By SCOTT GRABER
It is Saturday morning and I’m in the Chestnut-paneled, stone-hearth-accessorized lobby of the Fryemont Inn in Bryson City, N.C.
There is a cool breeze washing through the open windows — the same windows that give me a view of the empty rockers on the front deck. As I sit and write, my mind takes me back to those who sat and rocked in those chairs many years ago.
In 1986, when my son was 6-years-old, we discovered the Fryemont. I’m not sure who told us about this rambling, poplar-sided building built by Amos Frye in the 1920s. But we liked the rustic, paneled rooms and the fact that the rooms came with breakfast and dinner.
But more than these throw-backs, we liked the feeling that came with no television (in the rooms), no air conditioning, and the premium put on sitting in the lobby. Maybe you played Monopoly, or maybe you read James Michener. Or perhaps you had a conversation with a stranger before having “Trout Amos” in the dining room.
In the past, my wife and I came here with our son, or with my parents, or with friends. We gathered in the morning and talked about the weather and the difficulty of the Mt. Leconte ascent.
Or we talked about the rocks and small waterfalls we would encounter as we tubed down Deep Creek. As we ate our scrambled eggs, biscuit and heavily buttered grits we talked about the vigorous, gasping-for-breath exercise that would come later that morning, never doubting our ability to get to the Alum Caves before noon.
In those days, Mt. Leconte was a favorite trail because it was almost vertical.
At one point there is a narrow ledge, so narrow that the Park Service has bolted a steel cable into the wall of the rock face. This cable was altogether central to the stories we told once back in the lobby of the Fryemont. The ledge, the rocks in the river and the (small) possibility of injury were important in those days.
When one hikes one also talks. I remember climbing LeConte with my father who told me about his family having just enough money to send his older brother to law school — and not enough money to send him to medical school.
He also told me about his time in the Aleutian Islands in World War II. (I would later learn that he discovered the Army-supplied overcoats were saturated with a chemical that made the men sick. He never mentioned this to me or the fact he was commended for his discovery of this contaminant.)
I also took this vertical hike with Tom Davis, Dean Moss and David Taub. Tom was not yet a Senator; but Dean then ran the Water Authority and David (I think) was the Mayor of Beaufort.
I cannot remember the details of our conversation as we struggled up the mountain — perhaps we argued about annexation, or the water and sewer contract for Sun City, or the controversial Comprehensive Plan.
But once at the lodge, and once we had a glass of scotch under our belts, we felt a sense of wonder and gratitude that we lived in this hot, febrile county and each had small role in it’s development.
Now our son lives in New York City and has his own adventures. Our parents are dead and our friends mostly choose less rigorous activities like cruises on the Danube.
This morning, my wife and I are alone in this Chestnut-paneled interior that feels and smells precisely the same as it did when we were younger, and we’re saturated with a sense of adventure and expectation.
In a few minutes, I’ll meet Susan in the dining room — just the two of us — and we will look over at the long tables that seat eight or more people. We will look at those noisy, younger, crowded tables remembering the multiple conversations, the early-morning complaints and, of course, the excitement about the forthcoming, almost vertical movement into the Smoky Mountains.