A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com. On my right wrist, I wear a thin, gold-toned wire bracelet embellished with the state shape of North Carolina and inscribed with

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com. On my right wrist, I wear a thin, gold-toned wire bracelet embellished with the state shape of North Carolina and inscribed with

Purchase collections of Elizabeth Hudson’s columns at ourstatestore.com.


On my right wrist, I wear a thin, gold-toned wire bracelet embellished with the state shape of North Carolina and inscribed with a simple word that speaks volumes: “home.” The bracelet was a gift from Sara and Rick Davis, a couple I met while on a story-scouting expedition to Graham County a few years ago. For several hours, maybe longer, Sara, Rick, and I, along with a few other folks, laughed and talked and got to know each other at the Wildwood Grill in Fontana Village while we ate the house specialties: fried cheese curds with ranch dressing and Dam Burgers, so named for the “Dam Kids,” children of the Tennessee Valley Authority workers who built Fontana Dam in the 1940s.

For years, the Dam Kids would gather for a reunion in this area — a homecoming of sorts, even though there was no “home” to come back to once the gates finally closed at the dam and the 10,000-acre reservoir filled with water in 1944. People who lived here understood that the community had been transitory, created to house construction workers and their families. And yet, though their time here had been short-lived, the former residents still felt that strong pull to return.

Photography courtesy of THE HUGH MORTON PHOTOGRAPHS AND FILMS #P0081, NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION, UNC-CHAPEL HILL LIBRARY

Rick and Sara weren’t Dam Kids themselves, but, as lifelong residents of Graham County, they understood the everlasting grip that landscape has on the human heart, the profound connection that people forge with places where their roots took hold, even after the vestiges of those places disappear.

The next day, the Davises graciously escorted me on a visit to the Stecoah Valley Center, a cultural arts hub that had once been the Stecoah School, where Rick and Sara both taught for 30 years — he a science teacher and later superintendent, she a music teacher.

Now, after enduring decades of abandonment and decay, the building has been beautifully renovated, the old auditorium transformed into a world-class performance stage, the former classrooms housing art galleries. I saw Rick’s eyes brighten when he walked into the room that had once been his science classroom, how he instinctively gravitated to stand in a certain spot on the polished wooden floor, its grain worn smooth beneath his shoes, how his shoulders squared up with a sense of authority, as if he’d never left his post, as if he could still envision a room full of schoolchildren listening to the lesson. Rick settled so comfortably into the space, and although so much in this building has changed, remnants from another life remain. Echoes of generations gone by still fill the hallways; early morning sunlight still streams through the windows, dancing on the walls, casting soft shadows.

North Carolina is filled with countless places like this, places that leave indelible marks on our hearts, places where we feel most at home. These are the sanctuaries where we find solace, where the spirit of belonging brings us back, and where the unbreakable bonds of geography become our greatest gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Hudson
Editor in Chief

 

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This story was published on Jul 24, 2023

Elizabeth Hudson

Hudson is a native of North Carolina who grew up in the small community of Farmer, near Asheboro. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and began her publishing career in 1997 at Our State magazine. She held various editorial titles for 10 years before becoming Editor in Chief of the 88-year-old publication in 2009. For her work with the magazine, Hudson is also the 2014 recipient of the Ethel Fortner Writer and Community Award, an award that celebrates contributions to the literary arts of North Carolina.