunch on arrival on Friday, we met at 12 Bones, a popular local joint that we visited before – never disappoints.) Our Friday night restaurant choice was the Stoney Knob in nearby Weaverville. The burger and fries I had for dinner were excellent, and Gary had short ribs that he enjoyed. Janean had a watermelon salad, a fave of hers. The atmosphere was eclectic, the conversation was lively, there were no dull moments, and we were so glad to be with our friends. Even the restrooms were cool! Before this visit, Gary and Bernie had only heard of each other, so it was great to get everyone together in person. And Gary had not seen Janean in maybe 15 years.
I had the pleasure of meeting Janean’s mom and dad many years ago and Janean had met my mom and dad at my wedding in 1972. Of course, our letters and phone calls over the years always included updates of family. Janean lost her parents many years back. There were so many sweet parts of the weekend and the warm welcome and comforting hospitality of Janean and Bernie will always be remembered fondly, especially as it relates to my dad. I’m sure I told enough stories that they felt like they knew Ralph pretty well! Between the four of us on this weekend, we covered many subjects from houses to hormones to art to shoes to food to family to dogs to success stories (Bern should write a book or go on a motivational speaker tour).
Janean drove me down the mountain to her favorite shoe store – and obviously the favorite shoe store of many Asheville natives – called Tops. It’s not a chain, just a local store in downtown A’ville, and WOW. Shoes of all kinds, many little stools where you sit and get your foot measured, and great customer service. I went to look and walked out with two pair of cute shoes. I’m wearing one pair now. And, since Janean and Bernie are up in the woods, it comes as no surprise that there are animals up in those woods. Black bears make their presence known and Gary pointed out on a walk with Remy that there was a giant pile of bear droppings on their road. Since no big snow shovel was in sight, Gary grabbed a big branch/small log and took a swing at the pile like he was using a wedge in a sandtrap – lobbing the pile of poo back into the woods. No more worry of bear crap on their car tires. Problem solved. The age-old question was answered, “does a bear sh__ in the woods?” Yes they do, but apparently they like Janean & Bernie’s driveway, too. Thank you, Gary, for saving the day. I was a techno-dork because I had my phone video on pause instead of play. You’ll have to take my word for it. It was a funny moment. We all laughed. Remy was perplexed.