Every Monday night, including this New Year’s Eve, my young daughter and I go to a free community meal at a tiny rural Methodist church down the road. One of the first weeks there, I sat by a ninety-four-year-old man who used to walk three miles through the snow as a teenager to get the woodstove going before members began to arrive. The church was a log cabin then.
When my children and I settled into our 1920s somewhat dilapidated farmhouse, I felt like I had arrived to a home that had long been awaiting us. The church feels like a family that came with it. I love the strong women arriving Sunday mornings with wild long hair and woolen shawls, the Vietnam vet who pulls up to the front door with his motorcycle and chaps, little Noah with cystic fibrosis for whom the church has raised over $20,000 to help with medical costs, the handful of darling adopted grandmas Elora and I now have, who light up when we enter the room and love us so well. Even now when I ask, “So, how long have you been in the neighborhood?” as I did last night, I’m told, “My family settled the French Broad valley in the 1700s following the Revolutionary War,” followed by thrilling stories of railroad detectives and bank robberies. “You have to remember this used to be the wild wild west out here.” I have often used the same phrase to describe the neighborhood now. With its quickly diversifying population as housing prices rise in the city, it also has a wild, rebellious, independent spirit and slower, kinder Appalachian neighborliness that still understands the most important thing we can do is care for each other. Some things are just that simple. Happy New Year.