Being thankful for a near stroke of good luck in the mountains

Let me tell you about our mountain neighborhood.

A handful of us gather together on top of a remote mountain near Cashiers, N.C., to spend our summers. Some of us stay from early May until November. Others come and go, while a few hardy souls remain all year. This year some unexpected events kept us on the mountaintop almost until Thanksgiving in a year when we have a lot to be thankful for.

We started spending time here 18 years ago while taking a grandson to camp and fell in love with cool summer days and the dramatic colors that arrive in fall.

Our summertime neighbors come from Tampa, Memphis, Atlanta, Columbia, S.C., Jacksonville, Chattanooga, Charlotte, Tallahassee, New Bern, N.C., and a few other places. We are a diverse group: a few doctors, a retired Secret Service agent, a cable network vice president married to a photographer, a couple of building contractors, a lawyer or two, a retired educator who hunts big game all over the world, a couple of journalists — all kinds of people.

We never knew each other before we landed on a Big Ridge mountaintop about 10 miles from the nearest red light and 45 minutes or so from the closest Walmart.

Most of us are retired or partially retired and don't have the responsibility of going to work every day. Some of us still work part time. A few work full time and appear in our midst on weekends.

You would think a collection of strangers who come from various parts of the country and various occupations might have little in common. You would be wrong.

There is more of a sense of community among us than most of us have back in the communities where we have spent much of our lives.

It may be the isolation — we look out on a vast valley ringed by the Blue Ridge Parkway to the northeast and Panthertown Valley to the South. We see dramatic sunrises in the east and gorgeous sunsets in the west. Most of us look outside our windows and don't see a neighboring house except in winter when the leaves have fallen away.

We gather in a mountain meadow with a 360-degree view to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. Some bring wine and cheese. Others bring dessert.

When one of us runs out of sugar or needs lemon juice to finish a recipe, we don't get in the car and drive to the nearest supermarket. We call around and borrow whatever is lacking or modify the recipe to match ingredients that are on hand. I remember my mother living this way when I grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss.

We gather frequently for potluck dinners and celebrate each other's birthdays. We often go down to Happ's Place, a neighborhood restaurant that serves a trout amandine that is to die for. This year we've also enjoyed "Grooving on the Green,'' concerts on the Village Green in Cashiers, sometimes taking a picnic and other times stopping at Happ's on the way home.

Sometimes the women "escape'' for a day of retail therapy in Asheville or a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway for lunch at the Pisgah Inn or a visit to an interesting arts and crafts exhibit.

It is in many ways like taking a step back to a kinder, gentler time.

We have time to help each other. This has never seemed truer than this fall when we were impressed anew with our mountain neighbors.

On an ordinary Friday morning in mid October, my husband, Richard, suffered a minor stroke as he sat near me working on a computer.

I called Dr. John Vookles, a neighbor who is a partially retired physician from Memphis. He wasn't home but his wife, Adele, quickly found him and had him on the phone giving me advice. She and another neighbor quickly arrived on our doorstep to help me convince a reluctant patient that he needed to get to the nearest emergency room.

He seemed to have completely recovered and wanted to just lie down for a "few minutes,'' but we didn't take no for an answer.

Later he told the doctor at Highlands Cashiers Hospital emergency room that a "delegation'' from the neighborhood had forced him to come in.

Good thing too. It seems his right carotid artery was 99 percent blocked. He was awfully close to having a major stroke.

Thanks to the sharp ears of Jane Pressler, an emergency room nurse at Highlands Cashiers Hospital who first detected the blockage, we wound up in Asheville at Mission St. Joseph Hospital where Dr. Michael G. Douglas quickly operated and eliminated the problem. Thanks to good medical care and a neighborhood that cares, he's well on his way to recovery and actually has blood flowing to his brain once again.

During a frantic week of testing and surgery, our neighbors fed me dinner after long days at the hospital, cared for Lewis and Clark, our cranky Siamese cats, sat with me during long hours of surgery and visited the patient in the hospital.

And when we arrived back in our mountain nest, dinner for the next few days awaited us, courtesy of the neighbors.

Sometimes our Florida friends don't understand how we can pack up and move to North Carolina for six months at a time.

For us it has become a lifestyle that leaves us yearning for spring and our own mountaintop.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at lmorgan@sptimes.com.

Being thankful for a near stroke of good luck in the mountains 11/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 3:30am]

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