No, that’s not “country fried” (but I guess you could say that).
Franklin County, our home for the past year and a half, is nothing like the harried and fast-paced Northern Virginia we came from. One of our kids (the one who just finished college and will be moving to a city next week) is not amused. The other one is much more enchanted with our new-ish home.
Maybe he had a hard semester, but he talked a lot over winter break about how peaceful it is out here. Like his mother, he appreciates the cows and tractors. He grew a beard, which startled his grandfather enough to make that gentleman exclaim that he looks just like a native of our neighboring state, known for its country roads and coal industry.
And then, when his car was pretty much flattened in October by a hit-and-run (thankfully, without him in it), he put his sights on a vehicle that would be harder to crunch, and he headed back to college last week in a brand new (to him) truck. He said that he likes driving it around here because when he drives it, “more people wave.” He is definitely fitting in.
I am extremely lucky when it comes to my line of work. I can do most of it from our dining room table, tapping away at my laptop. It’s an introvert’s dream, even if it can feel a little isolating from time to time on the occasion when one isn’t feeling quite so quiet.
So today, before I got started with work projects, I went to mail a care package to our boy – a college student who has exams next week – and decided to shop local on the way.
While in CJ’s, the gentleman in line behind me struck up a conversation about his recent travels in Italy, where his grown-up kids joined him for a decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving. Me: I see your Italian vacation and raise you a daughter graduating from college in three days, ha HA! One of his buds came in and asked if Tom (the Italian vacation guy) was bothering me. No, I assured him, to which he replied, “Just give him time!”
It’s a jokey crowd around the lake.
I moved on out to the parking lot with a smile on my face. Parked next to me was a vehicle belonging to the marine service company that had fixed our neighbors’ boat this fall. I mentioned to driver how pleased my neighbors were and he introduced himself (Josh) and gave me his card. Now I know whom to call to look at our non-working little boat in the spring.
At the UPS store, the lady behind the counter and I talked about the holiday rush, the stress of college exams, and of course, how I have a daughter graduating from college in three days BECAUSE WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME? And then we talked about how quickly kids grow up we both cried a little.
Things move slower in this part of Virginia. I’ve happened into CJ’s when it’s unusually busy and the proprietor has straight-up told me, nah, you’re not getting your coffee for awhile. And when we had trees removed from our back yard this fall, once the tree company guy ascertained that they weren’t immediately imperiling our roof, he told me he’d see us in oh, three weeks.
But even though I still feel like a bit of a newbie here, mornings like this make me feel right at home.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
Last post about our recent bovine visitor, I promise!
When we discovered on Friday that a drowned cow had somehow attached itself to the underside of our dock, I reached for a common resource: the crowd-sourcing answers on Facebook. I first asked the Smith Mountain Lake resident’s group:
Then I shared the post with my friends to get their take on the whole thing. And did I! It received 100 comments, many of which expressed sympathy for the cow or concern about the situation, but listen, my friends are funny. People uploaded a number of à propos GIFs, including the Jed Clampett “What in tarnation?” from Lorenda.
As well as a link to that Top Gear episode where the fellas were visiting the American south and that wag Jeremy Clarkson tied a dead cow to the top of his car, from Chris L.
Also, a lot of commentary:
“You like your steaks REALLY rare,” observed Michael H.
“Did the cow know you don’t even eat meat??” – Ilham, who
knows me well.
“If this is what happens when you move out of [your former
neighborhood], we’ll be staying here forever” – former neighbor Dan S.,
seconded by Kristin S.’s “You got that right.”
“Hope you get to moooove it soon” – Cathy C.
“VA more TX than TX?” – from native Texan Seán C.
“That’s not exactly the right way to marinate beef.” – Derek
“Anne, you don’t live in Fairfax anymore, do you? I need to
keep up better.” – Karen T.
“Holy cow!” – Robin M.
“So, you’re saying he moooo-ved along? Can’t see hide nor hair of him? I’m milking this for all it’s worth. It’s udderly awful. We all hope she has moseyed along and she won’t be ‘herd’ from again. You made it seem very amoosing, though!” – Beth H., who was clearly bovinely inspired, with the cow as her muuuuuse.
“Rich ecosystem in your lake there!” observed science-minded Ilse
“Should you decide to form a bluegrass band, Boathouse Buzzards would be a great name.” – Danny C.
“Anne you get instant country street cred if you form a bluegrass band,” Tosh, who added, “Welcome to the country!”
And there was some on-point advice:
“If you get an invitation to the Appalachian Power hamburger
cookout, I suggest you politely decline.” – also Danny C.
“Dear James Reynolds, You may want to cross ‘Tri-County Lake
Administration’ off the list of potential summer employers” – concerned auntie Sarah
Most of the neighbors in the lake’s residents’ group had sincere (and ultimately, very helpful!) suggestions, but also some wit:
Terry B. echoed Jim’s preferred solution to the dilemma: “Call in the catfish.”
“BBQ?” offered Bob T.
“Go heavy on the smoke flavor,” advised Jim C. He got more specific: “When you grind your hamburger you mix in some country sausage to hide the flavor, as do many deer hunters when they grind venisonburger- 😎
And upon learning that the cow had moved on: “Well, phooey. I was going to suggest dynamite, Anne.” – Betsy A., who, as part of Lake Writers, has an eye for a plot twist.
The question came up on Friday, when I was out of town and Jim texted me that there was a dead cow floating next to our dock.
We are very fortunate to live along the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake, where most of the houses feature a dock. The problem is, occasionally a deceased member of the wildlife community comes along to get stuck on the docks, and I guess that is what happened to Mr. Cow.
What do you do about a bobbing cow? The first thing we did was to put in a report to Appalachian Electric Power, the utility that controls the hydroelectric dam that formed Smith Mountain Lake. Based on some good advice I received when I crowd-sourced the question to the Smith Mountain Lake Residents page on Facebook, I also made a call this morning to the Tri-Counties Lake Administration, which works with AEP to police the debris on the lake. And sure enough, this afternoon, I got a phone call from a gentleman at AEP to make sure it was gone.
I walked down and saw no evidence of our visitor, either visual or olfactory, so my fingers are crossed that he has been assisted in his journey to greener pastures. Even the buzzards are no longer lurking.
As I am not a fisherman, I’m kind of hoping this is the closest encounter I have with nautical wildlife for a good long time.