Despite sketchy cell service at my Northwoods retreat, the signals aligned that day in August 2018 when my phone rang and a friend’s voice asked, “Would you want to go to France in November?” Raleigh Sister Cities was sponsoring a group to visit Compiegne for the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice ending WWI. We would be hosted by families in Compiegne for four days. “I’ll think it over and get back to you.” Three minutes later, “Yes!” I was ready to pack my bags for an adventure. I got so much more.
An hour northeast of Paris, the Compiegne of the Middle Ages is evidenced in winding cobblestone streets. Joan of Arc was captured here in 1430. An imposing 16th century Gothic Town Hall dominates the square. An adjacent forest surrounds medieval villages and the glade that is the site of the Armistice Memorial.
Flying into Paris in the early morning, we were met and delivered to our host family – a couple and their teenage daughter in a home near the town center. We walked with our hostess a few blocks to the Palais de Compiegne, originally built by Louis XV, restored by Napoleon, and today a museum which we toured with our Sister Cities group – American visitors, French hosts.
Our hosts became family. They generously spoke their broken English (my high school French had evaporated from memory). Each morning’s breakfast included a fresh baguette, bought on an early morning walk with their dog. They spoiled us with elegant home cooked meals and gracious company.
The Compiegne Sister Cities group had organized an itinerary of memorable experiences. A highlight was Armistice Day, when the magnificent L’Eglise Saint Jacques, dating from 1200, held a solemn service of remembrance. Raleigh’s mayor was in attendance, as were representatives of Compiegne’s many sister cities. That afternoon – appropriately drizzly and gray – we visited the Memorial glade and museum with a replica of the train car where the 1918 Armistice was signed. The day before, many world leaders were there for a service at which French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel dedicated a plaque confirming their continued commitment to peace.
So much was packed into four days. We wandered around Chateau Pierrefonds, a “fairytale” castle on a hill, built for Napoleon but made to appear medieval. We spent a sobering afternoon at the Memorial of Imprisonment and Deportation, a WWII prison and deportation camp. The images that come back most vividly may be from the day we traveled a half-hour northeast to the Franco-American Museum, Chateau de Blerancourt.
Traversing high open farmland, once torn apart by WWI trenches, we spotted small graveyards in gentle hollows, witness to the horrors of the war. The museum, a stunning piece of architecture blending Middle Age and 17th century ruins with bright, open modern spaces, celebrates the long friendship between our countries. Three distinct areas present this relationship in the time of the American Revolution, through two centuries of artistic exchanges, and most revealing to me, around World War I. The story of humanitarian Anne Morgan – well-known to the French but obscure to us – was a revelation. The daughter of financier Pierpont Morgan, she spent 1917 – 1924 here, supporting the recovery of this devastated region. Visiting from the US, it was humbling and heartening to learn of an American in whom we could take such pride.
While travel is said to be broadening, it can also add a depth of understanding. I brought home a deeper sense of our interdependence in the world and gratitude for this experience.
As a member of the trip committee for the Happy Hearts, Cary First Baptist Church, I suggested we do a two-night, three-day trip to Bryson City NC. We would stay at The Hemlock Inn and ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City to Nantahala Gorge. Of course, the one that suggests a trip becomes the planner and leader of the trip. I was hoping we could fill one of our church’s 15-passenger buses. Little did I know the interest, and by the sign-up deadline, we had 29 adventure seekers.
We left on Thursday, September 19, at 7 a.m., stopping at Kostas’ Family Restaurant in Dillsboro for lunch. We arrived at the Hemlock Inn at about 3:00 p.m. Our rooms were ready upon arrival, and Penny, our official Happy Hearts leader, and I gathered the keys as Mort White, the proprietor of the Hemlock Inn, dealt them to us for distribution to our group. We unloaded the luggage, and like a mini-scavenger hunt, everyone retrieved their bags, received their room keys, and scurried to find their rooms.
Dinner was to be served at 6:30. With about two hours to fill, most discovered the rocking chairs on the dining room porch and found out they fit them perfectly. The view from the porch was stunning, with three ridges of mountains stair-stepping to the highest ridge in the distance. The field in the foreground gave us an unobstructed view and, although I did not see them, deer would sometimes wander into the field. “Ghost like,” was how one of the lucky sighters described them.
With great anticipation, we all gathered on the porch and game-room waiting for Mr. White to ring the dinner bell. Precisely at 6:30, we heard the bell ring, and we all filed in and stood behind our chairs, facing the large, Lazy Susan tables for ten. Nobody sat until Mr. White said grace. Each table was laden with delicious fried chicken and rice; steamed vegetables; homemade, spiced apple chips; and corn bread or home-made biscuits. Iced tea and coffee were repeatedly filled, when our glasses and cups showed the slightest need for refilling.
The lively conversations slackened as we filled our plates with the offering, as the table slowly turned by guests seeking food they especially wanted. All you had to do was wait, and every dish would come past you. Our delightful and congenial table hosts kept our drinks full and as any dish was about to empty, replenished it immediately. My guess is we spent at least an hour eating and engaging in small conversation. Nobody was in a rush. It was a throw-back to times past.
After supper, some of our group delighted in a lively card game, several worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Others chose the rocking chairs on the front porch and at least one hiked on the large 65 acre Hemlock Inn property. Retiring to our rooms as sleep became the highest priority; many turned off their air conditioners, opened the windows, and enjoyed God’s night air. It was delightful!
The next morning was bracingly cool. The sun was about to break over the mountain tops and I snuck out with my smart phone camera, ready to take a few pictures of the sunrise and the disappearing shadows of the Hemlock Inn’s rustic buildings and flowers. Returning to our room, I found my wife, Georgeanne, ready and anxious to find out what delectables awaited us at breakfast. At 8:30 sharp, we heard the bell ring for breakfast and filed into the dining room to gather at different tables and wait for Mr. White to say grace. The lazy Susan was once again laden with food. Of course, it was breakfast, so we had eggs, bacon, cereal, biscuits, and muffins (my favorite); as well as orange, apple, and cranberry juices and the obligatory bottomless coffee. We had to be at the train station by 9:30, so our lingering was limited, yet I believe everyone ate heartedly and left energized for the busy day ahead.
At the train station, Penny found our train travel agent, who had made our reservations, and she had all the tickets ready for me to hand to each one of our group. She told us we were assigned to car 3, and we should begin walking toward our car, ready to load. Car 3 seating was arranged four to a group, two facing forward and two facing backward. Georgeanne and I settled in an unoccupied seat waiting for another couple to fill the other side of the seat. Soon, two of our group, Don and Cindy, came by and asked if they could be our seat mates and what a delight it was to get to know them better. Both had a farm background and hailed from Tennessee. Since I was also raised on a farm, we swapped stories for the entire five-hour train trip.
We enjoyed traveling along the banks of Fontana Lake, crossing a long, 700 foot trestle, and observing the rock ledges that the workers had to blast out with gunpowder. Our car host reminded us that the work was all done with horse and hand power, which seemed almost an impossible task to most of us. As we approached Nantahala Gorge, the lake was left behind and replaced by angry white water. Soon we spotted rafters and kayakers, decked out with life vests and helmets, plunging through what were now up to class three rapids, maybe approaching class four. Stopping beyond the gorge the engines disengaged from the train and, using a siding, reengaged the cars at the other end for our return trip. Pulling us back to the gorge, we were told we had about an hour to detrain and catch a sandwich from one of the restaurants and re-board for the return trip. When we returned to the train, everyone was asked to swap sides to get a different view coming home.
It seemed to me the return trip was a bit shorter. Funny how my perception works. When we arrived at the Bryson City station the group opted not to spend time in the train museum. Our bus drivers quickly retrieved the buses, and we started the adventuresome 10-minute drive back to Hemlock Inn. I call it adventuresome, because of the steep, hairpin curves to the motel. I heard some oohs and aahs from some thinking the bus might fall off the road. It didn’t. I think our drivers reveled in making the trip as exciting as possible.
The evening meal was different food, but the same ambiance of gracious eating and fellowship. After the meal the card games resumed in earnest, the jigsaw puzzle afficionados studied the picture on the box and began to painstakingly find pieces that fit the picture. By now, our group had become rocking chair experts. Some suggested we stay another night, because the quietness and, laidback atmosphere was becoming addictive. I agreed with their assessment, but said they might be sleeping in tents, since our rooms were probably rented to others.
The next morning, breakfast was a repeat of the previous morning, with a few extra treats added to each table. We had more leisure time this time, so after our big breakfast we said our “thank yous” to Mr. and Mrs. White, our waitress, and new friends we made; and with some disappointment upon leaving such an ideal place, we loaded our buses and headed for home. I made last minute instructions to my drivers to stop at the first big produce stand, so we could buy some of the delicious mountain apples that we spotted in orchards just miles from Bryson City.
We stopped for supper and, of course, necessary rest stops and arrived back at Cary First Baptist about 5:00 p.m., excited and ready for our next trip adventure to Horne Creek Living Historical Farm.
A big thank you go to our two bus drivers, Bruce and Jake, who were assisted by two excellent navigators, Penny and Suzanne .
About the author:
OLLI member, Larry Kingsley, a member of OLLI Writers Group, began writing stories about 18 years ago. He draws much of his material from his rich boyhood days while living on his grandparents’ farm in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. He uses both fiction and non-fiction story lines to add to his exciting adventurous writings. He hopes his writings are educational, inspirational and fun to read. Grippo TheFriendly Shark was written, and published, in response to a request by the first and second grade students at Briarcliff Elementary School, Cary NC. When the author asked them what other stories they would like to hear, following their summer vacation, they answered in one voice, “shark story.” And in response, GrippoThe Friendly Shark was born.
Larry now resides in Cary NC with his wife, Georgeanne, and their dog Archie. They have nine grandchildren scattered from Apex to Durham to Charlotte.
On a sunlit Saturday morning in the fall 0f 1993, Dad and I, an empty-nester, sat together on the ground in his backyard digging up daffodil bulbs. Dad wanted to relocate the flowers to a spot where he believed they’d be happier. I was delighted when he designated a milk carton full of our finds as mine to take home and plant at my new house on the other side of Pittsburgh. I asked him what I needed to do to ensure the bulbs would flourish. “Oh, just put them in the ground. They’ll be able to find their way back up and out without any real fuss.”
The visit with my parents was low-key, just going along with their routine, eating dinner from trays in the living room, watching The Lawrence Welk Show – Dad never failed to admire the tenor’s voice or to remark on the bouncy exuberance of the honky-tonk piano player. Unique for me to be alone with them after years of having a husband and children in tow. I watched Mom and Dad share everyday life, bringing quiet joy to one another. And I gratefully embraced my container of daffodils to take along home to keep the connection with the weekend alive.
Sure enough, in April, Dad’s daffodils emerged from the soil around my north Pittsburgh mailbox, and in August Dad died and was returned to the soil in a south Pittsburgh cemetery. For three more springs those daffodils bloomed in ever increasing numbers, putting on a show that drew compliments from my neighbors. I wondered how daffodils would manage in the heat as I dug up every bulb I could find before moving to South Carolina. I carefully replanted them under the crepe myrtle tree in the enclosed back patio of our Columbia townhouse. They reappeared early and I feared for their survival, but apparently Pennsylvania’s April is South Carolina’s February. They seemed thin and small that first year, but gained in number and robustness until I hastily grabbed a few out of the dirt to take with me when I left that house and my marriage five years later.
After a year in an apartment, I found a cottage on Adella Street, moved in, planted the daffodils, and hoped for the best. When the remnants of my milk carton fully emerged, the bulbs and I had learned a lot about our abilities to adapt and thrive. With a house and yard and job and social life to manage on my own, I found little time or energy for any more labor-intensive gardening and had increasing appreciation for the resilience of the well traveled daffodils.
Dad’s South Carolina memorial relocated one more time to Cary, North Carolina, in 2010; the hardy flowers now stand proudly in my newest front yard where I can regularly enjoy them and our independence. Let us hope that we all keep finding our way back up and out without any real fuss.
By Lynne Sparrow (OLLI Member & OLLI Writer’s Group) Lynne rummages around the recesses of her ever-suspect memory for humorous and transforming experiences, people who mattered and made her think, and places that carved lasting impressions on her character, and then turns it all into memoir. Born and educated in Pennsylvania, she has lived in numerous states, traveled abroad several times, raised a family, and had a few short stories published in an on-line magazine, Persimmon Tree. Lynne’s been an enthusiastic and grateful participant in the OLLI Writers Group since retiring and relocating to Cary, North Carolina, in 2010.
Our tour group stopped at a restaurant for lunch on a hot February afternoon on the way to the rainforest in Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. My tablemate, Donna, wouldn’t be continuing with the group. She had been having intermittent chest pains and since the next site was so remote, she felt, with the encouragement of the tour leader, that she should have this checked out at a nearby clinic. “Life’s a crapshoot,” Donna said as she left to get into the taxi. I thought it ironic that she uttered the same term I had been using for the past two months. Random episodes of mishaps started soon after my husband and I downsized to a two-story townhouse, rather than move into an apartment in a continuing-care-community.
First, I came down with bout of the flu. The flu morphed into “walking pneumonia.” As the pneumonia symptoms subsided, I slipped on a wet floor, lacerating the side of my face as I hit the corner of a table. I dropped-in to Urgent Care for the second time within a couple of weeks.
We had planned a vacation to Costa Rica months before the move. Thoughts of my recent vulnerability began to circulate in my head. Would the active pace of this tour prove too great a challenge? But if life was indeed a crap shoot, I had no reason not to take this trip. Our first morning in Sarapiqui, we woke to a thunderous rain pounding on the roof of our cottage. I had signed up to go white-water rafting for the first time. The rapids were a class three. How rough was that, I wondered knowing that the international rating classification goes up to a six. Besides the storm didn’t cancel the event. I knew I would regret not going. Ten gutsy, or clueless, participants, out of fifteen in our group, showed. Most of us were in our seventies. One man admitted to being eighty. We stood by the water’s edge as the downpour plummeted us.
After listening to brief instructions, we donned life jackets and helmets, grabbed a paddle, and took a seat in one of three inflatable rafts. The rafts rose, dropped, and tossed in the swirling currents. Our guide shouted orders over the noise of the river and rain. “Row” “Stop.” “Down.” “Down” was the scariest. I can still see the raft rushing toward a thick tree trunk extending over the river. The leaves from the tree swept across my face as I hunched on the bottom of the boat. Had I sat up, I surely would have been decapitated. The rain subsided. The three rafts drifted on the calm river as our guide pointed out the birds and reptiles that watched us from the trees and shore.
Halfway into our trip, we beached the rafts, shared a pineapple and watermelon snack and posed for a group picture. (I am fourth from the right) Finally, we pulled the rafts to shore and relinquished our oars. Hiking back to the hotel, tired but exhilarated, we congratulated ourselves that none of us fell into the rapids. Later that afternoon Donna returned. She had gotten a clean bill of health.
Marianna Crane, OLLI Member
Marianna was one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners in the early 1980s. A nurse for over forty years, she has worked in hospitals, clinics, home care, and hospice settings. An award-winning author, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Examined Life Journal, and Stories That Need to be Told: A Tulip Tree Anthology among others. Her memoir, Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers, has been recently released. Her web site is http://www.nursingstories.org. She is a member of the OLLI Writers’ Group.
Mt. Airy, NC, is the home of a unique company called Nester Hosiery. Last Christmas, my daughter in law, Kim, gave me two pair of socks called Farm To Feet, and on the eye catching sock holder was a person’s picture, name and a little bio about what they did at the plant and their back ground. This perked my interest, and reading on, I discovered the socks were manufactured in Mt. Airy and used all USA materials. From the merino wool farmers to the other materials, it all came from the United State of America.
I immediately fell in love with the socks, their unbelievable comfort,and they even came with a lifetime guarantee. After checking out the Farm To Feet web site I discovered it had a discount store very close to the plant. I just had to go to Mt. Airy and check out this company. I thought textiles died in our state years ago, yet here was a thriving company. How come, I wondered? There must be a fascinating story behind their success, so this summer my wife and I drove to Mt. Airy with the expectation of getting a plant tour and checking out the discount store. The store was fun with bins of “seconds” at about half price. We could not see defects on any of the socks, but the company is so quality conscious, that any minute flaw got sent to the seconds bin. When I was ready to check out, Libby, the very personable and do-it-all lady who runs the store, asked if I was a military veteran and I said “yes” and showed her my identification. She thanked me for my service and said “all veterans get a 50% discount”. I thought she said 15% discount and I asked her to repeat what she said, “All veterans get a 50% discount”. With this unbelievable discount I went back and picked out more socks! When we got all the socks for us and gifts for others, I asked her if the plant did tours, and she said. “Yes” and called the plant. Returning she said, “The person giving the tours was gone to some sort of “sock convention”, (my interpretation) and was not available. That led to our second trip to Mt. Airy, Tuesday, December 17, with a tour appointment and an understanding I would write a blog on the Farm To Feet story
The tour given by Frankie Vernon (Human Resource Manager) surpassed all my expectations of a company that has resurrected a part of the textile business and is doing it with highly skilled local labor, and only USA materials. Another interesting fact is they consider themselves a “green” company, by utilizing as little resources and energy as possible to manufacture socks.
A few facts about Nester Hosiery: The Company was founded by Marty Nester in 1993 and its current president and CEO is his nephew, Kelly Nester. Both Marty and Kelly gainedextensive experience in the hosiery business, coming from another similar company. The Nesters located their first plant in Dobson, NC, not too far from Mt. Airy. It wasn’t long before they outgrew that facility and moved to Mt. Airy. The Farm To Feet logo is their brand and has been highly successful. The socks cost a little more than their competitor’s socks, but both quality and American made have won a considerable following.
The plant now produces 2000 dozen pairs per day, which includes some other name brand socks. This is all done by a work force of only 181 employees including the owner. The knitting process runs 24 hours a day Monday through Friday. It is fascinating to see how machines, programmed by computer experts, and tended by highly skilled employees, make such beautifully designed socks.
The Farm To Feet brand supports over 2000 workers in the US, all the way from the sheep farmer, spandex manufacturer, thread makers, knitters and eventually the packaging and shipping department.
Its location, 1546 Carter St., Mount Airy, NC, and only about a two and a half hours’ drive from the Raleigh/Cary area, make a day trip well worth the time. And of course, you can also take in the many sights and sounds of “Mayberry”, made famous by The Andy Griffiths TV show and Mayberry R.F.D.
By Larry Kingsley,
OLLI Member, OLLI Writers Group, Member of OLLI Voices Editorial Team
The author of this piece, Douglas Johnston, would welcome comments and discussion on the topic so feel free to add your voice after reading.
“Is there any pleasure which all persons find at all times in every park? If so, upon what does that pleasure depend?” asked Frederick Law Olmsted for the sole purpose of answering his own questions.
“Yes,” he answered, “there is a pleasure — common, constant and universal to all parks. It results from the feeling of relief experienced by those entering them, on escaping from the cramped, confined and controlling circumstances of the town, a sense of enlarged freedom — to all, at all times, and in the proportion by which there exists the general impression of undefined limit and sense of indefinite extent.” (Frederick Law Olmsted, Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns, 1870.)
Olmsted worked to create spaces where people could “easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them.”
That was how Olmsted pitched his vision for what city parks should be. A park shouldn’t feel like the city, Olmsted believed. It should feel like an escape in the city from it.
And that is what Central Park and 500+ other Olmsted parks and green spaces remain today. He was a man who helped make cities livable, and who changed America forever.
In a little over two years we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. What more exciting time to explore, understand and participate in Dorothea Dix Park’s first steps to address the complexities of developing a health-promoting place for all, its sustainability and resilience, and the legacies that Olmsted and Dix champion.
Douglas Johnston – OLLI Member.
Before retirement, Douglas taught at the UNC School of Public Health, was counsel to the State Treasurer, and held the rank of Commander, US Navy, so for him, it’s natural to see Dix Park as an investment in the community’s well-being and our civic common ground.
Writer’s note: The letter shown here is a prop. This story about my father’s letters, however, is true in spirit, and largely in fact.
A man of routine, his letters were never written from home. Time at home began sharply at 6 p.m. and was given to his wife, eventually of sixty years, and to us, his three children who left his home and his town in our early twenties. His letters to us were mostly newsy. He always wrote them on white paper which rested on the glass counter off to one side of his long, narrow furniture store, He sat on a rickety stool. He could have repaired that stool as he was handy with such things, or selected a new one since he sold a variety of stools, but he chose this ancient relic in need of re-gluing that swayed with his words. Always teased about that stool by us and by mother, he argued that its creaks and groans were words understood only by them. In his mind, the stool was his writing partner. Words were chosen carefully and crafted in broad black script by the two of them over their many years together.
He and his stool composed letters to manufacturers, letters to his sister, and letters to his children. His descriptions flowed over and around customers who came into his furniture store during the day to browse or buy. He preferred them to buy, of course. He didn’t follow them around the store. He let them browse, and he wrote about their behaviors, which were usually what one expects of customers, but occasionally the odd duck would arouse his humor, and he was a funny man.
His letters were as much about his captivation with form and visual beauty of penmanship as with news. The formation of letters and words with haughty flourishes and steep peaks and swooning u’s and y’s were as much cursive art as news of his and mother’s day. His fat red fountain pen was legend in our family. He would invite me to watch him fill it from the ink bottle. That, too, was a ritual he and his stool shared. Our father would settle the bottle of black ink on the glass counter and sidle the golden tip of his fat red pen into the reservoir and lift the gold lever built into the side of the instrument. My father, gingerly wielding the lever, would cause his pen to drink like a humped camel from the bottle and fill its black rubber bladder with the fluid that formed his words. It was a delicate, nearly religious experience. I wish I had asked my father why the filling of his pen was such an important ritual, but I didn’t. I imagine now he would have had much to tell me.
On the occasion of one of his pen-fillings, I asked him what his favorite word was, and without hesitation, he replied, “swimming.” “Why?” I asked. “What’s so special about that word?” With his fat, full pen held in his hand properly, with the golden blade extending the proper distance from his fingertips, he swirled out the word “swimming” on a clean sheet of letterhead. His beige paper was expensive, so I knew this lesson was important. The word on the beige paper was at once a mountain range of peaks and valleys. It was a brook of swells and waves formed by w’s and m’s and n’s and i’s excited by the wind. My father painted the word “swimming” for me.
When I’m missing my father, like this morning, with my dime store pen, I write his word. Swimming. I can’t swirl the peaks and valleys and and ripples the way he did, but for the long moment when my pen is trying to be his pen, we are sitting together at the glass counter.
A cursive “swimming” has been my favorite word since that day in my father’s store. I see the glass counter and beige paper and his strong hand holding his fat red pen. Wherever I am, and I’m missing him, I write out his word. He and I have shared his favorite word hundreds of times over the years.
By Tim Hoyt
Tim says “It seems like I’ve been an Encore and now OLLI member ever since Uncle Rex punctured his wrist on the cow yoke. I retired from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 1999, and moved to NC a year later. I grudgingly maintain our house and yard in fair shape, and happily stay in touch with the kids in Wisconsin via “dad’s daily letter.” But mostly, I focus on keeping my mind in good shape with OLLI classes and by writing. Lots and lots of writing. Tim leads three Special Interest Groups – Readers Theater, OLLI Questions Across the Spectrum and the OLLI Family Stories Writers Group
Views and comments from the members of OLLI at NC State