Archived Arts & Entertainment

This must be the place: If you lived here, you’d be home by now

Southern Appalachia. (Garret K. Woodward photo) Southern Appalachia. (Garret K. Woodward photo)

Sitting in The Scotsman in downtown Waynesville on Sunday evening, I found myself sporadically watching the last NFL game of the season as the Detroit Lions eventually overtook the Green Bay Packers.

And though I was flying solo, cold suds in-hand, soon a group of familiar faces rolled in through the front door. One of them was celebrating a birthday, while the rest of his cronies were tagging along all in an effort to spur on any sort of irresponsible enlightenment at the mercy of libations.

One of the familiar faces is someone I’ve pretty much known since I first stepped foot in Haywood County and accepted the position of arts editor here at The Smoky Mountain News in July 2012. He’s the younger brother of another dear friend in these mountains, and part of an extended family whose lineage in Western North Carolina goes back countless generations.

After the usual chitchat about what’s new and “How’s the wife and kids?” there came a point where we started to reminisce about good times shared many moons ago, and how special those moments were back then, each held very closely to my heart all these years later, especially as this region goes through immense growing pains.

You see, the exact first night I spent in Waynesville, I was told by a coworker that “if you want to meet some locals and have some fun, go to the Tipping Point around the corner.” Now a long gone but never forgotten brewery/restaurant in town (where Sauced currently resides), I wandered in not knowing a single soul. There I was, a “Damn Yankee” hailing from the Canadian Border of Upstate New York.

My friend I mentioned above? Well, his older sister was the bartender there. She was, and remains, a local legend. A true salt of the earth mountain woman. Takes no shit from anyone, and yet always projecting compassion and empathy to others. My kind of people. Anyhow, when I bellied up to the bar, she knew I wasn’t a local and asked where I was from.

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“Well, Garret from New York, welcome to Haywood County,” she smiled, sliding a beer in my direction. “Oh, and if you take the newspaper job, I’ll tell you all kinds of real deal local folks you need to interview and write about.”

And I did take her up on that offer, which has led to many unforgettable interactions and feature stories over the years for this publication. But, the bigger point I’m trying to make is about the salt of the earth folks that have lived and resided in these mountains for centuries. And how a lot of it is rapidly disappearing, whether by time and age or sheer economic and cultural factors.

Now, even with 11 years under my belt, I’m no local by any means. If anything, I’ve been regarded as an “honorary local,” a titled bestowed on me by fiery locals at The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill, and also at the now-defunct Brar Patch, a dearly beloved hole-in-the-wall, which used to be the third-shift bar for the long gone Dayco rubber plant where Walmart now sits in West Waynesville. 

By the time I arrived at the Brar Patch, it was mostly filled with old-timers and farmers that’d I’d talk to and connect with many-a-time. Sadly, it closed in November 2016, but not before I was able to interview some folks over drinks on its last day, last call. 

“My grandpa used to bring me in here when I was a little girl. He’d get his beer and burger and I’d get my hot dog and soda,” a local friend told me that day. “He’d hang out with all his friends, hell they all grew up together. This is where the salt of the earth folks come and gather — this is the heart of Haywood County.”

They say the only constant in life is change, and, well, Haywood County is changing very rapidly, even for an outsider life myself that came here for gainful employment over a decade ago. Progress is inevitable, and usually welcomed in any small town. But, at what cost? That’s always the million dollar question, literally and figuratively.

And I think of all of those places and people who are no longer here. Biscuits and gravy at Duvall’s. Mountain music with banjo legend Raymond Fairchild at the Maggie Valley Opry House. Sipping a homemade ale at the Tipping Point. That big, picturesque meadow I’d often jog by on a backroad that’ll soon be ripped up to make way for dozens of new homes.

Talking to my friend at The Scotsman, we rehashed old tales of moonshine and bonfires on a mountaintop in Jonathan Creek. I remember how grateful I was to be invited by his older sister. She trusted me and knew I could hold my own. I’ll never forget pulling up to the bonfire, a huge crew of rugged, badass locals.

Stepping up to the massive inferno, I was immediately handed a jar of moonshine. They could hear my northern accent and inquired as to where I was from. My “Damn Yankee” status was revealed. And yet, there was no judgment or ill will. All that was asked of me, whether consciously or subconsciously, was something I still ask of others new to the area, each of us in search of our respective destiny, “Are you a good person or a bad person?”

That question lies deep within me as the winds of change swirl over Waynesville, Haywood County, and greater Western North Carolina. Things change. People leave us. Folks drop in. Old houses fall apart. New homes are constructed. But, never forget the history and heritage of these ancient mountains, of the incredible faces and places that reside here. 

Aim to complement (with an “e”) this wondrous corner of the world. Add to the already rich tapestry of culture and vibrant social fabric that’s constantly having new patches and patterns sewn onto it. Dig below the surfaces of your comfort zone and get to know the real Southern Appalachia — for that is where the true beauty lies in these hills.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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6 comments

  • Extremely well written article. Thanks for this! You have a real gift! ?

    posted by Pamela Williams

    Monday, 01/23/2023

  • Great article Garrett!

    posted by Lynn Copeland

    Friday, 01/20/2023

  • I really enjoyed reading this story Garret. Although I'm not a "local" or even a full-time resident, I feel at home when I'm in Waynesville. I pray that the area never loses it's friendliness amongst all us out of towners longing for that comradery and compassion. I feel blessed to experience this every time I'm there, and hope to some day call it home.

    posted by DeAnn Suchy

    Monday, 01/16/2023

  • Great story! ❤️❤️ Can’t wait to visit the area

    posted by Tina Yaconetti

    Friday, 01/13/2023

  • Very nice Garret.. truly enjoyed...have kind of grown up there with you...we have been there so many times and would truly love to spend our last days there if we didn't have those 3 wonderful Grandchildren here. That said. Will be there as often as possible. Guess even the end of next month. Yup!!!

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Thursday, 01/12/2023

  • Very nice Garret.. truly enjoyed...have kind of grown up there with you...we have been there so many times and would truly love to spend our last days there if we didn't have those 3 wonderful Grandchildren here. That said. Will be there as often as possible. Guess even the end of next month. Yup!!!

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Thursday, 01/12/2023

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