I think I will always miss the South the most during the Fall. Glorious is the best word to describe it. Finally a reprieve from the misery of the humid summer, cool breezes are met with an eruption of breathtaking color.
We moved to the mountains of North Carolina the May after Shane graduated from school. Nothing could quite prepare me for the culture shock of that experience. We had not only moved to the South, but rural South. We moved to an unincorporated town that was more like a tiny spread out village. The only business that I remember was a farmers market. Drive 10 minutes and you reach another town of bed and breakfasts and a restaurant or two and some gift shops. This was leaf country. People come to admire the beauty, stay for a weekend. 15 minutes away and you get to the "big" town with a whopping population of 2,000.
We loved it.
Sure, I could hardly understand what half the people were saying, and our little country home was haunted (I need to write about that!). Even so, we were just so intoxicated with the beauty, charm and seclusion of it all. It was a wonderful time in our marriage.
After a month I found the most incredible job. A little over 30 minutes up the mountain was the most darling town, Highlands. A idilic summer retreat for the ubber wealthy of Atlanta and Florida. You could call it the Hamptons of the South. It may be one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you can get past the terrifying winding mountain roads to get there. The drive up is famous as one of the most beautiful drives in the nation, but it's scary. I drove it everyday for months. The air is always cool there, even in mid summer. The town is surrounded by waterfalls, lakes, and far stretching vistas. It's a place you never want to leave.
I was hired on at an upscale art gallery/auction house. (Look mom and dad, I DID use my major!) The owner was a 7th generation Southerner. He said he wanted a pretty face who could smile at men, make friends with the women and talk about art if I needed too. Oh yea, and he was a totally sexist. I really didn't care. I never saw him and the job was amazing.
The family who owned the gallery were collectors. During the winter when the road was too treacherous to drive, the gallery closed, and this family would tour Europe and Asia looking for treasures to ship back. Paintings, sculptures, antique furniture, rugs and jewelry. You could probably guess I was a bit jealous of their life.
A funny thing about this family was they also tended to collect people on their travels. The gallery was the most amazing blend of cultures. The man who managed the Oriental Rugs was flown over every summer from Pakistan. He had the best sense of humor. The Art specialist was European and he liked to make fun of my "accent". The man that showed the jewelry was a jeweler from Israel. He and I would talk for hours about Jerusalem and our religions. My favorite employee was a young man from Scandinavia. He was the only year round employee and it was rumored he was actually found homeless and was taken in by the gallery family. He was there to move things around when asked and I never really heard him say anything. He spent his quiet moments drawing in a sketchbook.
For the entire season of June to October we showed goods to people who wanted to spend money. It was gads of fun. It was not a strange night to make over a million dollars. Man, I wished I was paid on commission. The jeweler let me wear whatever jewelry I wanted and everyday I picked up the $80,000 canary diamond ring out of the case and wore it on my right hand. I think that started my love of yellow. I was pretty sad the day it sold. When a piece was taken out of crates, we would all study it for a bit and decide were it should be displayed and what should be said about it at auction. Nothing thrilled me more than when I helped sell a Picasso.
The men called me the yankee girl and made fun of me for never drinking anything from the open bar except Diet Coke. The older Floridian office manager and I became friends and she and I would have lunch at the tea house down the street or splurge and go to one of the 4 star restaurants. Those were the only dining options. On rainy days when the gallery was quiet, the men would talk about their families far away and how different their homes were from America. They would ask me about what life was like in the United States, since they had never explored beyond this mountain town. We were a very strange medley of friends by the end.
By the beginning of November the roads had become dangerous and the summer residents had left. The gallery staff packed up the remaining goods and got ready to close. The owner's wife announced that the next day would be Thanksgiving. The rest of the staff was ecstatic as they explained the gallery tradition of a farewell Thanksgiving dinner at the end of the season.
The next day I arrived to find the usually cold gallery, warm with the smells of cooking turkey and baking. The men had changed from their suits to khakis and sweaters, their smiles contagious. Their excitement for the food to come and the next day's flights home was palpable. I even heard the Scandinavian boy speak a few halting words.
The bar room was filled a large antique table set with impeccable china. But nothing could compare to the mountainous food. I was 26 and had experienced many Thanksgivings, but never anything like this feast. Baskets of savory cornbread surrounded the golden turkey. Dressing with chestnuts and currents. Giblet gravy. Chedder and Gruyere grits. Pimento cheese with celery and crackers. Herb scented rice with oysters. Green beans sauteed with shallots and pecans. Banana pudding. Sweet potato pie and pecan pie.
I had never tried half the things on the table, but for me, nothing had ever felt more like Thanksgiving. I sat at a table of people I had only know a few months. We were from vastly different cultures. But as we dove into the feast that had been lovingly prepared, we laughed and called each other friends. We talked of the upcoming summer season when we would meet again. My heart was very full that day as I drove the long road home.
Sadly, I never did return the next season. Shane was transfered to Chattanooga and we said goodbye to our little country home. I had planned to make the trip back to attend a gallery show, but I had a baby and never quite made it. However to this day I'm grateful for that Thanksgiving Feast. I'm thankful for those small experiences that bring back a moment of time to savor. And I'm grateful for the people in our lives who may only stay a moment, but make our memories full.