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!
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. 🙂
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.
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.
It’s my friend Lorenda’s birthday today, but last week she gave ME a present by coming down to Wirtz and letting me show her around.
My friend is a middle school teacher in a large public school system in busy northern Virginia. Her son is a student at Virginia Tech, a terrific university down the road in Blacksburg, Va. She decided to use the large public school’s spring break to visit her boy and me as well! I’m so grateful.
I’m also grateful that she is a good sport — instead of hiking all day, as planned, we had to spend a chunk of the afternoon waiting for a tree guy to remove a tree that had fallen on the side of the house in a storm.
But first, we hopped in the car and drove all around Smith Mountain Lake and into Roanoke for lunch at the tasty On the Rise Bakery in the Grandin part of the city. Then hustled back to sit on the porch to wait for the tree guy.
Our cat, who has liked no one since we moved him from Fairfax, even liked her.
I hope she wants to come back so we can get that hike in. Or, as the weather gets warmer, a swim. And some belated birthday Homestead Creamery ice cream.
This is our first spring in the southwestern part of Virginia, and for a couple of weeks, I found myself really missing the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC.
The cherry blossoms are famous. They ring the Tidal Basin near the Potomac River and draw crowds from around the world. Seriously large crowds, my friends, and the challenge of finding the right time to visit and avoid those crowds is a DC-area pastime in itself.
Beautiful, right? For awhile, it seemed like all of my northern VA friends were posting pictures just like this one, making me wistful for the old homeplace.
But then I noticed something along the roads.
This place is awash in redbuds.
We had a redbud in front of our house when I was growing up. We also had a crabapple, whose flowers mimicked those cherry trees and made the redbud look a little less, well, profuse by comparison. Sad to say, our redbud was not a major player in my childhood floral memories.
They definitely have a different flavor. In the past, I had only seen them as little glimpses of pink contrasting the sea of new green around them.
But when you get a lot of them together, it’s pretty impressive.
Franklin County has a lot of redbuds.
In fact, I was reading an old newspaper article about the initial filling of Smith Mountain Lake where the reporter bemoaned the loss of the redbud trees as the waters rose. And even better, when a friend posted a photo of his own (northern Virginia) redbud, I learned that he is a Franklin County native with stories to tell about growing up here.
So I (almost) quit missing the cherry blossoms because these buds have a beauty that is quite as nice.
Since we’ve moved out here, I have developed a fondness for bluegrass, since it really serves as a nice backdrop for driving around these mountains and curvy roads.
But the ringing of steel drums may be the real soundtrack of Smith Mountain Lake.
Last weekend, Jim and I went to the Show of Shows, a Variety Extravaganza and steel drum concert held to benefit the Smith Mountain YMCA. Some of our friends play in the bands and suggested we come check it out. It was a an eye opener!
And yes, I said bandS. According to the Laker Magazine, back in 2013 a couple of lake residents went to a steel drum concert in Roanoke and were so impressed that they asked the Smith Mountain Arts Council to bring the group to a lake event. It didn’t take long for the first band, the Parrot Pan Band, to form, quickly followed by the Toucan Pan Band and most recently, the Island Pan Band.
All three bands were in full effect on Saturday night, along with the Star City Swag Jazz Quintet, Star City Squeeze Accordions, jazz guitarist Bill Hoffman, and Ernie Freedman, Latin trumpeter.
The bands perform at nonprofit events all around the lake. And while Trinidadian tones are not at all what you might expect during an evening out in south central Virginia, they sure sound nice and they sure have a great time.