Never Never Land

When I was in middle school, my mother succumbed to what was then the new trend of writing and sending out copies of “the Annual Christmas Letter.” Each of the five of us had our own small paragraph in which she deftly summed up an entire year in just a few lines.

The year I turned 14, I was a bit dismayed to read that my paragraph in the Christmas letter contained the following: “Kristin once again dressed up for Halloween, perhaps this will be the last year.” The sigh of “will she ever grow up?” was not lost between the lines.

Fortunately for all, the appeal of writing an annual missive soon waned for my mother and she resumed sending each friend and relative a handwritten card.

And I eventually moved to Asheville – the land where everyone, regardless of age, still loves to dress up.

Every day of the year.

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A Gypsy Named Emmanuel & the House of My Dreams

The door opened slowly to reveal a frowning man, perhaps in his early 40s. He wore a dark t-shirt and jeans. His build was slender, but muscular. He had dark hair, a neatly trimmed mustache and short beard. Tattoos covered his arms. The word “Gypsy” was inked in large flowing script across his throat.

Ahh, so many moments had led me to this one.

I’d seen photos online.

The images occupied my thoughts, teasing my imagination.

At night I dreamed about it.

I became a stalker. Every drive into town was detoured to take me past this place I hadn’t even realized existed only a week earlier.

And now I was standing on the front porch of the house of my dreams. And I wanted it.

But the brokers of house dreams had told me I couldn’t buy this one until my own little house on the hillside was sold. Unfortunately, my house wasn’t on the market. It wasn’t even ready to be on the market.

I knew I couldn’t wait that long. I did not want someone else to get the house I felt so irrationally drawn to. Not knowing what to do, I began stalking the house to see if anyone else was hanging around it, possibly interested….  I thought of little else.

And then one morning at the yoga studio, while I was lying on my mat in semi-delirious savasana after ninety minutes of hot poses, a simple thought penetrated the haze in my mind: Why not just knock on the door and tell the owner I want to buy his house?

Under the circumstances, it seemed an entirely reasonable thought.

Still in a post-yogic trance, I drove directly to the house from the studio without stopping to change out of my sweaty yoga clothes or tidy my appearance. I must have looked a mess.

Moments later, there I was, standing on the magical porch of the house of my dreams. I raised my hand and knocked on the black front door.

There was the sound of footsteps and then the door opened. The frowning and tattooed “Gypsy” stood before me.

Yes?  he said.

I thought I heard a slight accent, but couldn’t identify it.

“Hello,” I said. “I’d like to buy your house.”

His dark eyes regarded me without expression for a very long moment.

And then, “Would you like to come in?” he asked, opening the door a bit wider.

“Thank you, I would,” I replied, and stepped inside, leaving the sunshine behind me.

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The adventure in which I did not get eaten by “The Hillbilly Psychic”

My daughter Zoë is visiting, so it occurred to me this might be a good time to visit Angela, “the Hillbilly Psychic.”

Ten years have passed since I first made the drive to the small town of Marion, which lies in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, for a consultation with Angela.

Back then, Angela was living in a trailer. There was a peaceful water fountain in the room where she received visitors which helped calm the atmosphere – as the visit, with its repeated emergency phone interruptions, was anything but peaceful.

Most of what Angela told me didn’t resonate at the time (or even later) – with the exception of one comment. And the perspective-changing accuracy of that one thing was enough to make me curious to see her again – and this time, bring Zoë with me.

Things have changed over the past ten years. Angela now lives in a cute little house on the outskirts of the downtown historic area.

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Inside the Angela’s new (old) house, there is a wonder of treasures from different parts of the world. Elephants and giraffes cavort around the fireplace. A world map, a spinning globe and a cuckoo clock add to the international affect.

Angela doesn’t talk much about her past much but – this being Appalachia – the walls up offer a few clues…

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For a time, Angela was a regular on WNCW, an NPR radio station licensed to Isothermal Community College. She’s also appeared in a film or two, including the horror, sci-fi thriller, “Alien Abduction.”

Dodging her small but surly guard dog, Martin,

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Zoë and I settle ourselves on a comfortable couch while Angela fusses over a newly purchased freezer she’s concerned isn’t performing right. (She was preoccupied with a missing child the last time I saw her.)

Eventually she settles down and focuses on our visit.

“What’s your birthday?” she asks Zoë, then appears lost in thought for a moment after Zoë tells her.

“Okay, if I tell you something that doesn’t make sense, just wait, because it will. And if you have questions, ferGodssake, just ask me!”

Getting into her zone, Angela says Zoë looks and feels young, but she’s actually an onion – someone with many layers. She has the vibe of someone from LA or New York City, someone who mingles with the rich & famous.

[Zoë actually works for a small tugboat engine repair shop and a craft brewery in Seattle.]

“Wait, that’s interesting,” Angela says suddenly. “Is it okay if I get weird today?”

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We nod.

“You feel like the kind of people who do something creative, who bring beauty into the world,” Angela declares. “Your totem animal is a chameleon.”

“You become what you need to be,” she continues, “but the truth is behind your eyes. You hide in the light. And anytime you see a chameleon, you will know that is where you need to be.”

I like these words and think this sounds rather on target. I glance over at Zoë who is smiling politely, not wanting to give Angela either clues or encouragement. Angela’s other dog, Roger, is snoozing on her lap.

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“You have a moving vibe about you,” Angela continues, zeroing in on my daughter’s peripatetic ways.

And then…

“Wait a minute,” Angela says suddenly, looking at her. “I’m feeling a “B” … Brian?”

Zoë and I freeze.

Of all the names in all the psychic parlors in the world, she happens to come up with the exact name of someone Zoë recently met and has been obsessing over. How the heck... ?

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But Angela doesn’t offer up any further insight.

“You have a travel vibe,” she continues, still addressing Zoë. “You’re on the threshold of a brand new life. Keep a vision of what you hope for. Money is somewhat of an issue – it’s always feast or famine for you – but it will be more stable, and feastie, over time.”

Turning her attention to me, she asks my birthday.

By now, Martin-the-guard-dog, somewhat calmed, has draped himself protectively over Angela’s leg.

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Looking at the two of us, Angela declares there is an elastic – meaning able to stretch great distances – bond between us.

That is true. Zoë and I have often been in different countries or on opposite sides of the US, but always close.

“You have a tough vibe,” she says, looking back at me.

I’m not surprised to hear this but would certainly rather be emoting a travel or creativity vibe.

“Yup,” she continues cheerfully, “I’m sorry to say this, but you’d be the last one I’d eat,  you know, if I was on a desert island and had to eat someonebecause you’d be all sinewy.”

Even by hillbilly standards, that’s a pretty weird thought.

She sees my expression and quickly assures me, “You feel a little beat up to me, but you have a real good core.”

After another moment, she continues.

“There’s a male spirit who has passed over, who’s watching over you. You’re getting a lot of help from the other side. I also feel a woman, I think it’s a grandmother,” she says.

[My thoughts immediately turn to the presence I feel while I’m working on a book I’m writing about, yes, my grandmother.]

“But you need more sleep!” she says to me. “And more order in your life! You have tension in the back of your neck and upper shoulders. You need to go to the ocean, or somewhere near water – it will be good for your spirit.”

[An invitation to a wedding on the Greek Riviera will arrive shortly after this visit.]

You have psychic dreams,” she says after another pause.

[Now she really has my interest, I’m liking the sound of this.]

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“You are starting another cycle … This is the year to resolve conflicts over money or work, get it sorted out. I don’t know for sure, but I feel that’s what I’m supposed to say, and I’m not taking it back,” she states defiantly.

“You’re in a relationship,” she says to me. “Are you married?

I am in a relationship, I respond, but we’re not married.

“It feels like you are,” she replies.

[In order not to give clues, I’m not wearing the ring he gave me. Zoë has it on her finger.]

Angela asks for Tom’s first name and birthday.

I tell her and she ponders the ceiling for a moment, then tells me a few things about Tom, mentioning that we are in a ‘bubble’ – eerily using the exact same word I had just used to describe our relationship to Zoë that very morning.

She describes certain characteristics of Tom’s, all of which are surprisingly accurate. She say she feels his mother very strongly.

[Ten days later, Tom’s mother will be hospitalized unexpectedly for an irregular heart beat.]

I ask her again about the psychic dreams.

“Pay attention to the images that come to you first thing in the morning,” she advises.

[Does she know I keep a journal by the side of my bed with the word,dormiveglia” – Italian for “waking dreams” – written on it?]

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“Pay attention, she repeats, “because you’re so busy other times, so this is when it comes through. Pay attention! The more you pay attention, the more it grows.”

“And you,” she says, turning her attention back to Zoë, “you are highly empathetic. You have to shake off the emotions of others.”

Then she says,”I feel a wedding!”

Zoë starts to shake her head, but I say, wait a minute – what just happened last night?

Oh right, Zoë says. A friend asked me to be her bridesmaid last night. [Another lucky guess, Zoë says later.]

The Hillbilly’s Psychic’s last words to us are that I feel very “Asheville-like” to her (whatever that means in her mind.) And Zoë is still the chameleon – trying to pass as uncomplicated, but not.

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Zoë plays with the sleeping dog in her lap.

“You’ll know someone else long before they know you,” Angela says. “Continue on with what you do for the bread & butter, but I expect a creative vibe to burst through at some point. It feels like you’re not done yet with that.”

[Zoë was a film studies major.]

“Anyway, I’m just a messenger … I don’t know….” she concludes happily.

Angela doesn’t name a fee, but donations are accepted. Ten years ago, she immediately stuffed the cash I gave her down into her bra, into “the bank of Angela” she said, laughing.

These days, Angela uses someone else to take the money for her.

When I offer payment, she gestures to a statue of a turbaned Indian holding a small tray next to her wide screen television.

“I had an Indian fellow in here not too long ago, and I worried he might take offense,” she says, laughing.

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“But he didn’t.”

Another big laugh.

How an Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk band and a dog named Cupcake saved the day

As the door opened, I heard a woman’s voice say, “No!  Don’t let the dogs out!”

Strolling in my neighborhood with my own dogs, I turned my head just in time to see two snarling beasts hurling themselves at us from over a stone wall.  And then they were upon us, growling, gnashing, biting.

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My Golden Doodle tried to hide all 95 pounds of her frantic self between my legs, but my little guy – a Schnoodle named Bandit – was at jaw level and took the brunt of this unexpected attack. Someone later told me he could hear Bandit’s scream a block away.

A few minutes-that-seemed-like-hours later, the owner was able to get her vicious beasts under control. Shaken, but mostly okay (so I thought), we straggled back home to assess the damages.

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Klejne, the Golden Doodle, seemed to have escaped damage, but there was  a bloody gash in the grey fur on Bandit’s backside – scary, but not enough to warrant the expense of a weekend vet visit – I hoped.

Once home, Bandit crept into a dark corner and refused to come out the rest of the day.

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Not even for meals.

Yes, even in Asheville, bad things can and do happen. The interesting thing, however, is to pay attention to what happens in the wake of bad experiences.

Unexpectedly, the first stitch toward mending the upsetting rent in the fabric of the day came in the form of another dog –

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– a 180 lb Mastiff named Cupcake, who, when I happened to pass her by later that afternoon on my way to the market, was snoozing peacefully in the sun.

Tiny blue ribbons adorned her ears.

Surprised by the ribbons, I leaned over the fence to ask Cupcake’s owner, Meg – a neighbor I barely knew, for permission to take a few photographs.

Cupcake just got back from the groomer, Meg said, by way of explanation for the ribbons. And so began an entirely pleasant conversation that ended with an invitation from my new friend to stop back by that evening for a house party. A popular local band – the amazing Sirius.B – musicians who describe themselves as Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk –

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would be playing, in her house – walking distance from my own!

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Curious to know what Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk sounded like, I returned later, along with a number of other neighbors.

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The day had already improved immeasurably, but concerns over little Bandit still hovered in my mind.

I still wasn’t sure whether or not his wound needed professional attention. Between songs, I sought out advice from other dog-owning neighbors.

Meanwhile, the strains of Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk – like musical incense – were floating out beyond Meg’s house, up the block, and over to another street, reaching into the ears of a young nurse sitting on her front porch six or seven houses away – a nurse who just happened to be a big fan of the band.

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Hearing what she knew right away was the music of Sirius.B, she wandered over to join the little throng enjoying the music inside and outside the house of Cupcake.

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When I discovered she was an emergency room nurse, I told her about Bandit’s misfortune. Should I take him to the weekend vet clinic? I asked. By then it was quite late in the evening.

“Let me take a look,” she offered.

Two other neighbors, having heard the story, tagged along on our short walk back to my place, stopping along the way at the nurse’s house for emergency medical supplies.

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And that is how, a short while later, the four of us came to be performing spontaneous Schnoodle triage on my sofa by the spotlight of a handheld iPhone.

This compassionate care by three people who only hours earlier had been complete strangers to me, resulted in a happy and mended little Bandit.

After they left, I watched him snoozing peacefully, thinking of the day’s unexpected kindnesses – the invitation to a house party with great music, meeting new friends and neighbors, the midnight nursing to fix him up –

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none of which would have happened but for the luck of encountering a giant Cupcake with little blue ribbons on her ears.

A Little Ghost in the Garden

And so, I moved into “the city.”

Even by Asheville’s idiosyncratic standards, my new neighborhood has a lot of personality.

Perched on a mountainside overlooking the north end of town, it is laid out in a maze of rather narrow and hilly streets – perfect for long, rambling walks with dogs.

It is home to musicians, artists and artisans.  Dancers and dreamers.  Builders, renovators and carpenters.   Massagers and missionaries.  Realtors and retirees.  Genealogists and historians.  Fishermen, restaurateurs, and coffee shop owners.   Mountain folk, half-backs, snowbirds, and urban-flighters.

It even has a ballet conservatory and an electronic music factory.

Yes, this is Appalachia.

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Some folks have been here most (if not all) of their lives.

And some, like me, have only just recently found their way into the neighborhood.

Some have built their dream retirement home here,

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while others are just trying to get through the mountain winters without central heat.

In addition to the home for retired Methodist missionaries, our street has a random assortment of Arts & Crafts bungalows, Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes, a little church,

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and one Dutch barn – my own Casa Mia.

 And, co-existing in a rather bizarre juxtaposition,

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 there is also a women’s shelter next to two lovely and historic B&B’s.

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A crazy eclectic mix – and that’s Asheville.

Each house in the little ‘hood holds a unique cache of stories of the generations of people and families that have lived and died there.

Like this one down the street, where wedding initials and dates, etched with a diamond ring decades ago, are still visible in the glass of the window panes.

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Or this overgrown lot around the corner, where you can still see the ruins of an historic home that crack-addicted squatters accidentally burned down nearly twenty years ago,back when this neighborhood was the working turf of prostitutes and drug dealers.

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And, until recently, there was this old farmhouse dating back to 1910.

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These photographs, taken just a year and a half ago, seem to illustrate the bewildering and poignant displacement of old Appalachia.

But it’s actually just a photograph of my former neighbor, Donna Sue, getting irritated with me for taking “so durn long” to grab the shot, while she was busy trying to pack up and move out. (But not too busy, it bears noting, that she couldn’t indulge in a lengthy discussion on flowers and the best place in Tennessee to get moonshine.)

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A few months later, after Donna Sue and her family left and only the stubborn old cat remained, the farmhouse was torn down to make way for something new.

Even my house, it turns out, has its own ghosts – one of which belongs to a little five-year-old girl,

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whose gravestone we discovered unexpectedly while clearing away some underbrush in my back garden one day.

Speed dating in Appalachia

Considering some of options for meeting singles here in Appalachia, lucky I am to have met Tom on a blind date.

I once came across a speed dating social held at outside a barn during the semi-annual Lake Eden Arts Festival

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which forever scared me off the idea.

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I appreciated the colorful photo-op, though 🙂

© dating appalachia & kristin fellows photography