Folks in Franklin County, by and large, do not speak like folks in Fairfax County.
And occasionally, I’m reminded that I am the one around here with the funny accent.
I’ve done some work lately about the history of some of the communities near Smith Mountain Lake, places like Wirtz, Burnt Chimney, Moneta, Huddleston, and Penhook. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak to a number of long-time residents about their recollections growing up around here.
And when I go back to transcribe the recordings of our conversations, I am struck at just how darned fast I talk.
And the other morning, I was chatting with Pete, a very delightful lady who greets us at the front desk of the YMCA. She mentioned that she’d been bird-sitting her grandson’s sun conure. I was not familiar with the breed, so she pulled up a photo of a smiling young man with a beautiful golden bird perched on his shoulder.
“Oh, he’s a pirate!” I exclaimed.
“Yes,” agreed Pete. “They’re like little parrots.”
Shoutout to my friend Kristin who is vacationing with her mother-in-law (including accompanying her to Silver Sneakers exercise class) IN MIAMI!
I imagine that any exercise class in Miami would be pretty intense.But you might be amazed at the fitness opportunities right here around Smith Mountain Lake.
There are a lot of retirees here. These are not folks sitting under quilts.
Aside from the boating and water sports (a very lovely woman I know told me that she’d put off her knee replacement as long as she could because she knew it would end her waterskiing career), you can find all kinds of exercise classes and a whole lot of pickleball between the two fitness centers in the area.
As soon as we moved to the lake, our family joined the Franklin County YMCA. They have cycle classes that are very popular, and for the early part of 2019, I took part in a morning cardio and weights class. But here’s the problem. It was from 6:30 – 8:00 every MWF and getting out the door by 6:15 was stressing me out. So now I just go and use the weight machines on my own and that’s working out okay. And of course I hit that YMCA pool in Rocky Mount once a week.
But some of the folks in that 90-minute class will then stick around for a cycle class after that, spending 2 1/2 hours working out.
If this is “retirement,” they are doing it right.
I happened to be sipping coffee at CJs today when the after-Jazzercise crew came in for their coffee soiree, and Sandra, a friend who understands my current work/leisure tension remarked, “That’s something you have to look forward to.”
There are a whole lot of things to do down here at Smith Mountain Lake.
As summer has roared in, the powerboats have roared in with it, toting wakeboards and waterskis while they zip around Sea-Doos (or, in our case, kayaks) all over the lake.
You can volunteer with any number of excellent service-oriented organizations and spend time at any number of churches. You can exercise at the YMCA or at the Carilion Wellness gym, or get your Zen on at the Vita Zen yoga studio. All this without even going into Roanoke!
But lately, I’ve been doing something that has really been making me happy: working. Since May, my former employer from Northern Virginia has given me plenty to do, writing stories about George Mason University faculty research. And since January, I’ve had the opportunity to learn some really interesting about the history of local communities here in Franklin and Bedford Counties.
It’s cut down on my driving around and exploring, but I’ve come across some interesting things that I’ll tell you about in the weeks to come. Because I’ve found that while exploring a new area is fascinating, so is digging a little deeper into it. Talk to you soon.
When we first offered to buy it, a well inspection was part of the home inspection. Our well inspector, Dale, was my first introduction to the Old German Baptist Brethren.
The German Baptist Brethren are a community that has been a part of Franklin County since the 1700s. Many of them dress “plain”: the men wear long beards, broad-brimmed black hats, dark colors. The women wear white or black caps over neatly pulled-back hair and dresses that cover their arms and legs. But oh, those dresses are beautiful! Made of cotton prints, I’ve seen them in every color imaginable.
I was fortunate because the company that inspects wells also offers exterminator services, and Steve, who came out here to take care of a little pest problem, appeared in his hat, suspenders, and impressive beard, and struck up a conversation. After a minute or two, he said, “Well, I’m being very rude! Here I am asking you questions about yourself and I bet you have questions about me!”
As they say in Franklin County, this was a blessing. I’ll be honest, one of the drawbacks to this part of Virginia is a certain lack of diversity. And I love this diversity of a different kind.
The Roanoke Times just added an article about a big German Baptist meeting that is coming up next week (old news to me because Steve told me about it!). But you should check it out and you can see more about these new neighbors of mine.
In Franklin County, you don’t forget for long that you live in the country.
This guy started coming to clear about the bird feeders as the sun was going down each evening, but he’s gotten bolder and is now showing up earlier. He even brought a friend one evening!
Like most of the folks around here, we have a number of deer that stop by from time to time. But on Saturday, we had this little dude showed up with his mom.
And we have birds aplenty (in fact, our lazy little cat nabbed a nuthatch one evening, thoroughly disgusting Jim, who wrenched the prey away just as it expired).
Possums, bunnies (for awhile I was taking an early-morning exercise class where one of my classmates would ask if anyone has seen any “Bambis or Thumpers” on the way over) foxes, skunks, turkeys and groundhogs, even a sleepy bear or two. It really reminds you who was here first (and makes one much more cautious while driving around at night).
If you’re at Smith Mountain Lake, I have the perfect place to start.
Bridgewater Plaza is kind of like a boardwalk area. It is situated right where the Hales Ford Bridge goes over the Roanoke River to connect Franklin and Bedford Counties. If you are driving to the lake area from the northeast, Rt. 122 suddenly opens up to a stunning view at this point and it’s very welcoming!
You can do all kinds of things at the Plaza: rent a boat, find plenty to eat, see a show, purchase gifts (while enjoying a sample of very nice fudge), grab a cup of coffee, paint some pottery, or get yourself a wakeboard. You can even start your search for your own lake home because there are a number of savvy Realtors who have offices right there.
It gets C-R-A-Z-Y on summer weekends, but I had the place to myself when I stopped by one day last week.
And lucky for me, our college kid is making pizza over there this summer, so I get to hear all the stories without battling the crowds!
This is our first Memorial Day weekend at Smith Mountain Lake and oh my goodness, what has happened to this place?
We moved to the area at the end of July, as summer was on the wane. And it was beautiful and fun, and still less traffic-laden from the northern Virginia streets we were used to.
Then Labor Day came and went, and pretty soon all the boats you’d see were the intrepid bass fishermen. And wow, did it get quiet.
But this weekend, that all changed. All of a sudden, there were people in the Kroger you didn’t recognize. LOTS OF THEM. They all had beer in their carts (I am not judging; we had friends stopping by so I also had beer in my cart). The boat traffic on our stretch of the lake has exploded, particularly with wake-boarders dipping through waves behind sleek boats blasting reggae music.
Our quiet rural home has become a resort. And I’ll tell you what: it’s fantastic.
A few weeks ago, when I posted about running around in the woods, one of my friends commented that I sure made it look enticing out here in the country. And I’m grateful because that’s exactly my point: I really want you all to see how amazing it is out here in Franklin County.
But of course not every day here is full of wonder. And I’m not just talking about the days you get stuck driving behind this guy.
Jim jokes that our cat feels like every time he looks out the window he sees something terrifying. I get that sometimes (raccoon on the porch? Hard pass on that one).
There’s a lot of adjustment moving to a new spot. We lived in the busy DC suburbs for nearly 30 years (even longer for me), and when you leave that behind as a middle-aged person, you also leave behind a real comfort zone.
And it’s eye-popping to explore a new place, but sometimes, just sometimes, you start to wonder if you’re going to be able to find a spot to fit in. That’s where I’ve been for a couple of weeks.
So dudes, wait until you hear some of the stories about trying to find folks to hang out with. And of course, I will still try to entice those nice people I know (like you, Larry!) to come here too.
Spring has sprung down in Franklin County and with the warm weather, people were going hard at the garden stores this weekend.
Unfortunately, out in Wirtz, the hardware store and the garden store are not open on Sundays (a lot of things aren’t open on Sundays), so we had to drive into the city to get to a garden store.
It’s not a hardship. And we got coffee, too.
The garden store we found is Walter’s Greenhouse. It’s just a few minutes outside of Roanoke, on the road out to the lake.
It’s family run and super friendly. Also super hilly. The lady at the cashier table cheered on the people buying plants: “Come on, girl! Keep going!” We didn’t buy too much, just enough to get started. But Jim loves lurking around garden stores so I know we’ll make this a habit.