Jim and I have done quite a bit of road-tripping lately.
We went to Kentucky, to drop the lad off at school.
From there, we drove to Block Island. (You got me; you can’t drive to an island! We drove to New London, CT and took the ferry.)
After a few busy weeks at home, we went to Indianapolis, where Jim had a conference.
And then we went back to Kentucky for Family Weekend at the lad’s school.
This was all terrific travel. We spent time with incredible people, ate good food, and saw wonderful sights. But along the way, that thought flew through my head at some point, “It sure will be nice to get home.”
He can fly a plane, and that is extra cool because one fine Saturday over the summer, he was able to arrange for some flying time, and my sister and her family decided to swing down to the Lake for lunch.
I’ve extolled the benefits of Roanoke Airport, but there is another airport right here on the lake.
It has a cat.
And a seaplane (a lake plane).
You can live there!
And if you’re lucky, you can meet some fun people there and take them to lunch at Waller’s, right down the road.
This past weekend, Jim and I were deep into a road trip to the Midwest, and that’s not what I’m talking about.
The weekend before that, we received a marvelous gift, named Lorenda, Meg, and Aviva. These are three friends of ours from our former neighborhood AND THEY DROVE THE FOUR HOURS FROM NORTHERN VIRGINIA TO COME VISIT!
It is not an easy trip. They did it on a Friday afternoon, which is a doubly difficult maneuver. But they arrived with White Claws, and wine, some AMAZING applesauce cake and a ton of laughter.
The neighborhood we moved from was one of those neighborhoods that circles around the local school system. Thus, everyone’s kids are about the same age, doing similar things, and you all pretty know the main structural information about your neighbors’ lives. Then, of course, those kids go off to college and some people move to Smith Mountain Lake where the new neighbors might not even know where Robinson Secondary School is located.
Lorenda’s husband is a Virginia Tech alum, and now her youngest fella is a student there. She popped in back in April after hiking with her lad, so she knows a little about Franklin County. Meg and Aviva were real newcomers.
And they were wonderful, enthusiastic, energetic guests. We got up relatively early on Saturday (not as early as Aviva, who took in the lakeside sunrise) and drove into Roanoke for the Farmer’s Market and some exploration of the establishments on Market Square.
They were tolerant of the ride over Windy Gap and a little disappointed that the Booker T. Washington National Monument was closed. Homestead Creamery Ice Cream was enjoyed by all. And we are so looking forward to them coming back!
And I’ve even gotten in on it: for the past ten months or so, I have been working as the PR/Media person for the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour.
The Home Tour is in October each year (it’s been going on for 29 years, y’all!). It’s a big deal, I don’t mind telling you.
These folks work all year to find eight lovely homes situated all around the lake and get their owners to invite hordes of people to come and visit. Of course, those visitors are well organized by plenty of (you guessed it) active volunteers who learn the layout of the homes and make sure that everyone has a great experience.
Here’s the best part: each home is paired with a regional charity, and all of the money made by the Tour, whether through ticket sales or business sponsorships, is divided up between those charities. It’s a big undertaking!
It’s also a huge part of the local community, and I have been so pleased to have been a part of it this year. On top of feeling like you are working for a great cause, it’s given me a way to meet some terrific people, get to know a lot of the businesses around here, and has allowed me to zip around to houses all over the lake so I can take pictures of them for our various communications. It is wonderful to see the creativity of our neighbors.
If this has whet your appetite for peeking at some beautiful homes, I’ll tell you what: take a look at the website for the Tour and if you’re local, go get yourself a ticket! Or you can check out the Tour’s Facebook (@smlcharityhometour) page because I do that, too (hint: I’m going to put something really cool up there tomorrow if I can figure out how to load a video).
I’m not going to suggest that I have any favorite houses on the Tour because they’re all nice. Really, you should go see them.
Labor Day Weekend is a big deal down here at Smith Mountain Lake.
The boat traffic is extreme! Even the automobile traffic is pretty intense, though I saw this notification about the traffic up in our old hometown and felt a little better.
Jim and I took the weekend to lay low. We went to a new spot for a beer on Saturday– a very well-regarded place out here that didn’t impress us much. It was jam packed with a lot of people who gave the impression of having been sipping on their boats all day. Even the ladies behind the bar were a little salty. So we left and moved on to Jake’s Place for dinner on the water.
On Sunday, we did yard work which isn’t exactly Fun-with-a-capital-F but pretty satisfying, nevertheless.
And this evening we popped into our favorite neighborhood spot, Napoli Cowboy, to have a beer with old bar friends Stu and Caroline, new bar friends Alan and Linda, and our favorite bartenders, Sharon and Ashley (they are the nicest people around, and even consistently laugh at Jim’s jokes).
Things are going to slow down here significantly in the coming weeks, and we feel like we appropriately sent off the official summer season.
I saw something today that reminded me how special this area is.
I had a little bit of business to attend to at one of the local marinas this afternoon (fun fact: there are marinas all around the lake, and some of them got their start 50+ years ago, when a family saw its farmland become covered in water from the Smith Mountain dam project and decide to pivot into a new line of work. These are resourceful folks around here).
I found myself traveling behind a Franklin County school bus, and when it got to a stop at one of the neighborhoods off Burnt Chimney road, two youngsters (both under 10, certainly) climbed out, and as the bus drove away, they jumped on their bikes which they had evidently left at the bus stop this morning to ride to their home.
To someone from the “mean streets” of Fairfax County (up in ultra suburban Northern Virginia), this was a shocker. I don’t know if that shock says more about Franklin County or me.
Just like that, We have been here for a year! Our Wirtz-aversary sneaked right past us.
It was not surprising, though. The summer was a blur. One of the Reynolds kids spent her summer at school, taking classes. She was here for the month of May and again for a week at the tail end of July.
Our other college kid was here, working in the kitchen at a local pizza spot. We didn’t see too much of him but it was sure nice having him around.
Jim and I worked on our various projects and responsibilities, did some traveling, and boom, now here we are with the leaves starting to turn and a year in southwest Virginia under our belts.
We’ve done a lot: found work, a church, a doctor, a dentist, a hairdresser (me), a barber (Jim), a place to buy plants, a gym we like, and some fun people to talk to. Those curvy roads aren’t nearly as scary as they were when we first arrived. I’ve loved getting to know our neighbors, both the “from heres” and the “come heres” and appreciate their kindness and pride in this beautiful place.
And I still marvel at the sight of the mountains and am delighted to come around a corner and spy some cows hanging out doing their thing. To wake up every morning and see the lake in our backyard feels like a gift every single time.
I’ve had some folks ask if I miss our old home. Sometimes I do, but I try not to. I miss the people that I used to run into without even thinking about it, and instead focus on appreciating how those tiny interactions brighten a day. So I make a point of running into people here, too.
Last fall, I was chatting with one of the guys at the dump who had moved with his wife from New Jersey, and was planning to move back after ten years at the lake. “I made a life here,” he said. “She didn’t.” I thought that was sad. So that became my Number One Goal: making a life here. I think we’re doing okay.
Not really secret secrets, but a whole lot of tidbits that I’ve been snooping up over the spring and summer.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been writing a few stories for our local Laker Magazine. And even better, they are history-related; researching them has taken me all over the place, which is awesome when you move to a new spot.
So check this out.
In May, right before the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, I wrote a piece about the National D-Day Memorial that’s just up the road from us in Bedford, Virginia (it’s on page 24). I also added an article about Moneta, Virginia, which featured in the 1991 Disney movie, What about Bob? (Of course, you knew that movie was filmed at Smith Mountain Lake, not Lake Winnipesaukee, because it’s easier to spell it was early fall when they began filming and chilly New Hampshire was busting out in colorful leaves.) That one is on page 66.
In June, I wrote about Huddleston, Virginia (page 32), one of the communities near the lake that was, at one time, a more substantial town. It was named for Henry Huddleston Rogers, a guy who used his own funding to build a railroad to transport coal from the fields in West Virginia down to the ports in Hampton Roads. He also had some famous friends…
In July, I got to share some information about Wirtz, Virginia (page 36), which is a very tricky place to actually find. This article also includes a huge shout-out to the folks at the Franklin County Historical Society, because I bothered them so much I think I started to get on their nerves a little bit.
In the August issue, I had a piece about some very unusual residents of Penhook, Virginia (page 34 and SPOILER: they were German POWs, working as farm labor during WWII), and the mistake that gave the community its name. In researching the story, I was able to drive by the dairy farm that still stands on Route 40, and also make the acquaintance of the marvelous man whose wife had been tasked with bringing water to the prisoners working on her grandfather’s farm back in the 40s.
I added the page numbers for the links, above, because I know you’re busy and I really just appreciate you even taking a minute to (a) peruse these li’l projects and (b) even read this blog after I’ve neglected it for so long. But the Laker Magazine is really a gorgeous showcase of what makes SML cool and lovely. It is definitely worth looking through.
I hope you enjoy that end-of-summer reading! If you ever cross my path in person, rest assured that I have multiple copies of the hard-copy magazines to share. 🙂
One morning when I was in eighth grade, I was waiting at the bus stop with my middle-school colleagues when a car sped by. We looked up in time to see that the back seat passenger had pressed his rear end up against the window to be admired by all.
We guffawed like eighth graders do, but I also made the mistake of telling my mom about the incident. By that evening, the Fairfax County Police had paid a visit to the house to jot down a description. My friends were disappointed that I had ruined the potential for continued spectacle (because the undercover police car joined us at the bus stop the next morning and very soon the mooning stopped).
Fast-forward forty years to this evening, when Jim came home with a story that brought back that middle-school adventure. It seems that a woman in his office was bringing her trash cans from the curb one evening when she heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching. She glanced up as he sped by and realized that he was either wearing white shorts or, well, no shorts.
She didn’t have to wonder long. As she made her way up her driveway she heard the motorcycle approaching again. This time, a little slower. And this time, the rider shouted, “Oh, NO! I’ve lost my SHORTS!” She looked over. And indeed, there were no shorts. The rider sped away.
As I had long ago, Jim’s colleague called her mom to share the story. But she got a different reaction. “Sweetie,” said her mom. “Make sure you tell me the next time he comes by. Because I want to see him.”
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.”