No wonder: we’d both been at it pretty hard for four or five days.
(At this point, I should quickly point out that the “high” came from our trip to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. But more about that later.)
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Memorial Day weekend usually syncs up with Decoration Day and the family reunion for Mom’s people. It did this year. So we started cooking for a picnic, and dinner on the ground, last Thursday. I helped Mom make a double batch of her signature potato salad (one for the family, one for the church). She helped me make a triple batch (two for the family, one for the church) of my own fan-favorite summer side dish (peas, white corn, green peppers, green onions, celery, and pimento in a sweet-sour marinade — full recipe below), and I baked, filled and frosted a Pig Pickin’ cake.
As I worked Friday (until 1:20 a.m. Saturday), Mom did housework and received an out-of-town visitor, my cousin Tim Roller, of Indianapolis. Tim and Mom went out to dinner and stopped by the hospital afterward to visit Elder Burnice Sybert, a longtime family friend and Mom’s pastor at West View Primitive Baptist Church. Mom was asleep when I got home.
Mom was up pretty early Saturday. I was up by 8:30 and making my meatloaf by 9. We were expected at the family reunion picnic at Eastman Cabins at noon, with mealtime set for 12:30. We got there, meatloaf barely out of the oven and still warm, at about 12:15. In all, we had 40-something folks show up for a great little picnic. By 3:30, we were wilting and talk turned to who would be going to the Carter Fold later and what time should we get there considering Carson Peter & Iron Mountain were performing. We decided we’d better be there when the doors opened at 6.
My cousin Onzie Wallen and his friend Yvonne Good promised to save Mom and me seats if they got there before us. We arrived at the Fold at about 7 and Yvonne had our seats waiting. There were about a dozen of us in all. The show started at 7:30 with the national anthem, included a Memorial Day recognition of the fallen and all who have served, and was overall awesome. Our consensus favorite from the first act: the group’s a capella version of “God Sent a Rainbow in the Clouds” during their tribute to the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet.
On Sunday, Mom and I headed to a memorial service at Flower Gap Primitive Baptist Church, near Blackwater in Lee County, and stayed for “dinner on the ground” (a potluck lunch around tables under the picnic shelter). The church was packed. Personal testimonies and prayer requests were being shared. Hymns followed. Finally, we were blessed to receive The Word as shared by four preachers: Hunter Hensley, Jason Robinette, Joseph Robinette and David Jerrell. Just a year ago, Elder Greg Hill preached at the church’s memorial service. This year he was among those remembered, as was my cousin Angela “Angie” Wallen. Both are buried in the cemetery on the next hillside over from the church, along with Mom’s parents and several siblings and their spouses.
For Mom and some others, it was a bit of a double homecoming. When they were children, a one-room schoolhouse stood where the church stands today. Mom enjoyed seeing old classmates, including Ettie (Lawson) Osborne, Vonda May (Sullivan) Gardner, Imogene (Hill) Robinette and Pleas Lawson. This time around, Mom’s potato salad was a sellout and my salad of marinated veggies went quickly as well. The cobbler I made? Not so much. It couldn’t compete with all those church lady cakes.
On Memorial Day, we left our house about 10:30 a.m. and headed for Rock Springs to pick up cousin Phyllis (Hunt Manis). And then we headed for North Carolina. I’d promised Mom a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to escape the heat. I planned for us to eat at the restaurant at Mount Mitchell State Park. Mom had never been to Mount Mitchell nor along the stretch of the parkway between there and Asheville.
We stopped at the North Carolina Welcome Center on Interstate 26 just above Mars Hill. The attendant on duty (I wish I’d written down her name) was extremely helpful. I told her my plan and she gave me a Blue Ridge Parkway map and highlighted the route I’d said I wanted. Then she asked if I particularly wanted to go all the way through Asheville ... and pointed out it was already past noon and asked when, exactly, was I hoping to reach Mount Mitchell and the restaurant. She pointed me toward a more direct route to get on the parkway near Weaverville. Our route north would still take us through Craggy Gardens, one of my favorite stops on the whole parkway and something I really wanted Mom to see. I hoped against hope the rhododendron would be in bloom. Then the nice lady called the restaurant to make sure they were open regular hours on the holiday and wrote the number down for me. I thanked her and we were on our way.
After a leisurely stop at Craggy Gardens and several in-and-out look-sees at various overlooks along the rest of the route, we arrived at the park at about 3:45. At the restaurant, we waited about 40 minutes for a table in the dining room. I had the house special barbecue platter with friend okra and slaw as my sides. Mom started with a cup of chili and Phyllis started with a cup of tomato bisque. They each had chicken tenders for their entrees, Mom’s with a baked potato, Phyllis’ with slaw. With our diet soda, lemonade, and sweet tea, the bill totaled $46 and some change. We were all stuffed and agreed the food was above average for what one might expect at a tourist spot.
After the restaurant, we drove on up to the top of Mount Mitchell — the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet. There’s ample parking near the top and a well-paved trail that leads to a platform at Mount Mitchell’s summit. Mom and I had to stop and sit on benches along the way three or four times. She nearly chickened out about a third of the way, when I couldn’t really tell her how much farther it was to the top. But once the platform came into view, she became determined to make it. And we did. I made her promise not to tell my siblings until I got her home OK — and that in my opinion she could tell her doctor she’s now had a cardiac stress test. Reaching that peak was the highlight of the trip for Mom. But a close second was finding a Rose’s Department Store in Burnsville, N.C. And it wasn’t nearly as hard getting in there.
Sweet, Sour & Crispy Summer Salad
1 15-oz can Le Sueur Very Young Small Peas (drained)
1 15-oz can Del Monte white corn (drained)
1 cup diced green pepper
1 cup diced celery
1 cup thinly sliced green onion (including tops)
1 7-oz jar Dromedary diced pimentos
Mix all above in large heat-resistant bowl
Mix 1 cup Domino sugar, 1 cup Wesson vegetable oil, one cup White House Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 teaspoon Morton’s salt, and ½ teaspoon McCormick pure ground black pepper. Bring to a boil and let boil, while stirring briskly, for two minutes. Pour over vegetable mixture. Refrigerate before serving. Is best when made a few days ahead of time.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News.