Sunday, March 23, 2014

On and Off the Blue Ridge Parkway

Liz on the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church
Leaving Selma, we stopped at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, AL, adjacent to the 16th Street Baptist Church that was bombed fifty years ago, taking the lives of four schoolgirls. Liz has memories of being deeply moved when she was a young teenager by Richard Farina’s great ballad, “Birmingham Sunday”. Here it is, sung by Joan Baez and accompanied by some interesting graphics by artist Matthew Schwartz.

After a brief shopping stop at Scottsboro’s Unclaimed Baggage Center (we HAD to see it) we crossed into Tennessee where we dropped in at Sequatchie Cove Farm.  This fabulous family endeavor produces cheese, meats and vegetables for an on-site farm store, local markets and the family-owned restaurant “Farmer’s Daughter” in Chattanooga. (This family, not coincidentally, are cousins to Ian Byington, a good friend from Friday Harbor.) We stocked up on meat and cheese at the farm and had a lovely meal at the restaurant.Check out the Facebook page to get a sense of the place.

In Chattanooga we met up with daughter Colleen, new son-in-law Albert, and grandson Luke, who drove down from Kentucky to spend a dew days with us. Then it was the luxury of a nice hotel with a saltwater pool, full course breakfasts, and free Wi-Fi. Liz and the boys toured the Tennessee Aquarium while Colleen and Janna walked, shopped, talked and had lunch outside, enjoying surprisingly warm spring weather. 

But it was winter again as we headed north to the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Cherokee, NC. It was our intention to travel the Parkway from the South to Washington DC, but we didn’t factor in the Winter That Will Not Quit. Southern states are still experiencing freezing temperatures and at higher elevations that means ice and road closures. The Parkway goes on for 469 miles, with stops to explore major Native American towns like Cherokee, incredible arts towns like Asheville, and connecting with other linkages like the Appalachian Trail where people walk all or part of the 2,180 mile foot path, and Virginia’s Crooked Road, an automobile route mapped out for those who wish to explore and experience traditional Appalachian and blue grass music. 

We decided to spend a few days in Asheville where we plugged in at the home of former Friday Harbor residents Bill Hamilton and Michael D’Abrosca. Michael works at the Biltmore Estate and graciously provided us with a tour through the mansion and conservatory. We loved Asheville, and after some good conversations and good meals, we headed north, stopping to see the fabulous Folk Art Center on our way out of town. 

Bustling historic downtown Mt Airy aka "Mayberry"
We left the Parkway at Mount Airy, NC, sometimes known as Mayberry, former home of Andy Griffith and present home to a great deal of Andy Griffith Show kitsch including Barney’s CafĂ© and Opie’s Candy Store. But Mount Airy has another claim to fame: the home of the famous “Siamese Twins” Chang and Eng Bunker who made their home on a farm just outside of town, now turned RV park, as we accidentally discovered when we pulled into this exceptionally nice campground. This also tweaked a childhood memory for Liz, who read about them in American Heritage, a hardbound journal that was published quarterly and gifted to her from her grandmother. She was eleven when she first read about the Bunker twins and being a sensitive child, she responded with wonder and compassion to the story of these two boys brought from Thailand (Siam) as teenage curiosities, but who later married, became farmers, and fathered a total of 21 children, all in spite of being joined at the stomach with a ligature the size of a wrist. They died here in 1894 and nearly two thousand descendants are alive today, many of whom show up in Mount Airy for an annual family reunion. 

Not able to stay on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we opted for the (the VERY) Crooked Trail and our next stop was Floyd, Virginia, where we took in the Friday Night Jamboree at the Country Store and slept in the parking lot of the Floyd County  Courthouse. On to another stop along the Crooked Road: the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum, where the gallery exhibits features information about blue grass, folk music and blues. 

Next time we will plan the dates a bit better to drive the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, touted as America's favorite drive. We loved our experience in November of the Natchez Trace, a similar parkway. But we have nothing like it in the Pacific Northwest: a seemingly wilderness road going on for over 400 miles with no businesses, no billboards and no commercial vehicles. Just leisurely driving, beautiful scenery, and time to reflect on days gone by.  

1 comment:

  1. Thought of you, Janna, as I watched part of the Mariners' season opener last night. Speaking of the Biltmore Estate, I attended a multi-day conference on the Estate a few years ago...took in some of its extent and elegance and treats....Liz: Dave LeMargee drove up from South Carolina to meet me for a few hours there, and had trouble getting past the gatehouse despite having my name because of his demeanor. Thinking of you both! Thanks for the tours!