News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists


Grandfather yields the unexpected

Staring up Grandfather's nose reminded me that good things often hide in unexpected places.

The massive nose sits atop Grandfather Mountain, the backdrop to an autumn retreat that Jenny and I will never forget.

We left Alabama for North Carolina with some reluctance, not knowing what to expect. Our hosts Helen Luce and her son John awaited our arrival probably with the same hesitance.

What would a week in the same house with near strangers hold?

Helen lives at her summer cottage, called Milfern Lodge, for several months of the year before returning to her winter home in Florida. She is still grieving the death of her husband and dealing with other hardships. John sounded tentative on the phone as he recounted the family's recent trials and warned us that he didn't know what we would find.

We found an instant connection with Helen and her warmth, with John and his talent for music, and with the mountain view that fills their window every morning.

In the process perhaps Helen found a degree of healing and John rediscovered something of himself.

The silhouette of Grandfather Mountain resembles a bearded old man lying on his back. As we ate breakfast one morning, gazing at the snow-covered peak above the colorful foliage, Helen quoted from a poem that she wrote about her beloved mountain.

At 81, Helen is a remarkable person who wastes nothing. A talented craftswoman, she turns wooden meat skewers into garden decorations, slices of tree limbs into Christmas-tree ornaments and lids from tin cans into door chimes. She burns firewood gleaned from fallen timber in the surrounding woods.

In the nearby towns of Crossnore and Newland, everyone seems to know of Helen and her volunteer work for the county museum, for the poor and for the environment.

Jenny and Helen found enough trust in each other to share the private hardships and good times that both have experienced. John and I sat in rocking chairs by the fire, picking the guitar and telling stories about our adventures.

One morning I decided to climb the mountain. By the time I got to the base of Grandfather's frostbitten nose, the rest of the ice-covered trail looked so difficult that I almost turned back. By late morning, however, I was looking down from the rocky peak, startled by the view below.

The week was full of the unexpected.

I can't explain why we intruded into Helen and John's lives at such a troubled time or why it turned out so well.

Maybe it was coincidence, but it felt like something more.

Scott Morris Scott Morris
DAILY City Editor

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