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.”
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. 🙂
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.