Travel writing has some terrific perks. “All in a day’s work” you are likely to sleep in deluxe accommodations and eat unbelievably delicious chef-prepared meals. You are treated to tours of amazing attractions when the crowds aren’t around, and you can ask all the questions and make all of the photographs your heart desires. But, inevitably, when I drive back into my driveway at home and start unpacking my bags, it’s not the luxurious pillows and sheets or the designer toiletries in the bathrooms, it’s not the crunchy burnt sugar on the creme brulee or the tenderness of the steak that lingers in my mind. Most of the time, the personalities and stories of people I’ve met in a place end up being the most memorable parts of a trip. That was true again in Maggie Valley.
I’m sure the fact that Steve owned his own business for thirty years has a lot to do with it, but I am particularly drawn to people who are passionate and are working long hours to make their businesses succeed. I met several who made special impressions on me that I want to mention.
The first was a lady known to her friends as “JuJu.” From all I can find out, her actual name is Judy Alexander Coker, and she’s the daughter of Tom and Judy Alexander, who first came to the area in 1938 and started carving out a heritage at Cataloochee Guest Ranch that is now being lovingly maintained by the second and third generations of Alexanders. JuJu and her sister Alice Aumen remember every step of the development of the property when they were growing up. They left for a time after getting college degrees but were both lured back by the idea of developing the Cataloochee Ski Area. That project flourished and has since been sold, so now they continue traditions at the lodge. JuJu prefers to work outdoors, especially with the horses and hiking trails. As a matter of fact, her daughter is also on the scene serving as the ranch’s veterinarian.
JuJu graciously posed by a photograph of her mother and allowed us to see a room in the lodge and also one of the cabins. She is obviously very proud of the work her parents started and is committed to seeing their vision planted firmly into the next generation.
Another impressive person I met was the Manager/Owner of Frogs Leap Public House in Waynesville, N.C., Tonia Raymond, affectionately known in the dining room as “Toni.” She co-owns this upscale, farm-to-fork restaurant with Chef/Owner Kaighn B. Raymond. My friends and I were there for Sunday brunch. Toni was accessible and visible to all the diners present, going from table to table making sure everyone was pleased with the food and the service. My food was late being served, and she was quick to explain and apologize. (Apparently, my breakfast flatbread had slipped off the plate on the way to the table, so a new one was being prepared from scratch. A fact which suited me just fine).
Toni is strongly committed to maintaining a close relationship with area farmers to serve the freshest ingredients from growers very near to Waynesville. Frogs Leap serves an uncommon menu with a great deal of creative flair. I predict that the owners’ hard work will reap good benefits.
In the heart of Apple Country, we made a visit to Barber Orchards Fruitstand which has been going strong since 1932. There was a long line of customers waiting for bags of fresh apples, ciders, baked goods and one of the most delicious apple slushes I have ever tasted. As a matter of fact, it was the ONLY apple slush I’ve ever had. In the middle of the bustling activity were 4th generation apple growers, Benny and Jane Arrington. Jane was busy cutting samples of apple varieties for customers to taste, and Benny looked like he was fresh from the orchards. Jane proudly shared that their son is working alongside them now as a 5th generation apple grower. Remarkable!! We all can appreciate what hard work farming of any kind is. I was very impressed with their commitment and success.
The Bible has a lot to say about the value and the rewards of hard work. All of these people I mentioned today are positive examples.
Proverbs 12:11 – “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”
Proverbs 14:23 – “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”
Genesis 2:15 – “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Proverbs 6:10-11 – “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
Now, back to work, everybody!!