A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

At the top of Beech Mountain, we were surrounded by the prolific Blue Ridge peaks, which took on shades of white, gray, and icy blue in the winter. My college

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

At the top of Beech Mountain, we were surrounded by the prolific Blue Ridge peaks, which took on shades of white, gray, and icy blue in the winter. My college

At the top of Beech Mountain, we were surrounded by the prolific Blue Ridge peaks, which took on shades of white, gray, and icy blue in the winter. My college roommate, Sandra DeWese, and I approached the slopes each dark winter morning to start our shifts as ski hostesses for the mountain’s resort. It was Christmas break of 1978, and we’d taken the job to make some extra cash between semesters at Lees-McRae College. We filled paper cups with muddy black coffee from the pot in the lift hut before heading off to greet skiers in our Moon Boots.

Sandra and I rented an 800-square-foot apartment in downtown Banner Elk above a sewing shop called Anna’s House. From our second-story window, we had a panoramic view of town. We were a stone’s throw from BJ’s Resort Wear, which opened that year and is still in business today. Each night after work, when the streets went quiet, we felt as though we had the whole town to ourselves.

Back then, it seemed like it snowed four to six inches every Sunday. But we didn’t care. Being outside in the snow all day suited our free-spirited attitudes. If you asked our parents, they would have expressed far less excitement about not having us home for the holidays. I might not have realized it at the time, but I would miss being in my family’s Greensboro kitchen, cooking with Mom and setting the table with my sisters. I’d miss the scent of the balsam fir in our living room and fussing over whose turn it was to water it.

Lees-McRae College students Lynn Wells and Sandra DeWese at the Beech Mountain ski resort in 1978.

In the winter of 1978, Lees-McRae College students Lynn Wells (right) and Sandra DeWese checked tickets at the ski resort at Beech Mountain. Lynn dreamed of one day being on the ski patrol, much to her father’s dismay. Photography courtesy of Lynn Wells

We arranged a day off from work to host our parents for the holiday. Our apartment was furnished with the bare essentials, but we managed to gather enough chairs, plates, cups, and silverware to accommodate a proper Christmas feast. I found a two-foot cedar tree on the side of the road and placed it in a planter with a string of white lights. We taped more string lights around our fogged windows, setting our apartment aglow. Sandra crafted a makeshift wreath out of trimmings scavenged from the local tree lot and topped it with a red bow for the front door.

While scraping fresh snowfall from the steps, I saw Dad’s blue Impala coming around the corner. I can still picture him in his camel corduroy pants, plaid flannel shirt, and red wool crew neck sweater, carrying in all the gifts. Our parents unloaded a full feast: a roasted turkey breast, gravy, pea salad, casseroles, Parker House rolls, sweet tea, and my mom’s pound cake wrapped in aluminum foil.

By my college years, my mom had become an excellent cook. She was known for her pan dressing of Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned stuffing, loaded with butter, celery, and onion. Sandra’s mom, Helen, made broccoli cheese casserole, held together with cream of broccoli soup and Kraft Garlic Cheese Roll, a product that’s no longer found in stores. Between Mom’s brown rice dish — baked in the oven with beef consommé, sliced onions, and butter — the casseroles, dinner rolls, and pound cake, we must have each eaten half a stick of butter over the course of the day.

Wherever we were celebrating, my dad always said the blessing.

With all this food, we had to get creative with our serving methods. We used TV tables for side dishes, the top of a storage trunk to hold the rolls and tea, and the limited counter space in the kitchenette for everything else. Whether my family was celebrating in this tiny apartment, visiting our extended family in Salisbury, or at our own kitchen table, my dad always said the blessing: “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ, our Lord.”

With six adults packed in the tight space and snow on the ground outside, it felt warm and cozy inside. Sandra and I shared stories about people we’d encountered on the mountain — like the Florida tourists in their bright one-piece winter suits and goat-hair après ski boots. My mom and Helen shared recipes, and my dad was part of everyone’s conversation. He was always asking “Do you have enough money?” and I always answered, “Yes,” even when I didn’t. After pound cake, pecan pie, and coffee, it was time for our parents to go.

We wrapped up the leftovers and filled the refrigerator to the brim. We walked our parents to their cars and thanked them for making the trip. When I hugged Dad, this time, I held on a little longer. Mom had tears in her eyes as we said goodbye. She was as enamored with the mountains as I was. “We love you,” she always said, “and please be careful,” to which I’d answer, “Love you, too. I will.” I wanted to tell her not to worry so much, but this wasn’t the time.

Even though I’ve always had a grateful heart, looking back, I took so much for granted. I know better now: Time spent with loved ones is everything.

It’s been 45 years since that Christmas in Banner Elk. Though our parents are gone, we keep them in our hearts with old stories, good memories, and the recipes they shared with us over that special holiday — I still make Mom’s pan dressing every year. Sandra and I have kept in touch and see each other as often as we can. Our families may have gotten smaller in number, but our faith and appreciation of time spent with them have grown stronger than ever. Maybe that’s what Dad had in mind when he prayed, “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts.”

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This story was published on Nov 27, 2023

Lynn Wells

Lynn Wells is a personal chef with more than 20 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry and a degree in Nutrition Management from UNCG.