Someone recently asked, “If you were raised in Burlington, Ohio and then practiced law for 40 years in Atlanta, Georgia, what are you doing living in Meadows of Dan, Virginia?” That’s a good question.
Years ago, I took a few days off from my law practice in Atlanta and drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit my brother in Meadows of Dan. I stayed here for a few days, and during the stay I looked at a piece of property that was for sale. I was walking the property when suddenly I stopped in shock. For years, a picture of a fenced pasture with mountains in the background had hung in my home office. When I stressed or worried over law practice matters or altercations with my wife, I used to look at that picture and it gave me peace. Why I had stopped in my tracks was because I stood on the exact spot where that picture had been taken. Needless to say, I bought the property, all 32 acres.
After I returned to Atlanta, I was nagged by the question, “Why did you do that?” Then one day I realized “Oh my God! You are going home. YOU ARE GOING HOME!”
That made no sense to me then. Now it does. I was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains. All of my people stretching back for hundreds of years were born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains. And for hundreds of years, the changes to that area were cosmetic, not substantial. But after WWII, the changes seemed somehow different, somehow larger alterations. But Meadows of Dan did not change. I once asked an area resident how long his family has lived here. He answered, “I am not sure. We bought our property from George Washington’s father.” Another time, I asked an old farmer what it was like living here during the Great Depression. He answered, “We heard a lot of talk about it, but we didn’t really notice any difference.”
Before I built my house, I built a hand-hewn log cabin. I thought I would live in the cabin, enjoy the peace and beauty of Meadows of Dan, and die. I was proceeding according to plan when one icy January day, my brother called and asked me to go down the mountain with him to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, because his wife had a hair appointment and was afraid to drive. I protested that I had on dirty, old work clothes, and, also, I didn’t really want to see anyone because one of my front teeth had been knocked out. Just a minor accident. But he insisted and so I finally agreed.
Because of the harsh weather, Mt. Airy was a ghost town. There was no one on the streets and some of the stores were closed. After going into several stores, we went into a clothing store, called Meadows of Dan Trading Company. It wasn’t too long before I saw her. She literally took my breath away. She was about 5’ tall, had a beautiful face framed by a wild riot of wavy black hair, and was dressed in jeans. She looked perfect, just perfect. I wanted to hide, but I didn’t want to stop looking at her. Her name was Lorrie Riccitello. I learned that she was divorced and owned the store.
Out in the truck my brother said, “Well, what do you think? Are you going to ask her out?” My reply was, “Are you crazy! She’s at least 20 years younger than I am. She’s beautiful. She’s smart. She owns her own store. Why would she go out with me?”
My brother thoughtfully replied, “Well, you’re not too bad looking, you’re smart, you’re overly educated, you’re exotic, and I told her you normally have a front tooth.” Suspicious, I asked, “What does exotic mean?” He replied, “Let’s face it. You’re weird.” We both had a good laugh and then left to pick up his wife.
During the next few weeks, I often thought about Lorrie Riccitello and wished that I were younger, better looking, and had a way with women, you know, like Cary Grant. But I didn’t. That was just wishful thinking. Then one day, I was in the office of a local real estate agent, just talking to him, when she walked in. I got up to leave, but she said, “Don’t go. I won’t be long.” I sat back down, and she sat in the chair beside me. I don’t know how it happened, but after a while, I realized we weren’t talking to the real estate agent, but were talking to each other. Then a little while later, I realized that we had been sitting in front of his desk talking to each other for over two hours. I took a deep breath, summonsed my courage, and asked her out to dinner Saturday night. She said, “Yes.” I said, “I will pick you up at 7.” She countered, “I will meet you at the restaurant at 7.”
I don’t remember what we ate. I don’t remember what we talked about. All I remember is looking up at the restaurant owner who stood by our table when he said, “I am sorry, but you will have to leave. We are closing.”
Years have passed. I still don’t remember what we eat or what we talk about. And she is still too young, too beautiful, and too smart for me. But she makes the sun come up every morning, and when she brings me hot tea she says, “I love you.”
I am home.