“Sometimes it hits me. This place. Had a long history before, it has a long future after us. I keep thinking it’s a part of our lives but really, it’s the reverse. For a little while, I don’t know, it’s like we’re a part of its life.” – Lorelai Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
In the mid-1990s, my family and I first made the trip to Roaring Gap. It’s this tiny blip on the map, an “if you blinked you might miss it” type of community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina not too far from the NC/VA state line.
My Uncle Kenneth, one of my mom’s brothers, had a friend named Sandy who owned a cabin there. Sandy’s parents had purchased the cabin we believe in the 1950s and had passed it to Sandy. (We would later learn that Sandy’s father was Dr. W.C Davison, a well-known pediatrician who would become the very first dean of the Duke School of Medicine in Durham. Ironically, where my sister now works!) Uncle Kenneth would go up and help Sandy with upkeep around the cabin and had spent some time there with his own family and wanted to invite some of his siblings and their children to spend some time there too. I don’t remember too much from that very first trip, I was only about three or four years old, but I remembered being surrounded by family and loving it. I remembered the sound of the creek that ran next to the house and the soothing sound it made, especially at night.
We would make a several more trips up to the cabin over the next few years. A small, three bedroom cabin would become full to brim with me, my sister, my parents, my uncle Kenneth, my cousin Matthew, my Aunt Deborah, my cousins Jessica and John, my Aunt Kay, and my Aunt Shelia. I think my grandmother even came with us once. Treasured memories, especially now with my grandmother and Aunt Shelia both being with Jesus now.
I remember having to take multiple vehicles to go out exploring on the Blue Ridge Parkway and using walkie talkies to talk to the people in our other car because there was zero cell service up there. The cabin sits on 13 acres has two small ponds on the property. Once I remember my dad and my sister taking the boat out onto one of the ponds. We might have sung some of “Just Around the Riverbend.” I remember my cousin Matthew hiking up part of the mountain on the property just to get cell service to talk to his friends back home. I remember all of us hiking up that mountain and stumbling upon a Christmas tree farm that borders the property. We would return to that farm later a couple of times to buy Christmas trees when I was in college.
I remember feeling completely content that there was no cell service and no TV at the cabin because I was able to spend time playing outside, laughing with my family, and doing things like puzzles, reading books, and actually talking. I remember my Uncle Kenneth making us scrambled eggs and sausage in a cast-iron skillet – part of a daily morning feast with biscuits, toast, cheese, eggs, sausage, and bacon. Needless to say, the cabin held a lot of my most treasured childhood memories. But then my sister and I went to college and began our adult lives. Years went by without visiting the cabin.
But then, in 2016, something pulled us back there. My mom asked my Uncle if Sandy wouldn’t mind us staying over Labor Day weekend. It was just the four of us plus my Uncle. That weekend felt different. Maybe it was in part because we weren’t there as kids but we were all adults, I’m not sure. But that weekend was healing. It was restorative and still and something felt almost holy about it. You see in September 2016, we were just about eight months out of a two year season that had put us through the wringer as a family. We had lost seven dear family members during that time and my dad had been hospitalized and diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and chronic kidney disease. We were emerging from that season rather battered and bruised and I think we were all craving an escape. A weekend away to a place that we all loved for a chance to breath and reset. The mountains worked their magic that weekend.
That was the last time we would visit the cabin, at least for several more years. Until early October 2019. My sister and I were driving to the Outer Banks on a Friday with a friend and I was telling my sister about how the cabin had just been put on the market the day or so before. For years, years, my mom had wondered aloud that if Sandy ever wanted to sell the cabin that she hoped we would be in a position to make an offer. My sister and I wondered together if it could be something that we should consider, given that it was finally on the market. We texted our parents and they told us that they were driving up to look at it the next day.
The next day, just after journeying to the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, we got a phone call from our mom telling us that they had just walked through the cabin. Sandy was leaving everything as is – all of the furniture, books, appliances – everything that we remembered from our visits. They decided to put an offer in and the day after that when my sister and I got home from the Outer Banks we each wrote a letter to Sandy. Sure, we hoped it would help him to decide to sell to our family but we also just wanted the chance to thank this man, who we hadn’t even personally met at this point, for opening up his family’s cabin to us over the years and what that meant to each of us.
“Our trips to the cabin allowed me the unique opportunity to step back in time and discover the beauty and wonder of the mountains. The chance to learn from an early age the gift of silence and stillness in an ever-increasing busy and hectic world. I truly believe these early trips helped to instill a lifelong love of the mountains in me, which I carried with me to school at Appalachian State University and on into adulthood. Waking up to deer by the pond and falling asleep to the sound of the creek just cannot be replicated anywhere else. Your home helped to teach me the importance of being present in the moment and soak up the genuine peace and stillness that is found at this cabin. From walks around the ponds to connecting with our extended family over home cooked breakfasts and jigsaw puzzles, we understand why your parents chose this beautiful home many years ago.” – an excerpt from my letter to Sandy.
A week later, my family and I were in Southern California to celebrate my great-aunt’s 90th birthday. On Saturday morning we were getting ready in our Los Angeles hotel room and preparing to get some breakfast before driving out to San Bernardino for the birthday party when my dad got a call from the realtor. Sandy wanted to sell us the cabin. I think we all just sat there stunned and dazed for a few minutes letting it sink in.
When we returned home from California, my parents became super busy with preparations for closing. We would ultimately close on the cabin the day before Thanksgiving – November 27, 2019 – and take ownership of a piece of history. A piece of my childhood. While staying at the cabin that first weekend, we were looking through the things that Sandy had left there and came across the original plans for the cabin, dusty and rolled up on one of the bookshelves. Written in the corner, by who I don’t know, were the words “rest and be thankful.”
These words quickly planted themselves in my mind and have been hard to shake since. These words beautifully capture what our visits to the cabin always allowed us to do. They allowed us space to rest and to be thankful. Thankful for a brief respite from the outside world, from the responsibilities of work and school. Thankful for time spent with family making memories that would last for decades. Thankful for the chance to discover and fall in love with the beauty and the healing qualities of the mountains.