Those towns I didn't know existed

As we drove through those towns

I didn’t know existed,

I knew exactly who I was. 

I never felt 

more at home.

October 22, 2017 

Day four off the grid:

I woke up this morning, and the air had changed. It was slightly more Fall than it was yesterday. I smelled wood burning from a fire nearby, and I sat with my coffee and let that smell sink in. I made some breakfast, enjoyed the slow morning, and headed out in my jeep. I thought I might find a church to attend, go for a hike, just see where the morning went. I passed a little white sign that read “Sunny Point Baptist Church: Pastor Kenny Corn” I mean, how could I not? With a name like Kenny Corn? How could I possibly pass up the opportunity to see what Mr. Corn had to say.

I followed the little signs up the curvy colorful mountain. It led me to a small one room church next to an old graveyard. Only 10 rows of pews, and probably 20 people seated in them. I arrived a couple minutes late, and I swear each one of those 20 members of the congregation turned their heads as I walked in the door. Their faces didn’t even try to hide the looks of shock and confusion that read “WHO THE HELL IS THIS?!” “SHE AIN’T FROM AROUND HERE”. This was an old school church, and it was sort of nostalgic. A group of children stood in the front and sang an old hymn. Their little country mountain voices sang those harmonies and I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. They were precious. They had such grit.  I looked around at the stone cold faces sitting in the pews and wondered how they weren’t smiling at these amazing little kids. They finished and I began to clap. No one followed. The kids filed back to their seats, and as they did, I tried to meet eyes with each one of them with a big smile and a thumbs up as I mouthed “Great job!” One little girl looked at me with the biggest bright eyed smile, as if she’d never heard that before. I wanted to take her home with me.

The Pastor gave a sermon on the flesh vs the spirit. I swear he gave that word “flesh” about 5 syllables and I freakin loved it. Especially considering he repeated the phrase “When you luyuuuyuust threw the fleyyeeeyesshhhhh” (When you lust through the flesh) about 50 times in an hour. It’s the little things that always bring me the most delight. I liked hearing his voice, as I would occasionally people watch. The old man in suspenders, trying to stay awake. The 10 year old girl dazed out, braiding her hair. The little fidgety boy who probably wanted to be outside playing so badly.

I continued to get stares throughout the sermon, from people wondering who I was and where I came from. But as soon as it ended, a line of men rose and immediately came towards me to shake my hand “We sure are glad to have ya.” “We’re happy you joined us this mornin!” I chatted with the Pastor for a minute about my journey and where I'm camping. He seemed thrilled that I decided to pop in for a service, told me “God bless you young lady” and shook my hand before I left. And I thought, God bless him too. And each one of those folks. And those sweet children who love to sing. God bless each and every one of them. A phrase like “God bless you” sure seems to mean something different when it comes from someone you’ve never met, who you don’t know; from a different world than you. It somehow felt authentic. And almost made me want to cry. Knowing I’d be hitching up tomorrow morning onto a new place and a different time. He sent me on my way with a blessing from his God, who he knows. And I send him the same, from my God that I know. I think I’ll always remember that moment and this day. 

I continued up the mountain after church, mainly just enjoying the view. Almost getting lost in it; hypnotized. I saw a sign for a hiking trail and discovered Cherokee Lake. Wow, was it gorgeous. Outlined in colorful trees, a pretty little dock that went out near the center. And tucked away in its own little corner of this town. Besides a couple of post church picnickers, there was no one there. I went for a stroll down the path and enjoyed every step. 

I decided to hit up some antique shops along the highway after my hike. And Lordddddd did I meet some interesting characters. I stopped at a full time Yard Sale on a little plot of land, where I met Mack, his wife Joanne, and his brother Frank. They all run the business together and they were excited about the fact that I was there (maybe a little too excited). As I looked at some old hatchets, they started making some awkward jokes about what they could do with them. When Mack played like he was going to stab me, I thought, hmmmm this is the opening scene to a horror movie. Maybe I should leave now...Then Frank proceeded to tell me that he wanted me to be his “monkey.” That he’s got a cage for me in his home he’s going to lock me in. I’ve got to cook for him and do all the yard work, but he’ll let me out when he leaves the house so he can show the townsfolk his lady. Joanne just sat there rocking in her chair, taking a drag off her cig, and chuckling. Which sort of made it even more weird. More creepy comments, uncomfortable jokes, and then (Frank picks up a hatchet)

“Ya know, I could just cut off your big toe, and you wouldn’t have no choice. You’d HAVE to stay here with me and live in my cage!”
Aaaaaand on that note, I think I’m gonna go now. Bye Frank! He handed me an apple as I left and reassured me (at least three times) “I didn’t do nothin to do! It’s safe to eat!” Hmm, and that tells me maybe you DID in fact do something to it, and maybe I SHOULDN’T eat it. Thanks anyway Frank. Y’all have a good one. I swear, you can’t make this shit up.

I hit up another spot and ended up meeting a man named Robert. Robert wore a hat, a long beard, and a Trump t-shirt. We got into a long conversation about what I’m doing out here, and he told me how proud of me he was. That far too many people talk about their love and desire to travel, but they never go. They make goals, but they never get accomplished. They say things that never come to pass, because they talk instead of do. He was extremely passionate, and as he talked, his enthusiasm grew. He got on a roll talking about how rare it is for females to do “this sort of thing.” He said “Now I’ll be honest, I’m shocked that a girl like you is just out here doing this. Living in her camper, traveling alone for a month. And it makes me nervous, I think of my daughter. But I’m proud of you, and I wish more girls would do this! Instead of feeling limited by society, they should prove them wrong! Feel empowered! Just do what’s burning inside them! Society wants females to feel scared and limited. So f***ing prove them wrong!!” Robert doesn’t have any idea how much I thought about his words for the rest of the day. But I’m still thinking about them. And I’m proud of him too. He moved to the mountains, sold all of his stuff, and chose to live simply and run an old antique shop. He has everything he needs, family and friends, and makes time for the things he enjoys—traveling, hiking, road tripping. He chose and made the life he wanted. And that’s inspiring to me. 

I headed back to Cherokee Lake after hitting those shops for a sunset stretch. Rolled out my yoga mat, did a few poses and breathing exercises, and let myself just be. The stillness is something new I’ve really come to enjoy. Im not rushing, like I’m used to doing. From a deep breath, to a stretch, to a stroll in the woods, to shaking that Pastor’s hand and having the small talk, to that drive up the mountain. I’m not rushing to get there. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and the process of getting there. Taking each step, hitting each mark. I’m taking my time to feel, see, hear, and be in each and every moment. It’s new. And I love it. I finished my stretch, and actually decided to return to the church for the evening service because they announced that the children's choir and church band would be singing for the majority of the service.  And oh my goshhhhh, they were so good. Those gritty, authentic, deep mountain voices singing the harmonies of old hymns that hit such a nostalgic note for me.

They reminded me of my grandmother. Her love for those old hymns. And sitting in the pew reminded me of my childhood. Sitting there, surrounded by my family, hearing those same tunes. Those hymns that never seem to retire. Generation after generation, we hear them, we sing them. Then we hear them again, and some sort of magic happens. It brings us back to those moments. The nostalgia is something special. I think I’ve been smiling all day. Without even noticing. Feeling present (not rushed), feeling alive, feeling a hug from my past self, listening to children’s voices—voices that maybe aren’t always heard, saying hello to my inner child. It all just makes me smile. 




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