Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Friday, December 14, Part One: Mitford

One of my favorite book series' is the one Jan Karon wrote about the everyday life of an Episcopal priest in a small town in North Carolina called "Mitford."  I found out some time ago that "Mitford" was based on a real town where Karon lived called Blowing Rock.
The books make it sound like the loveliest place, where the locals meet for lunch at the humble Main Street Grill, the richest lady in town is an eccentric elderly woman who lives in a slightly run-down mansion on a hill, and one of the main characters is a young boy named Dooley who, when we first meet him, is a ragamuffin who has no manners and asks Fr. Tim where he can "take a dump."  The characters are every day people who call upon God for help and thank Him as easily as they breathe.  They are funny, deep and beautiful books and I cherish them, so when I saw that Blowing Rock was just a short side trip on my route between South Carolina and my destination, Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. 
A few days prior to my trip I called the Blowing Rock Historical Society to see if they had any information on Mitford related sites and they were so nice and were very happy to help me out, so I was very excited about the  visit.  
Boy, was I let down!!  The gentleman at the historical society was pleasant and helpful, and mentioned two things that were red flags right away. First, Jan Karon moved away from Blowing Rock a few years ago because, according to him, it got too crowded.  Second, the town has not held its annual "Mitford" festival in a couple of years.  He did not offer a reason. 
He handed me a sheet of paper which listed a few spots in town that were inspiration for places in the book.  I started at the church, which was lovely from the outside.

 But as I walked up the Main Street, it soon became clear to me that this was no "small town America".  Apparently, at some point since Karon wrote her books the town has become YUPPIFIED!!! (Cue the "da-da-dahhhh!") ominous music)
The shops were all clearly filled with expensive merchandise designed to appeal to the upscale tourist.  I walked into the Christmas shop in hopes of perhaps finding a pretty "Mitford" ornament for my tree.  I asked the lady there if they had such a thing and she literally wrinkled her nose and gave me an icy "no".  I went into several stores , in fact, and only managed to find one Mitford item... A leftover sweat shirt  from the last Mitford Days Festival, buried under a stack of tee shirts.  Not a Mitford postcard or key chain in sight. 
Two of the four places listed on the paper I was given no longer exist. Sonny's Grill, the inspiration for the Main Street Grill, was nowhere to be found. Instead, I found this:


Almost ready to blow out of Blowing Rock,  I decided to take a drive out to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the location of the mansion known as "Miss Sadie's house" to Karon's readers. At least here I was not disappointed. It looked exactly as I'd pictured it.

  While I was there I learned that the building was also used to film part of "The Green Mile".  See that glassed-in porch area over on the left?  That's where they filmed Tom Hanks as an old guy living in a nursing home.  The people who took this photo for me told me that the shack in which he kept the mouse, Mr. Jingles, at the end of the movie, was out in the woods behind the house, so I went off like a fool in my fancy boots looking for it down a mile and a half of trails that looked like this:

 I ended up tripping over a root and sprawling face first on the ground, and I sprained my poor big toe.  I hobbled out of there, never having found the shack, and off I went, blowing the clambake of Blowing Rock.

It was only a couple of hours before I would get to Pilot Mountain and the home of my good friends Larry and Rachel Charpiat....

1 comment:

  1. Sorry you missed the charm of Blowing Rock but it was sure there when we visited in 2007. We ate at Sonny's twice and both times were great! Had sweet potato pancakes ar breakfast. The people were warm and friendly. My Aunt Ruth operated a small florist there. She took us around to see the sights and by Jan Karon's home. She said the people tried to protect her privacy, but since she up and moved to Virginia, she was more than happy to show us her lovely cottage. We enjoyed Bob Timberlake's Gallery and the shops as well. We found several affordable things there like local pottery. I am sure things have changed but maybe they no longer had the Mitford Festival because Jan Karon was not loyal to the town. I don't recall seeing any Mitford things, but felt the town was much like Father Tim's Mitford. My uncle was the police chief there for years. Then, too, I just love the North Carolina mountains and really feel bad when someone puts them down. Even though, Maggie Valley is our favorite, we have seen it grow and change as all things in life do. There is good in every little town if you look for it.