Letters from Asheville & Beyond: “Enfin le Printemps”

Part Five: “Enfin le Printemps”

Dedicated to James and Patricia Benton Perry, Harold and Mamie Lou Morris Benton, Frank and Lucille Depew Perry

Letters From Asheville & Beyond


Dear Nicky,

My sweet grandson, I’m sorry it has been so long since I’ve written you a letter. But as you know, I’ve been busy moving! Thanks to my cousin Shelby and a bunch of people from our Sunday school class, me and my stuff that didn’t get bought at the yard sale got carted from Columbus County to Weaverville in no time flat. I stayed in an apartment for a little while until I could see about getting my house sold. It wound up that Mr. Hollis bought it for his no-count nephew, so the Lord only knows what’ll happen to your poor departed granddaddy’s homeplace – you’ll have to keep a eye out being right there down the street from it. But it don’t matter, I guess, either way. I’ve got a different life now and am betting on my new place at the condos near Lake Louise in Weaver-Vegas.

Speaking of Hollis, now that it’s getting close to Easter, did he ever take his sign down from Thanksgiving? DONATE A DEER FOR THE HUNGRY – BIG, LITTLE, YOUNG, OR OLD WE TAKE ‘EM ALL. I remember seeing that sign in January and thinking about how no matter their age or size or past or present, there’s something for everybody who’s brave enough to get on the road, try new things. Hollis’s granddaughter Brittany did that and is in California now! I’m so proud of her, and proud of myself. I’m 75 and happier than I’ve been in years.

One reason I feel so good is I have a group of women friends, and we go into town to do a lot together. Other day me, Eva, and Jenny all jumped in the van and rode to a bookstore called Malaprop’s in downtown Asheville. Christina had told us that her favorite writer, a feisty Appalachian mountain woman named Lee Smith from Grundy Virginia who is now world famous, was doing a reading there and I was excited to learn something new. All I can say is: WOW! That Lee Smith, Nicky… she’s sassy, funny, smart as a whip, don’t care what anybody thinks, can tell a story like they’s no tomorrow. Best of all she’s just herself.

Lee read some parts from her book Guests on Earth which takes place in Asheville, and then somebody hollered out asking her to read a piece from another one of her books called Fair and Tender Ladies. Well, Lee laughed at that and then one of the Malaprop’s people gave her a copy of the book they had for sale – it came out in 1988, Christina told us – and when she read about the main character Ivy Rowe’s daddy dying, I cried big old tears that wouldn’t stop. I cried and cried some more. Here’s my favorite part that Ivy says:

“For Daddy had loved the spring. He used to plow and hold the plowed earth to his face, he loved how it smelled, I recall him doing that when I was not but a little thing…He used to take us way up on the mountain in the wee early spring to tap a birch and get the sap, he cut off a big piece of bark for us to lick the inside, it tasted so sweet, I recall he said to me one time, Now Ivy, this is how spring tastes. This is the taste of spring.”

It was silent for a little while. Then everybody clapped for Lee, I wiped my eyes, bought the book, got Lee to sign it, had my picture made with her, and I’ve been reading about Ivy day and night ever since. Fair and Tender Ladies is so good, I can’t put it down.

After our Malaprop’s adventure Christina had the idea to start a book club over at the condos. I’m excited about our first meeting. She got me set up on the email and, knowing I liked that spring part in Lee’s book, sent me a message with a picture of daffodils popping up in her yard over near Flat Creek. The words Christina wrote in the email were, “Enfin le Printemps.” Nicky, did you take any French classes in high school? I didn’t, but over at Joe and Paulette’s house later we talked about what that meant. “Finally, spring,” Paulette said. “That’s the translation.”

It’s finally spring, Nicky. Just when I thought I’d reached the winter of my life, them daffodils came out and I can taste the birch tree sap and I know I have come home.

Much love to you and your mama,


PS – I’ve got my guest room all set up in the condo. Come see me for Easter and we’ll walk in the mountains and sing Ivy’s daddy’s words like a church hymn. “Slow down now, slow down. . .this is the taste of spring.” Enfin le Printemps.

Post by Ellen J. Perry. Photo by Hugo G.

Welcome to Fabulous Weaver-Vegas

Letters from Asheville and Beyond: A Fictional Journey into Western North Carolina by Ellen J. Perry.

Weaverville North Carolina

Part Four: “Welcome to Fabulous Weaver-Vegas” dedicated to Abigail Hickman, Wanda Wilson, and Connie Wilson.

Dear Nicky,

You know how I like to be spontaneous. Well, me and Shelby ventured out of Asheville on the spur of the moment today and found Weaverville, the best little town in the mountains. It’s about ten minutes north of Asheville and known to the locals as – get this – Weaver-Vegas! Ha. After our Tai Chi adventure yesterday we went to supper with Kathleen and Trent who introduced us to their friend Christina. She grew up in Weaverville and still lives there, said if we came out to the big city she’d show us around. So we fired up the van and went.

I pulled in by this big clock, got parked, and we met up with Christina at the Well-Bred Bakery and Café right in the heart of Main Street. Well-Bred used to be the town drugstore but now it’s packed with people ordering stuff like quiche, pasta salad, French toast casserole, all kinds of cakes, and the best toffee I ever ate. It’s buttery and not so hard it’ll break your teeth. Shelby ate an éclair that was as big as my head. I gobbled up a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup – perfect on a cold day. But it wasn’t so cold that Christina couldn’t take us around to see the sights. As we were getting ready to go, the Well-Bred manager gave us a big hug and said, Come back ladies, right after he pointed out the Yoga studio in the next building. Next thing I knew, your old grandma was taking a yoga class and doing the Downward Dog! Well, I don’t think I did it completely right, but I got my bottom up a little higher than Shelby did. After class Christina wrote down my favorite poses so I could try and do them later on back at the hotel: Table Top, Cat and Cow, Pigeon, Warrior, and Low Lunge. Shelby liked the Mountain and Corpse poses the best, since she said she could stand up straight and lay down flat with the best of them.

Back to our tour. You remember the Vance monument in Asheville, the one that Augusta Wind on the LaZoom bus made the joke about? Mr. Vance himself was born in Weaverville, and Christina said you can go down Reems Creek Road to visit old Zebulon’s home place. She remembered seeing it on a field trip when she was a little girl, and they still do Civil War reenactments down there all around the cabins. You’d probably like to see this pretty valley since you’re interested in history. What I’d really like to show you is the Weaverville Drug Company with its ice cream parlor. The people in there were so friendly to us out-of-towners, and the parlor was like old times. I looked at some souvenirs but Shelby had already got me a “We’re All Well-Bred in Weaverville” shirt over at the café, so I figured that was enough for today.

After visiting the Dry Ridge Historical Museum in the library and taking a quick rest at Twisted Laurel (Christina wanted a mimosa, which is champagne and orange juice if you didn’t know), we wandered on over to Church Street to say hey to her friends Joe and Paulette. They have the cutest house near where people walk or ride their bikes on the sidewalks, and we settled right in. “Let’s play Pictionary,” their daughter Dana said, and things got interesting when we formed teams. Joe said, “I’ll bet everybody a dollar that Paulette and I will win.” Shelby got that determined look she has and told him, “You’re on.” I wish she hadn’t of done that, but too late – it was Weaver-Vegas, after all, so we played and gambled well into the afternoon. Dana and her step-sister Audrey won the most games (six dollars each, big money!) and then somebody got up the idea to order supper from Blue Mountain Pizza, which we took down to Lake Louise Park for a picnic. It was so sweet to see the kids swinging and playing, and I even went down the slide once to show Shelby I could do it without hurting myself. I bounced right up, probably thanks to all this Tai Chi and yoga I’ve been doing!

On the lake’s walking trail Christina ran into her friends Eva and Jenny who live in the condos nearby. They were a lot of fun and told us some more about the area and where they like to go. “Every now and then I’ll take my ‘I’m a Local’ mug and head over to IHOP,” Eva said, and Jenny (who’s an artist) told us about the Art in Autumn event that happens every September. The vendors set up their booths right along Main Street. I’d like to come back for the Art Safari, too, which is where people ride around to the houses of local artists and see their work. Wouldn’t it be something if I got back into quilting and showed off a few of my quilts to people? Jenny talked about a bunch of quilts and such on display over at the Folk Art Center back in Asheville. She also said how good the fresh fruits and vegetables were at the Weaverville Tailgate Market just up the hill at the community center.

Nicky, what if I was to sell my house in Columbus County, buy one of them bottom-level condos where Eva and Jenny live, and move to the mountains? Would you and your mama come visit me pretty regular? I just keep thinking about all the things I want to do later in the year when it warms up and how since your granddaddy passed on, bless him, I’ve got nothing but freedom and time. If he was alive he’d probably agree to go zip-lining with me at Navitat Canopy Adventures in Barnardsville. Shelby refuses to leave solid ground, she said, but I might could get Eva to zip-line since she’s about my age and every bit as sassy. Matter of fact, I’ll bet on it, Weaver-Vegas style. I’ll bet she’d go with me to Navitat and that me, her, and Eva would be the best of friends and the wildest group of lady-adventurers this town has laid eyes on, before or since Zeb Vance’s time.

Love you, Nannie

Letters from Asheville & Beyond: “One World, One Breath”

Best of Asheville WNC

Letters from Asheville and Beyond, A Fictional Journey Into Western North Carolina.

Part Three: “One World, One Breath” dedicated to Lisa and Bob Johnson.

Dear Nicky,

Well, you can tell your buddies back home that your grandma Myrtice tasted her first Painkiller drink at the Yacht Club in Asheville last night, and it sure enough did the job. Me and Shelby felt no pain while we were walking around downtown and were glad for the shuttle that carried us back to the hotel. My head didn’t hit the pillow until 11:30! We’re having a big time overall, laughing and seeing the sights. Every time that LaZoom bus comes around we wave like crazy, and the people wave back. Today was extra special because it started off with a big pancake and ended up with us watching some fancy martial arts moves.

Shelby’s been reading the “Best of WNC” brochure put out by the Mountain Xpress paper like it’s the Bible. She told me the brochure said Tupelo Honey was a good place to go for biscuits, so we started out real early this morning trying to beat the crowd. My head hurt some from our late night, but the cure for that is Tupelo’s giant sweet potato pancake with pecans and peach butter. Lord, I couldn’t eat it all, much less my biscuit! Shelby had to help me. We sat at a great table by the window right near this nice couple we talked to, Kathleen and Trent. Shelby embarrassed me when she leaned over to Kathleen, pointed at her food and said, “Now what is that you have there?” They were friendly though and Kathleen told us about the Southern Breakfast Bowl, and how she had substituted something called “soysage” for bacon. “Why would you do that?” Shelby asked, embarrassing me again. Turns out Kathleen’s a vegetarian, doesn’t eat meat, so that soysage is like meat for them, she said. I tried a bite of it and it tasted pretty good. It wasn’t like the barbecue we had the other day at 12 Bones Smokehouse (where Obama went to eat a few times!) but if somebody was to put a blindfold on me and say, “Hey Myrtice, eat some of this sausage,” and it was really soysage, I’d figure it was meat and chow down.

Anyway, we got to talking. Trent told us about how him and Kathleen were getting ready to meet their Tai Chi teacher Lawrence down by Pack Square and the courthouse. Shelby started rifling through our “Best of” book to find some info about what Tai Chi was, but Trent said, “Come on with us,” so we paid up and went. It felt good to walk off our breakfast, even though we moved at a slow pace so Kathleen could point out some landmarks and other good vegetarian places like the Laughing Seed Café. She told me I needed to try their hummus, which I always thought was pronounced HYOO-mus but I guess not, and then Kathleen said the Tofu Herb Scramble Plate at Green Sage Café was the best thing ever. Have you ever had tofu, Nicky? Do you think it would be good scrambled up like eggs with a spice called turmeric? I want to try everything so we decided to come back to Green Sage and probably go to Plant, too, which is another fun spot for non-meat-eaters over on Merrimon Avenue.

When we made it down to Pack Square we saw a number of folks from martial arts schools in the area. Some had Chinese-looking outfits on and some wore shirts that said “One World…One Breath.” Trent explained that World Tai Chi and Qigong Day was coming up at the end of April, and a couple of the students were practicing with what looked like bamboo poles that Lawrence told us were staffs. Several had fans of all colors that they were snapping open, and the noise from them was a little bit of a shock till you got used to it. One of the men in a bright blue costume came up and told us we could join in and a lady nearby gave us some fans to try out. I couldn’t figure how to make my fan pop open like they did but got a big kick out of waving it around. Shelby took some pictures of me fanning which I’ll show you when we get home. I look silly but happy!

We learned that Tai Chi is good for lots of things like staying flexible. Kathleen showed me some moves and said my wrist might get better and not feel so stiff if I kept doing Tai Chi. Also, Shelby was glad to know it helps with balance so people aren’t liable to fall as easy. She said, “Myrtice needs that. She’s all the time doing wild stuff like going down slides and riding tire swings.” Trent laughed and showed us a form called Chinese Water Boxing. It felt like dancing when we moved around and played and breathed and got our hearts going.

Nicky, I know you’d love to hear some of the animal names for moves in a Qigong exercise we got to do, like “Nestlings Receive Food.” But what I liked best about the whole thing was that business about one world, one breath. When me and Shelby were off to the side fanning and water boxing and watching the experts, I felt real good, like we belonged to something. Like we were all in this together, didn’t matter age or color or where we come from or whether we like barbecue or tofu better. I’m so glad we went on this trip to the mountains and hope you can come with me next time. Love from your Nannie.

P.S. Remember when me and you and your mama watched American Idol on TV last year? That nice young man who won it, Caleb Johnson, is from Asheville and guess what: Trent was one of his teachers!! They had a big parade for him here and everything. Maybe I can get an autographed picture of Caleb for your mama to put up in her office at work, haha.

-Writings by Ellen J. Perry

Letters from Asheville and Beyond: “We Take ‘Em All”

Letters From Asheville - We Take 'Em All

Welcome to “Letters from Asheville and Beyond: A Fictional Journey into Western North Carolina” by Ellen J. Perry. This is Part One: “We Take ‘Em All” dedicated to Brittany Garcia.

Dear Nicky,

Other day I was driving around some country roads to see the sights (I do this a lot since your Granddaddy died last year), took a wrong turn, and thought I was lost for sure till I saw old Mr. Hollis’s sign and knew I wasn’t far from home: DONATE A DEER FOR THE HUNGRY – BIG, LITTLE, YOUNG, OR OLD WE TAKE ‘EM ALL. I knew Mr. Hollis wrote this because he gets up that project every Thanksgiving through Christmas and then forgets to take down the sign after. So there it was in the middle of January, leaning over on one side about to fall down. It looked wobbly, kind of like me, unsteady on my feet. Your grandma has got OLD like some of them deer.

I stopped my van and tried to prop the sign back up a little bit, thinking maybe Hollis would come for it before too long. I read the words again… “big, little, young, or old.” We take ‘em all. And then I got to thinking about what the doctor told me, said he didn’t want me doing much, needed to watch myself since I sprained my wrist this summer by falling off the Frisbie twins’ tire swing. Plus he got real fussy when I went down that slide at the playground too fast and like to broke my hip. Take it easy, he said. Slow down. Take it easy, my foot, I said! I’ve got a whole lot of stuff I want to see and do. Joanne down at the Triple A office gave me a North Carolina road map when I went in there with my cousin Shelby who’s planning a cruise for her and Ralph’s anniversary (I wouldn’t go on a big boat for nothing but Shelby can’t wait).

I go on little adventures every day like to Triple A or the old mill and that garden up by the cemetery. Then I try to follow doctor’s orders and rest a little bit, watch The People’s Court in my recliner and trace lines on that map, thinking about where-all in N.C. I might could go. When I was a little girl, a long time before your mama was born, my aunt and uncle used to take me with them to the mountains in the summer, way on the other side of the state. I hadn’t left Columbus County till then. All I knew was sand and heat. But that cool breeze up there in Asheville, ooh-wee. I never will forget it.

So I’ve decided to go on a road trip. You showed me how to use Facebook and all that but I think I’ll just mostly write letters or postcards to tell you about it. Shelby is going with me but only because she’s worried the van or me, one, will give out. (I’ve told her and told her how slick that slide was, but she won’t hardly believe it, said I was acting up like a kid.) When I went to get my wrist splint check-up this morning the doctor frowned a little bit when I told him about my plans. Said, “Now, Myrtice.” He don’t think I can do it, but I’ll show him. I’m 75 but not dead yet. There’s something for everybody in the mountains – big, little, young, or old.