Got some weird news yesterday.
According to the one and only Dylan Wright, my college vacation home is being sold today. And the one and only Dylan Wright would have no reason to lie to me because my college vacation home happens to be his childhood home and that would be a weird thing to make up shit about.
Now please don’t read those words, “my college vacation house” and judge the type of college experience I had. We weren’t rich assholes or anything like that. Also don’t get me wrong that having a free of charge vacation home in college thrown in on top of everything else was pretty radical. I pinched myself basically every day.
The whole thing is actually way less Great Gatsby than it sounds. I’ve written about our time up there extensively. There’s even a couple of chapters in Hope in the Time of Chemo dedicated to Red Fox Lane and Hickory Nut Gap Road if you want to grab a copy of the book and check it out. One chapter about a Tri-Athlon gone wrong. Well, for me at least. There’s also a section on morning friends, and the difference between them and people you have to impress with extravagant nights out. You can grab a copy and read more about it at davidleenelson.com/hopeintheimteofchemo
Dylan grew up in Banner Elk, NC, which is a town about 45 minutes north of Boone. The house he grew up in was on the side of a mountain, off of Red Fox Lane, on the top of Hickory Nut Gap Road. And It. Was. Beautiful. The house was three stories. Kitchen off of the front door. Living room with a sliding glass door, an incredible deck that over looked the valley and a long stretch of mountains that seemed to go as far as the eye could see. Downstairs had a basement, a bedroom and a movie room we always wanted to use but never did. Upstairs was two more bedrooms and another full bath. The deck was complete with a grille, a fire pit, an outdoor table, and a jacuzzi. You read that last word right. There was a jacuzzi on the deck of which we made excellent use.
Basically every time there was a break in the school year, my roommates and I and a few lucky friends would leave Charleston, and make the five hour pilgrimage to Banner Elk. Winter Break. Spring Break. Fall Break. Summer Break. We skied, we hiked, we cooked. Boy did we cook. We had to because of, well, you know, our appetites weren’t what they would normally be while we were there. They were bigger if you catch my drift, and if you are my mom STILL trying to catch my drift, now would be the time to stop.
I remember the first time we went like it was yesterday. And you know how when you go to a place like that, the first time is usually just so tremendous that you spend every other trip trying to capture that magic in a bottle? And while there was certainly lightening in a bottle, every single time we went was different and special and dare I punch a hole in my Gen-X size heart, but each trip was an adventure in its own right. We chased the dragon for sure, knowing it would never be caught, not caring that it never did.
Did I mention the Wholly Worm Festival? Because there was. Not that I know what one is, but it was there and we went. I could literally write about this place forever. Some of the luster did leave the place in 2010 when Dylan’s mom passed away. She was the heartbeat of that hill. But it still didn’t stop us from going and loving every minute of it. It’s where my ex-wife and I spent our honeymoon. It’s where we went right after we got engaged. Not only to share the news with our friends, but also to pay respects to this place that had grown to mean to much to us. I even took my ex-girlfriend Kris there once, the woman I dated after Mandy. We had a remarkable four days, complete with my first viewing of Young Frankenstein and a trip to a Virginia Tech Football game. The only significant other I didn’t get to take there was Jaimie. Guess I’ll need to make her the most significant other of them all.
Back to the first time.
It was the Fall of 1997. We left Charleston on a Friday after our classes were finished. The only CD we listened to was Jane’s Addiction. It was a constant loop of Jane Says and Coming Down the Mountain for however long we were there.
I don’t remember what time we got arrived, but it had to have been pretty late considering Marie had made us jambalaya it had been put back into the freezer. We got it out when we arrived and it was maybe one of the best things I’ve ever had to eat. Jambalaya, a joint, a bottle of Sierra Nevada, and a Yellow American Spirit Cigarette on the back deck afterwards. That is almost perfection, and the beginning of a number one hit country song.
We had decided we wanted to go camping. Dylan knew someone with the key to the grounds where the Highland Games were played. The Highland games are apparently some Scottish festival and since they were gone we got to go free of charge. I guess everyone who lives in Banner Elk knows each other. At least they did in 1997. Because Dylan and I just drove up to the house, said hello, grabbed the keys and away we were.
A note about Dylan’s parents. I would describe them as Deadheads turned Real Estate Attorneys. And looking at the the life they lead, it was a pretty good decision. Their office was in Downtown Banner Elk, right on Main Street. It’s still there as a matter of fact. His dad still working. Marie had flowers and a garden in the backyard and one of the rooms was a bedroom meant for snow storms when they couldn’t make it back up the mountain. So when we would visit, they would stay at the office and give us the reign of their house.
So—the very first weekend, we camped. Which is ironic because for the next almost decade, we never camped again.
It was on all of us. I think the house was just too nice and we didn’t want to leave it. That and I’ve never been much of a camper in the first place. I should. I like sleeping. I like being outside. Not that I have to worry about it much in the future. Jaimie hates camping. She’s Jewish and uses wandering the desert for 40 years as an excuse for basically everything she doesn’t like.
After grabbing the keys to the Campgrounds, we got snacks, a big bottle of Bacardi Rum Limon, another big bottle of Robutussin, which I promise was not for me, and a big green VW camper which would become Dylan’s car off and on for the three years while we lived together on the corner of Radcliffe and Coming Streets in downtown Charleston, and made our way to the camp ground.
And then it was the three of us, up there on the mountain.At least I hope so, considering it was pretty remote and I thought we were the only ones with keys. We made a fire, we drank, we hung out. I cannot imagine a better time had by four people.
By four friends.
In a vacation house none of us truly deserved.
But then again, what do any of us deserve?
And now it looks like that time is coming to an end. Apparently some renters in the house have not treated it with the same loving kindness the place deserves, so it is having to be sold. Which is fine. Because Nothing Gold Can Stay. Isn’t that from a poem I read once? It's ok, I suppose. None of the gang has spent a proper night there in years. I can’t even imagine the logistics of getting Dylan from Montana, Kipp from Andrews, Jay from Hershey, PA, Christain from Italy, Me and Jaimie from Greenville, Becca from Charleston, John from Norfolk. Life has filled up in the way life does.
But damn was it gold while it lasted.