We finally fell into bed at 2:oo a.m. Saturday in Asheville, NC for a wedding later in the day. It had been an exhausting night of travel, and at that moment, the late planes, long car ride, and late late late to bed didn’t feel like it could be worth it. I hardly knew the parents of the bride (long-time friends of David), had never met the bride or her sister (childhood best friends of Melia) and was struggling to contain all the sad thoughts that a wedding brings up for me at this stage in my life. How do you mix the joy of young love with the awareness of lost and about-to-be-lost loved ones who will never get to be at the weddings of their children, and a too recent reminder that what seem to be heartfelt wedding promises can be betrayed?
Then I got to the wedding. The wedding website had said that if it was raining, we’d all just wait on the porch drinking beer until it cleared. So we did. This summer has been even wetter in the mountains of North Carolina than it has been in New Hampshire, and thunderstorms and heavy rain showers had been moving through all day. At 4:00 p.m., the set wedding time, it was pouring, and 200+ guests were standing on the porch of the historic Old Sherrill’s Inn, the Blue Ridge Mountains hiding behind the sheets of rain and the low clouds. The beer was coming out of the keg with a thick head of foam, and the young man pouring it was telling us to plunge our finger in, to “kill the foam.” It didn’t.
The first building at Old Sherrill’s Inn went up in the late 17oos, with most of the building construction dating to the first half of the 1800s. The house is a fascinating maze of antique-packed rooms; the study was the original log cabin, the first dwelling built on the site, and a front parlor has walls of murals painted by the grandmother of the current owner depicting the history of the Inn. But the best history of the Inn came from talking to the husband of the woman whose family bought the Inn almost 100 years ago.
There was a long enough break in the rain that the wedding ceremony, in a tree-lined bower up through boxwood paths that had me thinking of the “walks in the shubbery” from my recent re-reading of Jane Austen, had been able to proceed and was as sweet and natural as I’d expected, given what I knew of this family. As we listened to the music and vows and prayers, swallowtail butterflies flew in and out of the leaves far above our heads. After a huge group photo, guests gathered under the tent and began to eat and drink in earnest as a few early dancers tested the wet dance floor, set up under strings of lights and whatever stars might come out.
I walked down to the porch to get another view of the mountains to the north, hoping to have the porch to myself to sit quietly for a few minutes. Instead, I met a delightful couple and talked with them about life and art and creative pursuits, just the sort of unexpected conversations that make weddings, with their focus on celebrating love and connection, so remarkable. That’s when John, one of the owners of Old Sherrill’s Inn, came out on the porch, and told us stories. And stories and stories.
His wife’s grandparents traveled to the mountains of North Carolina on their honeymoon, having married outside of Chicago. They arrived at the Inn in 1916, and met the current owner, an 80-year-old man, and his wife, an 18-year-old woman. The newlyweds expressed an interest in relocating to North Carolina and buying property, and the 18-year-old started crying. “I’m the loneliest, most miserable young woman in the county,” she said. “Please buy this farm so I can move into town and have some friends.”
They bought the farm and their descendents live there still. John didn’t tell us what happened to the 18 year-old wife, but I can imagine.
The clouds had lifted and the ridge of mountains to the north were settling into a deep blue haze. Stories floated off the porch and into the evening. The rain came and went a couple more times throughout the evening, but there was plenty of time for dancing under the strung and unstrung stars.