“This is why we moved here from Raleigh,” my friend Jennifer said, smiling at the busy atmosphere among the picnic tables surrounding us. “We want to be a part of something like this, a community like this. A down-home, friendly, community.”
Jennifer was sitting across from her husband, who was beside me. We were sharing a table with my family and some friends at the picnic shelter alongside the Mountaineer Ruritan Clubhouse. It was Fish Fry Friday, the first of the year.
More than 450 people were served dinner that night. Some picked up their orders and left. Others stayed to eat at the clubhouse itself, which used to be a fire station. The three-truck garage area is the dinning room. It has more than a dozen white banquet tables aligned three rows deep from the open doors to the back wall.
It was the first summer-like Friday of the spring (mid 60s!), so the family and I opted for the picnic area to better enjoy the breeze. A baseball field spreads out between the shelter and the clubhouse, forming almost a triangle. A small creek bubbles along the outfield border. A patient young man is walking his dog among the shrubbery there. I say patient not to disparage the dog’s meanderings, but the regular line of children running up asking, “can I pet your doggie, please.”
My two kids – a 3-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl – haven’t seen the dog yet. They’re lost in the wonders of the infield. Scratching at the pitchers mound. Running to home. Kicking ruts in the sand. They’re getting dirty. But more importantly, they’re getting tired. (Early Friday bedtime are a blessing).
All this is going on behind me as Jennifer and I talk. I’m wearing my Ruritan apron and hat, but I may as well have a clipboard and pencil behind my ear. I’m recruiting! I just may have new members here!
Jennifer and her husband moved to the High Country last year, and had stopped by a Fry or two. They enjoyed losing themselves in a Rockwell-like experience. They began asking about the club. I was happy to add additional color.
The Mountaineer Ruritan Club is comprised of people who want to make a difference in our part of Watauga County. Among the members is a retired chief of police, a clerk of court, an active state trooper, school teachers, business managers and retirees. Once a month, from spring to fall, we gather to fry fish, cook hushpuppies, prepare meals and serve drinks, all for $8 a person. We do it to raise money to support the schools in our part of the county, as well as distributes funds to neighbors in need.
The Mountaineer Ruritan Club isn’t too different from dozens of peer groups or events in the High Country area. Another example is tonight. It’s the annual Celebrity Serve in Boone. Each year, local “celebrities” wait tables at various restaurants, with proceeds from the evening’s meals going to a specific local cause. This year the beneficiary group is OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Services, Information and Shelter).
Among the “celebrities” this year are the major of Boone, local law enforcement offciaisl, the Appalachian Rollergirls roller derby team, business people and the Appalachian State football and basketball coaches, with some of their players. It’s a big night, one of many throughout the year. And they’re all thanks to neighbors helping neighbors, the hallmark of any great community.
I give my best spiel to my new friends. They’re interested in learning more about my club. Applications are on their way! “This is why we moved here,” repeated Jennifer, adding, “Places like this are special. We want to become a part of it.”
They soon leave, as does my family and the other full bellies. I head back to the clubhouse as the members begin cleanup duty. About 30 minutes later I return to the picnic shelter. I need to tidy it up and empty the trash cans.
As I carry back two bags, I see some activity on the baseball field. A mom is standing at home plate, clutching an invisible ball. Her daughter, around nine years ago, is at home plate, an invisible bat in hand. They are alone.
The mom looks to the side, nods, and sends a fast one down the middle! Her daughter swings, and makes contact! She screams a giggle, then dashes toward first base. Her mom laughs with her. Out of sight, so do I.
This is Living the Dream in the High Country. This is special.