Proctor's Hall

Our Sewanee reunion is now past, and I realize that I haven’t written anything since returning. Part of that has to do with the fact that since quitting his job, HK and I have been consumed with future plans,  including covering our health insurance needs and figuring out what to do with our houses.  Ok, that’s a great excuse. In all honesty, it’s bullshit.

Anyway, the real reason I haven’t written anything is because my head has been swimming with thoughts and emotions after having come home and reflected on the events of our 4 days together on the mountain after so so many years. I’ve tried to describe it to my husband (who did not attend–most spouses didn’t), but his eyes just glaze over and his mind drifts to far away places. Having not been to boarding school, isolated on top of a foggy mountain, I imagine that it would be impossible for him to grasp the experience.

Tracy and I drove into the campground on a cold, foggy Thursday morning. It was a typical Sewanee day, as Sewanee means “fog” in some Indian language.  After checking in the campground staff and the adorable 21 year-old Drew (who quickly became our adopted son), we were greeted by the ever-smiling, long and lanky Stretch. OMG! I hadn’t seen the boy since 1977, but there he was in all his glory, even cuter than I remembered. Instant warmth, and more so as we proceeded to tap the keg (gotta be an ale-cheap beer makes me lose weight says Stretch) and got a bonfire going.

Green's View

It wasn’t long before others began dribbling in, and by that first night, we had a dozen old friends doing what we did so many years ago, drinking beer around a fire.

The next day brought a dozen more, and the mountain was full of giddy school kids in aging bodies.  While I didn’t know a few of the women who had left Sewanee before I got there my junior year, I was amused to hear their introduction. “Hey, I’m Beth, I got booted in ’75”, “Well, I got booted the next semester…” and so on. To identify so fully with peers that for one reason or another were there, and then they weren’t, felt very natural and un- forced. “We’re like family” was something I heard several times that weekend.

One day was spent hiking our old haunts around the mountains that had been home. Albeit our asses were wider and knees stiffer, we all had a blast climbing up and around Proctor’s Hall and other landmarks that made these mountains home. I had to laugh as we passed the bottles of wine as groups of students would come hiking by. I imagined them thinking,  “just who are these fossils and why are they here?”

In a (rare) moment of introspection, I paused to take a look around the campsite. Here was a group of people who had continued to flourish and grow for 30 or more years after leaving our shared histories at Sewanee. One of the friends that I made at the reunion was a Bill, a guy from my class that I never, for one reason or another, really got to know.  He reminded me of something that was said by a faculty advisor during commencement…

” I recall that during our commencement ceremony, Max Cornelius instructed us to look at the people sitting next to us and realize that we would never be sitting with these people in just this way ever again. He was telling us to be in the moment.”  Bill’s reaction at the time was the same as mine- “fuck it- i’m outta here!”

But then, sitting around that fire, I relished the fact that we had each refused to let life get in the way and had made the collective effort to be together once again.

For days (weeks, even) following our reunion, many attendees expressed how badly they realized they missed each other. A few people started a post to start a community living situation together. Maybe it was the afterglow of love and togetherness talking. Maybe not. I do know that when we were together, many of us felt that in some way, we had come “home”. I did. And I plan to revisit my family more often.

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Last weekend I went home to celebrate a major milestone in the lives of my parents–their 60th wedding anniversary! Can you imagine being with one person that long? My brother Jim,  HK and I had planned a private little celebration up at their lake house with good food and champagne.

“Home” to me was Harlan, Ky. , a tiny little town of just over 2000 people. It is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Appalachian mountains, and as a child I spent a lot of time discovering and experiencing all that nature had to offer.  We lived in a quiet neighborhood just on the outskirts of town, with easy access to creeks to splash in and cliffs to climb. When I was 10, Dad built a vacation cabin and a lake on top of Pine Mountain,  about a 30-minute drive from our house.  It was an idyllic setting in which to grow up, riding my pony, hiking all over the mountains and swimming in the cold, stream-fed lake.  One of my favorite places on Pine Mountain was an outcropping of granite that had long before been dubbed “Scenic View”, for it looked far out onto the hills of neighboring Virginia, and on a clear day, you could (I am told), also see North Carolina. I could sit on that rock, legs dangling, for what seemed like hours, taking in the tranquility of the beauty that surrounded me.

Scenic View from Pine Mountain-Before

As the years went by, I went away to school and college in different states,  but often brought friends and boyfriends back home to enjoy our little refuge on the mountain.  Eventually, my trips became fewer and farther apart, until now I find myself only going home once a year, at most. My closest childhood friends have long since moved away, and, quite honestly, after 2 or 3 days there, I find myself bored to tears. I do, however, always make the effort to get back up on the mountain to take a hike and swim.

So last week, HK and I took a hike back in my old stomping grounds. So many memories came rushing back to me. That’s where I got stung by a bunch of hornets. That’s where mom blasted a big old rattlesnake with a shotgun. This is where I used to take my pony swimming… it was a hike down memory lane, and I’m sure i was boring poor HK with all my tales.

As we proceeded down the old dirt road, we came to Scenic View, and hiked to the end of the overhanging boulders.  But we weren’t met with scenic views of neighboring states surrounded by the glory of the Appalachians.  No. What I saw broke my heart. The mountains, my mountains, had been literally raped by mountain top removal. Instead of meandering old-growth forest, we stared out onto naked plateaus where wildlife once took refuge. Now, instead of black bears and deer, there was gigantic machinery and massive scarring.  I’ve known about this dirty mountaintop removal for some time, now, but didn’t really realize how it would impact me personally. As we turned to descend off the rocks, I silently bid adieu to what I prefer to remember as pristine perfection.

As we left Harlan to drive back to my now-home in Atlanta, I was faced with miles of more evidence that what I once took for granted was now changed forever.  It seemed that every mountain was standing helplessly naked, robbed of it’s dignity for the greed of it’s citizens. And I thought to myself, you really can’t go home again. Not to the “home” you remember as a carefree child, the home, that in your eyes will forever remain unchanged and innocent. I won’t go back to that spot on the rocks anymore. It hurts my heart too much.  I’ll try to remember the beauty that I assumed I would never forget.

"Scenic" View-After

photo by Bertha Henderson Swango

photo by Bertha Henderson Swango

Ahhh–Labor Day is behind us, and even tho summer isn’t officially over until late September, most people consider Labor Day to be the segway into the Fall season.   After all, football has begun, pools are closing, the days are getting shorter, and many of us have packed-away our white sandals until next Memorial Day. (or Easter, depending on how far south you live.)

Reunions seem to be a big thing over the Labor Day holiday.  Harlan High School–the school that I attended during the  majority of my formidable years (grades 2-10), had it’s 100 year anniversary reunion last weekend. I did not attend, but have thoroughly enjoyed examining the photos that have been posted on facebook. 

In the last year, I have become a facebook addict, and in the course of that time, have re-connected with several people that I knew from those 30-44 some years past.  You see, (more…)

I’ve said it before, recently in fact, that there’s just something about opening your home to share food, or “break bread“, that truly warms the cockles of my heart. Last night, H.K. and I hosted a cooking demonstration at our home.  We had about 22 people, several of them arrived at our house as strangers, but left our home as friends. 

The restaurant that was generous enough to demo their fare was Atlanta’s Peasant Bistro, owned by Maureen Kalmanson.  Chef Russell Hays cooked up a menu to die for, including Peasant’s famous French onion soup, a Belgian endive salad, Kurabuto pork loin w/ grits, topped off w/ lemon poppy seed cake and elderberry ice cream. OMG!!YUM!!  Different wines were paired with each course, supplied (most generously and liberally) by Highland Wine and Crystal.  AHHHHHH.

With the economy as it is, each of these establishment is offering up specials that are easy on the wallet and easier, still, on the taste buds. Please check them out and look at the specials offered.  You won’t be sorry!

And to our friends, old and new,  that enjoyed the food and fun with us, Bon Appetit, Y’all!

Cookin' up some fun

Cookin' up some fun