Photo by Waylon Wood

My dad insisted on visiting Asheville during Halloween weekend, but I wanted him to come earlier. By then, leaves are past their peak in the valleys, and have blown away from the ridge tops. Besides, on that last weekend of October the weather can be unpredictable. Wouldn’t he rather come during the peak leaf weeks? No, he said and that was that. Getting him to come in the first place had not been easy, and I didn’t want to scare him off. by arguing the point.

My dad does not like to be away from home. As he’s gotten older, his ties to home have gotten stronger. Why go anywhere else? There’s a list of excuses over the phone. Who will feed the horse and the cow and the feral cats? My favorite question that he poses is, “Where will we eat?” It’s laughable. Asheville’s restaurant choices might as well be Rome in comparison with where he lives. He knows this. Yet he clings to his routine like a castaway to his raft, and it gets harder and harder to shake him from it.

Furthermore, there’s an expectation that you will visit him. I remember Dad having many similar conversations with his own father. “Why don’t you come see us?” he’d say, to which my Grandpa would respond, “Why?”

It’s hard to watch my dad grow older. This powerful man who raised several levels of hell now hardly leaves the house. I wince as he recites his aches and pains. Now he has surpassed my grandpa’s final age and I hardly see him.

It’s my fault, too. It’s mostly the Florida heat that keeps me away. Why anyone would exchange a cool summer evening in the mountains for humid oppression is beyond me. The holidays are off limits, and who wants to travel during the winter? For us, “Come and see us” is a phrase as generic as “Take care”, tossed about with the unspoken understanding that neither one of us will budge and time will continue to slip away.

As the weekend approached the mountains were still clinging to their summer green. I can never remember why the leaves are late to change — some locals will tell you that we had too much water over the summer, while others say we didn’t have enough. Some think the slowdown is an effect of global warming, but with the constant stream of conservative television in my father’s den this is a subject completely off limits. I nervously watched the weather like never before.

The week before the air turned cooler and rain blew through daily. Plumes of fog dragged through the tops of the mountains. Earlier in the week the first hard frost turned the cars windshields white. Snow fell in the highest peaks. Friday morning was cold with a layer of thick fog and when the sun unexpectedly burnt through it, a miracle happened: the leaves changed.

We met up at his motel. He seemed almost peppy, warmed by the change of season. Then the second miracle of the day happened: he gave me the keys to his new Lincoln Continental. If you knew my dad you would understand what a miracle this actually was. I proudly drove him up the Blue Ridge Parkway. There was some minor complaining a slightly raised eyebrow about my speed, but with the passing views he changed. He chattered and laughed and patted me on the back. Every rounding of every curve was filled with clear vistas. Opening up our views. Carpets of color flooded below us.

We reached Linville Falls. I told him it was a short walk, but the walk was really a hike and would be mostly incline. I was worried and thought that he might not make it. To my surprise he almost bounded up the trail. When we finally reached the viewpoint he was out of breath with oohs and ahhs. He did not exaggerate. The gorge was striped with color. The reds taking over the oranges taking over the yellows. Layer upon layer.

There is a picture. My Dad and me with our arm draped across each other’s shoulders. We’re smiling. We’re are having a good time. Behind us the fall colors are on fire. He was so happy that he insisted on continuing past Grandfather Mountain into Blowing Rock and then came the third miracle of the day: he bought me lunch.

As we drove back down the Parkway canopies of golden leaves flew over our heads. The sun continued dropping in the sky. The trees glowed. We sat mostly in silence. Taking care not to ruin our time together. Knowing that this moment would never come again, we keep going.

Published in Smoky Mountain Living 7/28/15




A southern boy raised by wolves and angels. Stories are based in truth, but bent for entertainment

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Waylon Wood

Waylon Wood

A southern boy raised by wolves and angels. Stories are based in truth, but bent for entertainment

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