Shame goes good with Chinese

Recently my kids became aware of the process by which one neuters a male dog. I was ignorant of their new knowledge until lunch this past Sunday.

My wife, two kids and I were seated at a booth talking about whatever it is our family tends to talk about. Mom and daughter were on one side, me and the 6-year-old boy facing them on the other. Somehow the topic of babies came up, and my 8-year-old daughter started picking
on mom.

“You need to have another baby, mom!” she said, as brother egged her on. “Have another baby! You need to!”

Mom just smiled a sneaky smile, throwing a sly glance my way. “I’m not going to have any more babies. We can’t have anymore.”

“What?” said my daughter, a mixture of wry amusement and shock. “Were you fixed!? Have you been fixed mom!?”

Brother joined in. “Yeah mom, have you been fixed?”

Mom just grinned. “Nope. Not me.”

Suddenly both siblings turned their heads my way. They then questioned me with a two-word phrase as silly as it is cringe worthy.

“Dad? Have you been fixed,” they started to ask, before reiterating at a slightly higher volume. “DID YOU HAVE YOUR WIENER BALLS CUT OFF??”

They exploded in merriment. My wife joined them. I said nothing. I just looked at each in turn, then looked down at my plate, chin almost to chest, with my best sad face. I wasn’t so much acting as emoting.

“HAHAHAHAHAHA … YOU DON’T HAVE ANY WIENER BALLS NOW DAD? .. HAHAHAHAHAHA … YOU REALLY HAD YOUR WIENER BALLS CUT OUT??”

I folded my arms on the table, then buried my head in an elbow

“DAD DON’T HAVE HIS WIENER BALLS! DAD DON’T HAVE HIS WIENER BALLS!”

As they sang I slowly slid my nestled pillow of crossed arms off the table to the side, and dropped it down to the seat. Dave Chappelle couldn’t get a better reaction.

I didn’t mind the laughter. It was the repeated use of the phrase “wiener balls” that hurt. Not as bad as the actual procedure to which they crudely referred, but still … not pleasant.

As the giggling finally died down and I returned to an upright position, my son asked if he could have some ice cream from the dessert buffet. Mom said for him to ask dad to get it. So I rose with him to retrieve his sweets. As I passed my wife I whispered, “As least I’m still good for something.” She just winked.

Wiener balls ….. ugh.

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The night my son sang with his supper

The almost 3-year-old boy began to sing.

Trick or treat … Smell my feet …. Give me sumthin’ good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull down your 
UN-der-WEAR.

His over-emphasized finish was greeted with genuine “Ain’t he cute” laughter from our friends. We were having dinner at a BBQ restaurant, my wife and I and another couple. We had four young kids with us (two apiece). At one point during our conversations my son felt the need to share the newest song in his limited musical repertoire.

As our laughter faded, I heard a voice from behind me. “What’s that I hear?” I turned to see an elderly couple at a table behind us. It was an acquaintance of mine, one I hadn’t seen in a few years. I explained my son was performing dinner theater. The old man and his wife said it sounded adorable, and would appreciate their own special performance.

My son, who’s attraction to attention is spurred only by acts of absurdity, gleefully left our booth and walked to their table. He then began his encore.

Trick or treat … Smell my feet …. Give me sumthin’ good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull down your UN-der-WEAR.

The old folks laughed. My son stood still with a grin, soaking in the appreciation. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar. He handed it to my son. “That was a mighty fine performance young man. Mighty fine. It was worth a dollar,” he said.

My son took the bill. He stared at it with awe. He knew what money was. He loved money; was obsessed over it. And he knew it wasn’t easy to come by. I can only imagine how his young brain processed the moment.

Singing + table of strangers = MONEY!

Before we could corral him back to our table, he quickly headed to another. It was surrounded by four college girls, all deeply engulfed in college girl conversation. None noticed the young toddler who approached. He began to sing, and was a couple of notes into his song before the girls each flinched to silence, turning their heads to face their balladeer.

Trick or treat … Smell my feet …. Give me sumthin’ good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull down your 
UN-der-WEAR.

The college girls reacted much as one would assume college girls would – erupting in a mixture of “aw”s and “ha”s to the cutest event in the world.

One of them asked my son, “Who taught you that?”

“My daddy,” he said.

As if in practiced unison, all four college girls turned in my direction, looked at me and together cooed in a mock accusatory tone, “Daaaaaaaaaaaddy.”

My son didn’t get another dollar, but I had four college girls simultaneously call me “Daddy.” I consider that an epic producer’s credit.

Ever climb a mountain carrying kids?

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“Man …. I wish my parents had taken me cool places to hike when I was little.”

So said one of the two college guys who paused to let us pass on our way up Rough Ridge recently. At this particular moment, we looked liked quite the hiking family. The wife was in front, followed by six-year-old daughter, four year-old-son and myself. We were each on foot. It would not last.

This was the first time we’ve taken the children into the great outdoors along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We started at the Linville Viaduct. There’s a rest stop/gift shop combo at the start of the trail, which goes under the iconic strip of road and into the woods.

peek a booThe kids were immediately enthused. The boy was running and jumping from stone to rock much like a thrown rubber ball bouncing between walls. The girl was stampeding ahead as much as she could, anxious to leave her brother far behind.

We posed for photos. Explored caves (“where’s the bear?). And marveled at some of the huge boulders along the trail. We got about a mile in when my wife made a dramatic discovery. Or, more precisely, lack of discovery. “Where’s my cell phone!?”

We backtracked a bit and found it safely on the trail. (It must have slipped out her back shorts pocket). Seeing as how the deeper we went in, the longer the walk out would be, we headed back. Me and the daughter on foot. Mom way behind us … carrying the youngest on her back. (I called it her “Jedi training.”)

We then left the Viaduct and headed to Rough Ridge, a 1.2-round trip hike up a mountain. At least, that’s what I told the kids. “You want to climb a mountain!” The daughter was ecstatic, “Yes!” The son, not so much. “I’m tired. I wanna go home.”

So I did what any parent in this situation would do. Bribery. Climb this mountain, then we’ll go get ice cream. The son had a counter-offer, “Carry me.” After further negotiations, we struck a deal – I’d carry him some of the way up and he’d go with no complaint. Off we went.

honiesRough Ridge is a great hike. It’s pretty tough in parts, especially if you have 36 pounds of boy in your arms. We made easy time to the half-way rest point, where a series of boardwalks borders some ledges. Here there’s an outstanding view of the surrounding area. You can easily see the Viaduct, as well as the rolling landscape encompassing the Parkway. We took more photos, of course. My daughter snapped one of a group of college kids doing their own Rough Ridge pose.

From there the going got a bit tougher. The boy – and my arms – gave out just before the summit. So mom and son rested while dad and daughter went to the top. Exhilarating. Not many dads get to share such a moment with their little girl. “We conquered a mountain!!!” …… “Yeah. (pause) Can we get ice cream now.”

The trip down proved eventful. The girl wanted to be carried. Her go was gone. I acquiesced. You have never seen true sympathy in a stranger’s eyes until seen carrying a full-sized first grader down a thin mountain path littered with rocks. But it was worth it.

Later, the ice cream tasted supreme. A nice evening cap to another High Country adventure, one of many possible any given weekend. And another reason I love calling the High Country home.

A tale of two weekends

A High Country weekend is like a candy buffet. There’s so many sweets from which to chose, all you have to do is walk in and enjoy. Here’s a sample of two consecutive weekends of family fun.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 12
SmilingDuring a local restaurant trivia night a few weeks earlier, I won four tickets to any Hickory Crawdads home game. Tonight we decided to cash them in. Not just for the baseball, but the big fireworks show afterwards. So soon after leaving work I packed up the family and headed the roughly 70 minutes down to Hickory.

The game was great. It went to extra innings. But, sadly, the home team lost, 5-4. The kids enjoyed the game, or at least its atmosphere. The ballpark includes a playground area, complete with a carousel ($1 a ride) and jump house ($1 a kid for 5 minutes). The fireworks show afterwards was, literally, fantastic. It was set to classic rock and involved roughly eight minutes of continuous crayola explosions. Kids loved it, and fell asleep on the way home.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13
The local treasure Horn in the West was having its final show of the season. The kids had yet to ever see it, and the weather was pefect – cool and breezy. Off we went for an evening of outdoor theatre.

The show opens with a gun battle. Actors in red coats after actors in colonial civilian garb, with occasional stops to ready, aim, fire a long-nosed rifled. After opening number one with more than one bullet, the show moves to dialogue, song and dance. Which meant for the next hour my four-year-old son repeatedly asked, “Where’d the guns go? When they going to shoot the guns again?” Thankfully my six-year-old daughter was engrossed in the dancing.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 19
My daughter was invited to a birthday party. At 8 p.m. On a Friday night. At school. And she loved it!

The birthday girl in question – or, more specifically, her parents – arranged for a birthday party out near the school playground. It was capped off with a movie, shown on the side of an inflatable on the field. It was a Barbie movie. Something about fashion and glamour. It wasn’t for dads. But the girls loved it.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 20
Less than 15 hours after one birthday party, my daughter had another one to attend. This time her brother could come too. It was a pool party at the exceptional Blowing Rock outdoor swimming pool. The pool includes water slides and a kids play area. They almost wore themselves out, jumping, sliding, paddling and stroking. Note almost, cause immediately after the party was something we’d long anticipated – Football Fan Fest at Appalachian State.

Future QBEach year prior to the football season the football stadium is opened to families and fans. Football players and cheerleaders mill about signing autographs and posing for photos. There are a variety of airwalks surrounding the field. And, better than all that, any and everyone is free to run the field playing catch, kicking field goals or simply rolling around in the turf. My son especially looks forward to that. Give him a ball and 20 yards, and he’s in pigskin heaven.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 21
This was impromptu, but uniquely special nonetheless. I was mowing the yard while the kids played amidst the trees lining the road. At one point a horse-drawn wagon came hoofing our way. It’s not that an uncommon site. I see one or two wagon trains a year. But this was the first of the summer. My son waved at them. The driver waved back, then directed his two horses to our driveway. There both kids got a couple minutes to pet the walking engines and touch a wagon up close.

Where else can you enjoy baseball, gun battles, movies at school, parties at the pool, football on the field and two horses in your driveway? Only in the High Country!

Where the wild things are not that wild

onahorse

Most kids love animals. My kids adore animals. They’re rock stars for toddlers. Look! A horse! Take its picture!! Thanks to living in the High Country, my kids have encountered their fair share of critters. Here’s just a few.

COWS
There’s a cow pasture up the hill from our home. When my kids were 3 and 1, we would take wagon trips up the road to see the cows. This was a major event! The cows would come up to the fence and do what cows do – stare and chew. The kids never tired of mooing at them, trying to get a response. They only answered in stares. Moooove along kids.

HORSES
On the other end of the road from the cows is a horse farm. On any given day there are a dozen stallions roaming around the large pens. We’ve yet to see them in action (there are several obstacles for jumping scattered around). And, like with the cows, my kids make repeated attempts at communication. But they neigh-ver get a response. Yet. Bonus – A friend has two horses, and brought them out for my daughter’s birthday party. Princess paradise.

GOATS
Recently some neighbors fenced off a small pasture and filled it with goats. Yet another attraction – kids for the kids! As soon as we approach, the bleaters come trotting. They know some bread is on the menu. My daughter likes the baby goats the most, of course.

BEARS
Nope, not in the neighborhood (that we’ve seen). Instead we’ve seen the bears at Grandfather Mountain. There were three of them, each sitting lazily in a near straight line waiting for the food to fly from the crowd. Anything falls too far from the mouth, they just brush it off. No need to exert themselves to reach for it. More free food will soon be forthcoming. And they are right.

DEER
It’s not unusual late on a spring day to see deer along US 421 in western Watauga County. We’ve also seen several in our rural neighborhood, usually near a roadside apple tree. They usually scatter when you come near, unlike the deer at Tweestie Railroad. Those come brazenly up to you looking for corn in your ice cream cones. Look dad! I’m petting Blitzen!hellbender5

HELLBENDER
A hellbender is a large salamander. One was prent at the recent Riverfest at Valle Crucis park. Actually, two were there. There was the actual animal on display within a small aquarium, and then somebody wearing a Hellbender outfit. It was greeting and posing with the kids. Have you given five to a Hellbender recently?

CRAWDADS
No, not the baseball team. I’m talking river critters. Late in the school year my daughter’s kindergarten class conducted a field trip to the Watauga River at Valle Crucis Park. One of the highlights – for her – was finding crawdads along one of the banks. She never knew they existed, and insisted I take her and her brother back to the river ASAP so he could see some too!

PIGS and DONKEYS
One of my daughter’s friends has a pet pig and a pet donkey. (Forgive me for not remembering their names.) We met the two at a birthday party held at the friends house. The pig didn’t mind being stroked on the nose (but would have obviously preferred some food in that hand). The donkey just stared. Hee-haw! Hee-haw!

WILD TURKEYS
Again, not referring to adult beverages. While on the way to the park one day we spied a family of wild gobblers. They appeared to be hitchhiking (feathering?) near the roadside, but quickly skittered into the field as we approached. For once my kids were stumped on what sounds the animal makes, so there were no immediate attempts at communication. At least, not until we drove off and my daughter had a brain blast. Gobble, gobble gobble!

MUTANT GOLDFISH
That’s my nickname for the underwater swimmers occupying the Duck Pond on the campus of Appalachian State. We make trips to feed them during our regularly tailgate itinerary. We take a loaf of bread and lean over the rails, attempting to feed the ducks. What the feathered fowls neglect to feed on attracts the largest, ugliest fish you’re likely to ever see. Some are catfish. Others look like goldfish the size of logs. They’ll actually break the surface with their mouths and pause swimming, slowing gumming the bread down. Weird and whacky, which any kid loves.

This isn’t all the wildlife we glimpse. There’s also squirrels, rabbits, chickens, roosters, otters, bluejays, swans and plenty other passengers of the Ark. You never know when you might run into one and find yourself thinking, man …. how great would it be to live here?

Having a Blast in Bethel

blastfireworksI was expecting the traditional fireworks display, albeit it shorter. A rocket would lift off. You watch it soar. It explodes. Crowd “ahhhhhhs.” Pause. Repeat. Then the big finale. Instead what I got was “BamBamBam BamBamBamBam!!” A continuous loop of shattered rainbows and falling stars. For 10 minutes. At least. Now that’s how you celebrate the Fourth!

The scene was the Bethel Blast, a community Independence Day celebration with little fanfare in one of the more remote areas of Watauga County. It’s 20 minutes from Boone and borders Tennessee. The Blast itself takes place at Bethel Elementary, the smallest of the nine schools in the county. But have no doubt, this is a major event that attracts thousands.

Independence Day in the High County is like a menu in a fine restaurant. So much variety. Each event has its own spice. Would you like the fireworks show and parade in Boone? Or a boat show on Watauga Lake followed by fireworks? Or something at a higher elevation, like fireworks in Banner Elk?

This year we made our first trip to the Blast. We were told there’d be live music, food and, of course, fireworks. After the afternoon rain dispersed, we headed off to holiday parts unknown. Just how big could this Blast be? Short answer – phenomenally big.

The Blast started at 5 and we got there just after six. The school was surrounded by cars parked in imaginative angles. A large tent was in the center of the school field, orbited by an overflow crowd. The music was as fine as the weather. Clear skies with a cool breeze. This was going to be a good night.

We walked with our lawn chairs and joined friends on the field. There were easily close to 2,000 people there. (And that’s down from last year, I was told, due possibly to the earlier rain). Under the picnic shelter were three long tables lined with food: fresh chopped BBQ with slaw and beans. Another tent had about six large tubs full of ice and sodas. All free. That’s right. Free. No charge. Happy Independence Day!

But that’s not the best part. There was also a tent dedicated to desserts. It was potluck style. People brought their best sweets and lined them up for public consumption. My wife donated homemade sweet-kabobs – watermelons slices speared with marshmellows and gummy worms. (They didn’t last long).

blastcrowd2Behind the tent was a family’s dream day at the park. There was an area for kids games, and another for hula hoop contests and sack races. More than one frisbee criss-crossed the scene, and a rousing game of football was off to another side. Teenagers circled the track chatting to friends and trying their best to avoid the pedestrian traffic congestion surrounding the face painting tent. (Again, free).

When the sun began its descent, the crowd began arranging chairs to face the field alongside the school. The fireworks show was set to begin! But first, the National Anthem. No one had to say, “please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” Everyone knew to stand. As soon as “buh-raaaaaave” faded from the speakers the show was on. And by on I mean “BamBamBamBamBam” on.

It was a a glorious assault on the senses. Vin Diesel isn’t this fast and furious. My four-year-old son was sitting in my lap immersed in the works of fire. Halfway through he turned to me and said, “This is so awesome dad. Thanks for bring me here.” That’s right, the fireworks show was so good children were moved to manners. That’s some mighty fine gunpower!

When the show – and finale – finished, there was applause, followed by the normal, “okay, let’s go home” mass migration to vehicles. All was orderly. All was calm. This … was High Country living.

I found out later the Blast is primarily the effort of a church, Bethel Baptist Church. It’s an outreach to the community. Kids are invited to register for Vacation Bible School, and a Bible lesson is offered amongst the many children’s activities. It’s a labor of love, one appreciated and now highly anticipated. And another grand reason I love calling the High Country home.

T-Ball begins, aka. Operation Early Bed Time

stretch

My two kids are engaged in their first season of Kinder T-Ball, overseen by the Blowing Rock Park and Recreation Department. As with its Kinder Soccer and Kinder Basketball programs, T-Ball is open to children 3 to 5. That’s right, 3 to 5, the ages when kids have attention spans shorter than they are. But it’s well worth it, but not for what it does for the kids. Oh no. It’s what it does for the parents.

On paper it’s called Kinder T-Ball. I call it, Operation: Early Bed Time. Wear them busy bodies out!

Practices are held at Blowing Rock Elementary School on its picturesque baseball field. There’s three coaches, each paid staff with Blowing Rock Parks and Rec. Practice begins at 6:30 sharp (There’s an earlier practice at 5:30) with the coaching calling the kids home. About 16 tykes, some with baseball jerseys, some wearing cleats and all with gloves, head onto the field.

Practice officially begins with some stretching at midfield. Imagine a bunch of youngsters in a near circle all attempting to touch their toes, do sidebends, and jog in place. There’s no high styles but plenty of wide smiles. Warming up is fun! After two quick attempts to get rid of any remaining wiggles – shake like crazy till ya can’t shake no more – it’s time to get to business. First up – educational laps.

The kids gather at home plate, and the coaches quiz them on the bases. “This is home, where you bat. When you hit the ball you run to first base down there. Then you run from there to second. And then to third. And then back home. Go that? Let’s practice where we go.” Thus begins a single-file parade around the infield, with stops at each base to emphasize, “This is first base. Over there is second base, the next one you run to.” And so on.

swingatteeOnce the parade route is completed, each kid is assigned the task of repeating the loop, only this time no walking. Run those bases! And the kids do, all at different speeds and different styles: the head-down, determined dash; the carefree, arms swinging wildly run; and the run, jump, run more, jump, hop move. When they finish the first lap, they’re told to run it again. And again. At least three times. Go as fast as you can! (Like I said, Operation: Early Bed Time).

After the infield revolutions, the real teaching begins. Each coach selects five or six kids. They then split off into skill drills, which vary from practice. One group will stay at home plate and take swings at the T. Another will stand in a straight line at first base and work on catching the slowest grounders ever rolled. Over in the shortstop zone they’re tossing balls overhanded through a hula hoop held aloft by a coach. After about seven or eight minutes, the groups switch. The pace is key. Keeping em moving. Keep em interested. Keep the kids having fun.

Another drill involves all three groups interacting. One group hits from the T, while another on the pitcher’s mound runs to get the ball. They then toss it to a player at first base. It’s clunky, but educational. Baseball has a rhythm, and the kids are getting a hint of its beat.

Practice comes to an end with every parent’s favorite task – more running. It’s deceptively called Home Run Derby. Each kid gets one more swing at the ball on T, then takes off one more time around the bases. Once each player has a lap, it’s snack time. Pudding cups and water. They’ve earned it, just on the running alone. They’ve also been introduced to the very basics of the national pasttime. The very basics. They’ve also met new friends and got some chocolate to boot. Plus, for me, and this can’t be stressed enough, both kids were easily asleep by 9 p.m. Home run!

I’ve shared the practice details with a friend who lives down the mountain in a big city. He too has registered his young daughter for a parks and rec team. But he envies my experience. While our team has a great coach to player ratio of 1:6, my friend’s daughter is one of 20 kids with one coach, a parent volunteer. He’s jealous of the attention we get, and that’s without even seeing just how gorgeous is the playing field. I gotta spare him some pain.

Kinder T-Ball is Blowing Rock is just another reason among many I love calling the High Country home.

Starting the day with some father-son golf

“You go get my club and ball. I’ll be at the golf course, okay dad,” said my three-year-old son, before darting without an answer toward the greens. He can’t contain his excitement. Finally it’s warm enough to hit the putt-putt course. And there’s still 15 free minutes before daycare starts.

What better way to start a day? Golf, grits and grins. A father-son breakfast, High Country style.

golfinmorn

We’re at what my boy refers to it as “the Pancake Store.” It’s a restaurant in Boone off Highway 105. He calls it the Pancake Store because that’s what he usually gets to eat, a pancake. Though when the mood hits he’s partial to a half order of biscuits and gravy. Gotta raise ’em right!

We don’t go often. Maybe one or two times a month. The tradition started with my daughter, now 5. Prior to her going to kindergarten – and when the boy hadn’t yet started daycare – it was just she and I who would occasionally nab some pancakes. On one of our first visits, the waitress brought my daughter a special treat – a Mickey Mouse pancake. On the house! I’ve been a faithful customer ever since.

There’s more than food. The Pancake Store has an adjoining miniature golf course, plus an arcade. There’s skeeball, basketball, shoot ’em ups, race car games and an air hockey table. And there’s all operational at 7. After breakfast during the winter this is the room we while away the minutes before day care (8:15 a.m. sharp). This past snow season the boy got pretty good with his air hockey defense. His shot selection needs some work, and he tends to clench his fingers on the rail. But give him a couple years and he’ll be a grizzled pro. In your face dad!

Today, of course, it’s all golf. The winter was a long one and he can’t wait to walk some greens again. I keep a Little Tykes golf club and a ball in the car for this very event. I retrieve both and meet the over-anxious toddler at his favorite hole. It’s basically a two-level course, with an upper level connected to a lower by three PVC pipes underground. Hit a ball into one of the top three holes up top and it pops out of one of the three holes on the lower level. It never gets old …. at least for him.

We laugh around the course for several minutes, with just the sounds of birds and traffic around us. The course doesn’t actually open till mid-day, because, really, who wants to play golf at 8 in the morning? So I like to think of it as a special time. There are not too many places a father and son can spend an early morning running around some miniature links before packing it in for the day’s school and work. This is one of those places. I love calling the High Country home.

A life of fish frys, celebrities and imaginary baseball

“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.

fishfrydiaryMore 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.