Year by year the complexities of this spinning world grow more bewildering and so each year we need all the more to seek peace and comfort in the joyful simplicities.
-Woman’s Home Companion, December 1935
I’m a little tired today. It’s a lot of work trying to sort and get rid of 30+ years of belongings, but everything has to go … because my family and I are moving in just a few short weeks. We are moving across the country to live in a small 26-room motor inn: The Hemlock Inn.
It’s a story that starts 35 years ago, when my grandfather first visited the inn. As a family, we visited the Hemlock in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983. We stopped going after my grandmother died, but I’ve always thought about it because our stays at the Hemlock were the only vacations I really remembered as a young child.
The inn is located in the small town of Bryson City, N.C. (population 1,200 I think) and sits on top of 62 acres in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. If you’ve never been to the area you’ve probably seen it in movies like Last of the Mohicans, Cold Mountain, and Dirty Dancing. Deliverance was filmed on the Nantahala River nearby. Much of The Fugitive was filmed in and around Bryson City.
I looked up the inn last July to see if it was still there … it was … and still owned by the same family. I made reservations and told my 6-year-old daughter all about it. I told her how all the guests eat together for dinner and breakfast at large tables, always after a short blessing. I told her how I used to ring the dinner bell when I was little and maybe she could too. I told her about the trails on the property and the treasure maps the innkeeper used to make me.
She was so excited to go, until:
Me: There’s no phone, TV or Internet in the rooms.
Boo: Um, I don’t want to go.
I probably would have had the same reaction at her age, but now at my age I crave being disconnected.
Once we were there it was a different story. She played and explored the property. We stayed in the dinner hall after dinner to play board games and charades with the other guests. She rang the dinner bell almost 30 years to the day after I did:
And then … she didn’t want to leave.
I didn’t want to leave either.
Heading home on a plane I knew something in me had finally shifted, to a point where there was no way back. I knew I had for a long time been living a life that was dictated more by the world around me than it was by myself or my family. My husband knew the trip had changed me even before I did as he picked us up from the airport. I told him that I had jokingly asked the innkeepers, Mort and Lainey, if they would rent us one of the small cottages on the property for a year. It was a joke, because how would we explain something like that? Who would drop everything to move on a whim? How could we tell people that:
We would sell our home.
We would sell all of our possessions.
We would shut down two businesses.
We would pull our daughter out of the best private school.
We would move 3,000 miles across the country.
It’s easier than you might think. Here’s how we told people:
We are moving to the Hemlock Inn. We’ll be there for a year, maybe more. We have no plans for life beyond the Hemlock yet. We will be living on the grounds of a small inn where guests come and go. Mort, the innkeeper, says that I will be the “writer in residence.” I like that. I am a storyteller, so I’ll be telling the stories of our life at a 1950²s motor inn and small town life through writing, photography and film.
It can be a little scary stepping out onto such a new path, but I’ve felt bound by bank account, calendars and circumstances for too long. Now I’m ready to rewrite everything I’ve ever been taught about success and what’s important in life.
My family at the Hemlock c. 1980:
These days small inns are struggling because of how connected our culture is. How does a small, rustic inn survive in a modern culture like ours? How do you convince a world that craves new things, more things, accumulation, to choose simplicity over technology and extravagance? I think by telling the story. It’s a leap of faith, but I think I was meant to tell the story of the Hemlock. For at least a year my family and I will immerse ourselves in the beating heart and inner workings of a small 1950’s motor inn. We’ll help the innkeepers where we can. We’ll eat our breakfasts and dinners in the dining hall with the rest of the guests. I’ve stayed in many places over the years: inns, historic hotels, B&Bs all over Ireland and Scotland, but the Hemlock is different. It’s as if it has a pulse.
Some people can’t understand why we would move our daughter from a wonderful private school, from every opportunity in an affluent town, to a very small town with very little industry outside of tourism. There’s that saying: truth which is told is quick to be forgotten, but truth discovered lasts a lifetime. I think that’s the best education we could ever give Boo. We are making our world a little smaller and become increasingly unattached to things, all the while connecting ourselves to something larger. I want my child to become faithful in the little things, so that one day she will realize those little things are really the big things. I’m on a mission to engage myself deeply with the world, and to teach her along with me. She’s excited about the move and looking forward to riding the school bus and seeing the leaves change color for the first time (there are no seasons here in the California desert).
And yes, we will have Internet, but I like to think that it will just be for my work. The rest of the time we’ll spend exploring and forgetting to count the days.
You can read about our adventure here.