Gerard my boy, you stumbled upon an odd collection of cultural elements in the Mid-Atlantic South. Asheville is a large small town near not much else large that has snared more than it's share of malcontents and artistic expressionists, along with a fair number of locals and traditional minded families that seem to coexsist at least ok with the angry college fingerlings.
The lack of manners by many of us has become something of a badge of honor, and is one of the trends whos death I will be glad to celebrate. Men of my Grandfather's generation--the turn of the 20th century--were often un-read and mostly inexperienced in the ways of social graces but understood from a very early age that theirs was a place of respect and honor, and lived accordingly. Crudities and bad behavior were shamed away from them from the time they could talk; they would consider carrying a gun a man's right if not duty but distasteful jokes and slovenly behavior were the stuff of louts and layabouts.
The saying of grace at the table is a common practice elsewhere in NC and though is often done with a higher than necessary level of self-satisfaction (after "charch" for example), but usually is quite appropriate and tasteful. Get out into the Piedmont, or further North into other Appalachian regions and you'll find a common thread that includes a thankful and appreciative understanding of the meaning of grace in our lives.
I hope you have enjoyed your visit and I look forward to reading more in the near future.
I just got back from lunch with my husband at a famous BBQ place in Fort Worth, Angelos, where we held hands and bowed our heads before eating the best ribs. We got in the habit of holding hands at meals to quiet our three rowdy boys. My husband usually prays, or he'll ask one of the boys. They know not to ask old mom unless the food is super hot and needs serious cooling. Having two in the military, praying for them and all those in authority over them is my privilege.
Wow. It took a few words to set it up, but from "It was to be one of the daughters", an atom bomb could not have pulled my eyes off this essay.
Great site and great commentary!
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Rest assured, there are millions of people in this country asking God to protect and bless it, all the time. Whether you see or hear evidence of faith, depends on where you live. When I lived in rural southern Oregon, a teacher defied the rules at the winter concert, and her class sang a song about the baby Jesus. The response from the audience was so enthusiastic, the whole building vibrated. Now, I live in San Diego county, where the high school principal and several teachers attend my church, our youth pastor holds "prayer at the flagpole" every month, and our youth leaders (there are lots) chaperone the dances. Teachers are openly Christian, even wear crosses, and actually talk about God in class. ALL the church parking lots are overflowing on Sundays. And all those people pray.
Beautifully done, Gerard. When you are away for a while, your return never disappoints. I'll have to remember not to always say a perfunctory grace out in public; you never know who might be listening, or how words might carry through the noise. Thanks for the reminder.
A beautiful moment, beautifully captured. But what are you doing up there in Seattle, man? This is what fly-over country is really like! All three million one hundred thousand square miles of it.
I've been thinking of North Carolina lately,and the Blue Ridge Mountains are beautiful. Your post brought back a lot of memories.
I ate at the Early Girl this same time last year. A good meal with good friends. Asheville is not what it was 20 years ago. It has lost the rustic charm that made so many fall in love with it.
I hope you made it to the Mount Mitchell Folk Art Center. And Black Mountain (head east). And if you ventured further out, Brevard. Two of my favorite places on this planet.
Ah, Asheville. My wife grew up in Asheville, and I got my tattoo down on Lex. It's a great city to visit, occasionally... but too liberal, too street-confusing, and too pretentious to live there. Luckily, the shocking beauty lies just minutes away.
Asheville is a great town to be FROM!
You've captured the essence of the new Asheville, but isn't it amazing how participating in or even observing genuine thankfulness and prayer transports one out of the terminal gentrification, over-seasoned, over-relished, over-cute, over-historic, and over-gated world we now can hardly escape?
You are in Billy Graham country, you know.
BTW, right down the road outside a little town called Tuxedo, many moons ago, I learned to sail a little beat-up dingy, ride and jump a horse on an English saddle, sew a washcloth on the seat of my bathing suit and rollick down a slide called Pisgah, square dance with a boy at the camp across the lake and finally take up for my small town self in the midst of those sophisticated Birmingham girls who were allowed to wear nail polish when they were 11, who came to camp with pictures of boy friends and tons and tons of bubble gum----none of which I had.
Back in those days, in those beautiful, grace-filled mountains, it was enough to roast marshmellows, sing the prune song and be a Nollichucky. Some of the best days of my life for four years.
I like it that you're on this side of the continent.
Another great blog. Thankyou.
If you want to see people say grace in a public restaurant, please come to Mt Vernon, OH, and go to the local Bob Evans. Of course, like Asheville, Mt Vernon is also in the Appalachian foothills.
Oddly enough, Mt Vernon, a Seventh Day Adventist stronghold, has a perfectly beautiful, English-style, Catholic church. Kenyon College nearby has a classic Episcopal chapel that is on the National Register. There are several fine old Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist chusrches, too. Perhaps piety and beautiful architecture are symbiotic.
As the father of 4 sons I can tell you - we get looks when we say grace at meals. Most of them seem to be like you, G. - a sort of 'Wow - thank goodness people still do that' reaction. I live just north of Atlanta (visit if ya' want!) and the city is (as locals say) too big to be country anymore. Asheville wants to be like that, I guess.
I had a feeling you had taken off on one of your excursions across this great land of ours, and I knew it would be interesting when you reported back to headquarters.
Have a safe trip.
The art of painting a word-picture is revived! Thank you, Gerard!
But even here in 'spiritual' Seattle, there are prayers raised to the Almighty... but you need to move beyond Capitol Hill, Queen Anne and Fremont...
Seattle isn't as Unitarian as you think. I left there a few years ago but we had 7 Orthodox Synagogues. Grace in Orthodox Judaism is said mostly after the meal, but it is large and very real. And in Hebrew.
And there were plenty of very real Christians there doing their own thing. Whatever that is. Downtown Seattle is a different story, so far as I know. But then, I may not know.
Are these people who ostentatiously say Grace in public places the same ones who want to (and would, given legal approval) intellectually cripple their children by teaching them, in school, young-Earth creationist BS?
The art of painting a word-picture is revived!
Yes, so true. What a piece of work. And what an interesting discussion here in the comments.
All my life I've said grace at meals. But it's been my tradition not to do it in public. Several times it has seemed appropriate -- such as when with a minister or people who do it.
I always felt uncomfortable. But I don't think I will anymore. Because of the impression it might leave on others.
BTW, I don't think genuine prayer requires anything said out loud, bowing the head, closing the eyes. These are good things and part of prayer, as is kneeling. But not required.
We were homeless in 1996. There were 5 of us, with number 6 on the way. We were living in my grandmother's house in Kansas City, where my dad was also living, taking care of his senile and dying mother.
All 5 of us shared the small bedroom - mom and dad on the bed, kids in sleeping bags on the floor. The husband took some odd jobs, but we decided that Kansas City was just too big, and so he went to Charlotte to look for work. Charlotte was even bigger, and more lawless, it seemed than KC, so he called and said he would meander up to Asheville to see what was there.
He called from Asheville and said I should come. It was beautiful, and it was bustling, and not too big. He came back and loaded up the car, a 1990 Mercury Sable, and we headed to Asheville.
At first, it seemed he was right, but we decided to walk downtown, into some of the boutique shops. We wandered into an Irish shop, and the owner said, in very condescending tones, that they were closed. The sign in the window said OPEN, but she shooed us out, with other customers in the store, and locked the door! Then she turned the sign over to CLOSED. I realized then, that we were WHITE TRASH. This wasn't the only place in Asheville it happened. Even in the library, we felt like misfits, and after two days, we left.
Finally, you put it down on paper for me in a way that made me understand my experience there. Thanks a million, bro. I couldn't have done it better.
By the way, we decided to tour the area, and we snickered at the fact that one of the mansions we looked at along the river was owned by the warden of the HUGE prison on the outskirts of town. Dichotomies everywhere. We drove that day, and just stopped in Roanoke. We were tired and out of money, and Roanoke turned out to be one of the nicest places in America to live. Rachel was born in Roanoke, and we had a good two years there. We were still somewhat poor, but the IRS audited our taxes that year....and they ended up owing more than 7500 dollars to us. I always thought that the EIC was some sort of scam....I guess I was wrong.
Well, Fletcher, there just isn't enough information about this family to know what they would or would not teach, is there?
However,there's more than enough information in your question to sniff out an ignorant and unintelligent person, as well as one for whom the virtue of tolerance has no meaning whatsoever.
Gerard, a better question to ask would be: Would you rather they be Christians praying for their country and each other, or Muslims, wandering in and repeating Allahu Akbar?
Hmmm... Well, perhaps I'm ignorant about some parts of the USA. However, the comment was a question, not a statement, and two more things: I have a great deal of tolerance for a great many things and/or sets of things. However, people who intentionally fill their children's heads with nonsense do not constitute one of those sets.
And secondly, fundie so-called Christians are second only, in degree of intolerance for other people's points of view and ways of life, to fundamentalist Moslems.
Saying the right words does not make one a Christian.
Beautifully done, Gerard. When you are away for a while, your return never disappoints.
Both the original post and the response to fletcher were superb. Bravo!
Saying the right words does not make one a Christian.
Posted by Fletcher Christian at October 21, 2007 3:41 PM
While this is true, I would be willing to bet that a family that will say grace in a public restaurant are not just "saying the words" in order to pretend to be Christians. That appears to be an indication that these people have a lot more faith than you could ever understand.
As you also have no proof or indication that they are either fundamentalists or are willing to "fill their children's heads with nonsense", your unwillingness to grant them any tolerance demonstrates the lie in your own comments. You should be ashamed of yourself, but my guess is that you don't even understand why.
I think that what you really mean is not "tolerance" but "benefit of the doubt".
So: Fair enough; if they weren't and aren't fundamentalists (of the sort that attempt to prevent their children from learning the theory of evolution, the truth about the age of the earth, and so on, and believe in persecuting homosexuals and in fact anyone with a lifestyle of which they disapprove, and support such lunacies as abortion-clinic bombing) then they don't deserve any opprobrium from me or anyone else.
However, if they are such fundies then they deserve all I said and more. And it is very likely, in my humble opinion, that people who not only say Grace in public, but make their kids lead the prayer and make sure everyone around them knows it, are enormously more likely to be such lunatics than people who do none of those things.
Proof, no. Likelihood, yes.
When I returned from western Canada after 23 years and began driving truck in the lower 48 I had to be reintegrated into southern culture. People in my Okie hometown said I talked funny. Hey, I grew up here. You talk funny. The biggest shock was not being able to understand GA, TN, and AL drivers. My family of Texans and Okies originated in those states. We owned that language, or a western version anyway. One day in a north TN cafe I heard people saying Darn and Dad Gum and Gol Dang. There was that old southern politeness, consideration of others, you just don't get in other parts with the endless sound of Shit and Muthafuck.
Fletcher has a defintion for tolerance, it's what he expects from you while he beats you down with his diatribes and general imperviousness to reason.
The Asheville, North Carolina restaurant was one of those common to our post-post-modern world. Open and airy with a wall of windows framing hanging plants. Casual to the point of paper napkins. Sporting a list of local beers and -- surprise -- local wines. Tarted up with the kind of overtly ironic art on the walls where the painter has one statement and one image in his repertoire and repeats it ad nauseam. This time it seemed that the sensibility being trotted out was one of Hieronymous Bosch meets Hello Kitty.
I used to date a woman who lived in Asheville. I'm confident that I know exactly which restaurant of which you speak. Did they, by any chance, serve you water at room temperature, rather than chilled by some devilish ice cubes?
What, precisely, does reason have to do with this?
The USA was founded partially on freedom of religion. OK then, try being a Jew in KKK-land and see how free you are. Or an atheist, perish the thought.
The USA is the only nominally Christian country where Bible literalism and Young-Earth creationism are any sort of political force at all - although they are being exported to the UK, as you export all your other bad habits. Therefore I am deeply suspicious about the sort of conspicuous piety described in the original post.
Shut the F**k up...
*looking around* "Who left the barn door open again?"
Fletch, go felch and keep your hands to yourself, imbecile...
Well, Fletcher, I'm a fundamentalist, and a scientist to boot. I guess I'm intellectually stunted if I don't closely adhere to a theory that says that man is an accident. Forgive me for choosing a philosophy that says I was made by a loving Creator in His image, and that my Creator died in my place so that I could be reunited with Him for eternity.
By the way, people in towns in the Midwest sometimes say grace out loud as well. It's not as common as it was, but it still occurs. I even bend the neck and silently pray when I'm eating in the lunchroom at work. I had no idea my example was so intolerant.
Where is this KKK-land you speak of? Does it exist outside your mind, Fletcher?
Fletcher, I make it the odds that praying family were "fundies" are about as good as that Obama is a Muslim.
I mean, as long as we're just speculating and all.
Beautiful essay. I saw this a lot more in Omaha than I did in, say, tonier parts of D.C.
How ironic. I just moved to Asheville from New Braunfels, Texas. Although I don't live in Asheville, just outside in a town called Candler, I work on the east side of town. While it's a beautiful place, it's getting more polluted every day and expensive as hell. My hubby and I thought this would be the "forever" place, but have decided no thanks. It's the Autin, TX/Portland/Ashland, OR of the Southeast, and a small dose of the hippie/panhandling/white kids in dreds crap gets old quick. And as Gerard stated in his essay, the gated communities are destroying the natural beauty the "liberal elitists" supposedly care about. A couple more years, and all the mountains surrounding Asheville will be nothing but condos and oversized mansions where the liberal rich go to hide from life's realities.
I'm an Asheville resident and it was quite refreshing to find out how pretentious and tedious my town is.
All y'all please stay away and continue to say bad things about Asheville. There's too many yankees here already.
NOPE. I'm coming back and bringing all my friends and family.
C'mon, how can you write such a long article about Asheville without mentioning Thomas Wolfe. He was a great author, and I say that as someone from Wisconsin who has only visited the town once in my life. There are all kinds of cool little Wolfe icons around town, such as little angel impressions in the pavement ("Look Homeward, Angel"). Wolfe's impression of Sinclair Lewis is probably the best biographical sketch of him ever done. Asheville was a boomtown until just before the Depression, as described in one of Wolfe's novels, and there are neat reminders in the form of art deco buildings downtown. There are lots of good vineyards not far from there.
There is a small restaurant chain in Phoenix called the "Five and Diner". My father had a restaurant in the mid 50's that featured home cooking and a soda fountain so I sure know what one looks like. These restaurants are absolutely authentic - from the menus to the decor to the juke boxes at the table. Unfortunately the prices aren't the same but they are comparable to Denny's. They are wildly popular and I expect them to expand.
After moving from Vermont to escape the loons, herself transferred to the VA in Asheville from HLS. Lived in Candler for just shy a year, bought a house in SC.
Dining out consists of plates of pretension where, if you're lucky, the entreé arrives before the check. Mine always arrived with the salad; don't send it back. It returns cold and dried out.
Want a good breakfast, go to the Miami Diner in Candler on Smokey Park Highway (Rte 19, 23). Place looks like it's closed; go after the morning rush.
Asheville's hippies are dirtier, more obnoxious and smell far worse than the resident crowd of Burlington VT dirtbags.
Asheville screwed the fiscal pooch, now the city is looking to annex surrounding towns to get ratables since their budget is going into the toilet. Good old Proggy accounting, same results everytime
Thanks for reminding me to add fried okra to my Thanksgiving menu (try them boiled! like eating a live slug - haha - an acquired taste, as are boiled peanuts!)
It really is a shame Asheville went "freak".. it's quite beautiful otherwise.
Thank you for being here. I love you.
Went through Asheville last March. Nice city but a little over confident of its charms. Big municipal buildings that mean more bureaucrats. bleech!!! The surrounding country-side was breathtakingly beautiful. There was a lot of snow on and in the mountains. Reminded me of the mountains of my Canadian home.
I said grace tonight over our family Thanksgiving dinner. My son the Special Forces soldier was sitting across from me at the table. This has not been the case for some of the years past and won't be next year, which will see him, again, in harm's way for America. Tonight we prayed for those soldiers and families who are separated by their answering a call to duty to be guardians of our freedoms. God bless and keep them forever.
I can see myself in front of the great fireplace at Grove Park Inn on a Thanksgiving night such as this, drink in hand, after a day in the water spa grotto built into the mountain side. I've had many a pleasant night in the old inn, and many a delicious meal there as well. The night tour of the Biltmore Estate at Christmas is beautiful, especially followed by a dinner in the old stables.
However, I recently learned that my first ex-wife and her husband have a house outside Asheville, and now I detest the place. I vetoed a meeting for twenty people there last month and may never return. The lesbians and locals can have the place, and I pray for God to have His way with all of them. Amen.
Twolanefish, head up the road a piece and go to Roanoke. After we left Asheville we went there. Even with the strange neighbors we had, it was a good place to be. And not near pretentious.
Really enjoyed the post. I have to say, I would always prefer to seek out a joint like "Granny's" with the good ol' boys rather than eating at the "yuppified" place. One of my favorite pastimes is road-tripping from town to town, learning about the locals. In a way that few blogs do, this post really pulled me in and made me feel like I was in that cafe with you.
Gerard, you're the BEST. Thank you.
"The experience without the meaning and not missing it."
...pretty much sums it up.
Sounds just like Ann Arbor. And a hundred other college towns filled with re-invented history.
bless our lord this food to our use and our lives to thy service and give us thankful hearts,amen.
It's a beautiful thing, public displays of Christian faith in America. My "flat-earther" God-fearing, America-loving, church-going family prays the same "ostentatious" prayers whether at home or in public. It is one of the most grounding habits in which my children participate and observe, along with "ostentatious" observances of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. While I'm not gifted at leading prayers, I recall sitting with a small group of Christian Athletes (as in Fellowship of..) in college. They said a quick grace before a meal in a diner - and some salt of the earth older folks were so moved they approached us and expressed how touched they were to see young people praying in public. It's about fellowship.. communion.. with each other... with our God. Nothing ostentatious about it. Some things ARE sacred. Some things transcend "intellectual" absolutes. Only the most fundemental Christians take creation in a fully literal sense. It's the mystery of the universe, of God's creation, which transcends the debate. Evangelicals believe they are responsible to set public examples for others, to stand firm in their beliefs and they only want salvation for non-believers. I can't see how that can be offensive to anyone. It's quite beautiful.
This is a beautiful story. I read it every time you present it and it always touches me deeply. There, in the center of so much stuff, people lift their hearts to God in gratitude and in that moment everyone and everything is lifted up and connected to him for a precious moment. Powerfully told, Sir.
Granny's is the best ever! Add that to the fact that there is some phenomenal rock climbing to be had in the area and you are set for a good time.
Why do you make me cry ?:(
Went to Asheville a year or so ago, lovely country up that way. But as I wandered around I began to feel like I was back in Brattleboro, or Northampton or...as we turned a corner I heard it, and then we saw it. The obsequious, no-trace-of-irony Caucasian drum circle. I did an about face and told the wife, "I'm tired, lets go back to the hotel". I'm still tired. AD is a blessing.
Beautifully written. My people were and are scattered in small towns all across Oklahoma. A fork never moves from the table until grace is said. At home or out. They don't meet many of Fletcher's ilk. They haven't been shamed into hiding their faith. They would be surprised and confused that an Atheist spent his limited lifetime worrying about what they teach their children. Word of advice Fletch, since this one life is all there is, don't waste your precious time trolling the internet. And stop being angry at a God whose existence you deny . It makes you look a little crazy.
What a treat!
Pooped back in to hear the several versions of "Man of Constant Sorrow" ... thoroughly enjoyed reading this, then listened the Sippican Cottage brothers. Almost makes the affirmative action hitler go away ... sigh.
Always a pleasure to spend a few moments here!
Uh ... popped, not pooped, FC seems be be taking care of that
It's getting harder and harder to find the South, even here in LA (Lower Alabama).
I liked Asheville quite well, but the coffee was not up to Seattle. Its true!
Faith expressed in gratitude is a life well-lived.
Thank you for this beautiful essay.
We have a North Carolina family vacation planned for this summer. I have heard about the "gentrification" of Asheville. Coming from Miami, we plan to avoid Asheville. Though very different places, the same type of mentally found in both is like dealing with a plague.