I've written before about who I am. The age old question. The one I started contemplating around 6th or 7th grade. Who am I? But more importantly, what makes me me? That question. After spending a couple of days with my family last week, I've given more thought to where I am from. I am from the Appalachian Mountains. Western North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Mountains. I was born there and I spent my first 22 years living there. I love the city I live in now, but I will always be a mountain girl at heart.
I was born in Spruce Pine Community Hospital. The hospital was built some time between 1950 and 1958. I know this because Roy Williams, the men's basketball coach at UNC-Chapel Hill, is from Spruce Pine, too, but he was born in Marion because Spruce Pine didn't have a hospital in 1950. It was built by the time I came along in July 1958. Roy only spent 6 months in Spruce Pine, though, before moving on to Asheville. (I know this because when he was up for the Carolina job the first time, the sportscasters said he was from Spruce Pine. I did not know that, so I called his secretary at Kansas and asked. Coach Williams was at the NCAA tournament she politely told me, but she would get back to me. And she did.) I lived there for 18 years, before moving on to Boone and then to Durham. (Roy and I are practically neighbors, but we haven't run into each other at the grocery store or post office yet.)
I digress. As usual.
I forget how much I miss the mountains until I go back to visit. There is just something soothing about the views.
After exiting Interstate 40 and driving around Marion, this is the stretch of mountain that you have to climb to get to Spruce Pine. I don't really like this road. Trucks can lose their brakes. One of my cousins and her husband died that way about 30 years ago.
The view at the top is pretty spectacular, though. And worth the drive.
On the way out of town, before heading down the mountain, I took a little detour to visit with Miss Vicky at Big Lynn Lodge in Little Switzerland.
In less than two months, my graduating class from Harris High School will hold our 40th Reunion at Big Lynn. One of my classmates, PW, who lives in Texas and I are frantically trying to find the other 88 names on the back of the program from our Commencement Exercises held on May 28, 1976.
We know that we have already lost at least six of our classmates, including my cousin, Kathy. It is past time for a get-together. It was nice to meet Miss Vicky and put a face to a name.
I was in the mountains to take my baby sister Moo to the hospital in Boone for sinus surgery. I would post the photo she asked me to take post-surgery, but I think she would stop speaking to me. And I do not want that to happen. I am the only one of my siblings to leave Spruce Pine. As a matter of fact, Mama Mildred, Sister Cindy, and Moo all live on the same street, Bell Street, named for my Papa. On the way home from the hospital the day after the surgery, I couldn't resist pulling off in Linville for a couple of photos. Moo was still pretty drugged, so she didn't object. I spent three summers working in Linville at Eseeola Lodge as a waitress.
It is much fancier now, featuring a spa and an updated pool, as well as the golf course. It also stays open longer, not just Memorial Day through Labor Day the way it did back in the '70's. It was a great place to work and live.
One of my Lodge buddies, The Honorable JR, has a family home next to the Lodge. I had to take a photo.
And my old friend, The Grandfather, is still lying there watching the clouds roll by and allowing hikers to climb all over him.
Although I have no photos to prove it, I don't think I've ever seen so many shades of green. The trees covering the mountains are leafing out. Spring has hit the Appalachians. Spring and fall put on magnificent shows of color up there.
I physically left 36 years ago, but my heart is and always will be there. I hope that I appreciated the beauty that surrounded me for those 22 years, even while I dreamed of taking airplanes to faraway places. I knew that I wanted a different life than I could have there. Marrying The Mailman (who, by the way, just happened to be bringing mail to my mom as I was leaving... bit unsettling to run into him after all these years) would not have been a good idea. I needed a bigger world, a world where I could teach middle school French and make my own way. Daddy didn't understand, but I think that he was proud of me. Mama Mildred has always encouraged me to follow my dreams, even if that meant leaving the mountains. I've never regretted the decision to leave, but I sure miss the views and my family.
While sitting around the table at Mama Mildred's house, I remembered to look through her tattered cookbook- the one she and Sister Cindy fight over- and find her favorite pound cake recipe. I wrote it out in that cookbook for her, copying it from Southern Living magazine, she says. I do not remember where she found it. So, my kitchen smells like chocolate cake. It just came out of the oven...
(I took a croissant-making class yesterday at Sur La Table and was told that my goodies will bake better if they are not just placed on the wire rack in the oven, but on a "platform." Thus the pizza stone. That is supposed to make them bake more evenly. We shall see.)
The Ex-Ex will be eating chocolate cake for breakfast this week.
Mama Mildred's Mahogany Pound Cake
1 c. butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur's)
1/2 cup cocoa (the last of the box of Van Houten I brought home from France in January)
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Set aside.
Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Sift flour and cocoa together.
Combine sour cream and baking soda.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down the bowl often. Mix just until blended after each addition.
Stir in vanilla.
Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cake batter.
Spoon into the pan.
Place in cold oven, set the temperature to 325˚F and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. (I had to add 12 extra minutes.)
Cool in pan 10 minutes.
Bon appétit to all my fellow mountaineers! Enjoy the views wherever you are. And eat more chocolate cake. Life is short.