Small Town by the Big Bridge

Short stories about finding your happy place and falling in love.

Spring Fling

The combination of coffee and anticipation produced a vibration in her body that she remembered from her college days. Not the long days of classes, studying and writing but the precious times in-between when she escaped reality and responsibility by taking a road trip, finding an adventure.

She lifted her eyes over the rim of the bright blue coffee mug and watched the trees with their young green leaves swaying gently on the courthouse lawn. Hidden behind the tender leaves was the center of this town, the old stately building whose weathered red brick perfectly contrasted the fresh green foliage.

“Can you see the faces in the gable of the center dormer?” asked her husband as he basked in the sunlight coming through the huge windows of their flat. “I read that the top three represent Roman gods of the countryside, and the bottom three - which I think look like fiddlehead ferns - represent nature.”

His curiosity was one of the things she loved best about her partner of twenty-five years – 25 years today, in fact. They were celebrating their anniversary by visiting a new National Park and staying in the most charming small town.

Having already showered and dressed, they headed out of their flat and down the grand old stairway to the front door, pausing periodically along the way to enjoy pieces of the contemporary art collection that adorned the plaster walls.

The air outside was cool but with the promise of warmth; a forecast that perfectly complimented their afternoon plans.

With a spring in their step, they turned right and walked a couple of blocks to the old church, passing a friendly woman sweeping the sidewalk outside town hall - unbeknownst to them, the mayor of this quaint little town.

As they entered the old church and found their seats, she was mesmerized by the high stained-glass windows and the way the colored light moved across her body before resting on the worn hardwood floors. The place smelled of coffee and biscuits and bacon, the holy trinity of breakfast and perfectly appropriate for its present-day iteration as Cathedral Café.

After nourishing their bodies and satisfying their souls - the way only blueberry pancakes and rich maple syrup can - they stood to leave smiling and waving goodbye to the lovely young couple at the table beside them.

“Are you ready for our wildflower extravaganza?” he asked before gently taking her hand and leading her out of the café and back onto Court Street.

She smiled and whispered yes while kissing his slightly scruffy cheek. She’d viewed so many beautiful photos of Appalachian wildflowers while preparing for this trip. She was excited to try and identify the ones they encountered today on the Southside Trail.

“We’ll probably see trilliums, trout lilies and spring beauties, but it’s Dutchman’s Breeches I’m most excited about. They actually look like little white pantaloons,” she said with a giggle.

“Speaking of pantaloons,” he chuckled, “check out the ones on ol' Lafayette.”

Standing proudly on the courthouse lawn was a statue of the Marque de Lafayette, the town of Fayetteville’s namesake and trusty advisor to George Washington. She couldn’t help but admire how the sculptor had so perfectly captured Lafayette’s fancy French uniform.

“Let’s pop across the street to Waterstone before we head out. I’d like to pick up a new jacket for our hike,” he said as they passed the beautifully restored old bank building that served as their home-away-from-home this week. “I saw that they have some locally baked goodies in there, and I might need one of those Yumbel cookies to take with me – you know, energy for the hike.”

This small town was full of great food. That breakfast and the dinner they had last night at Secret Sandwich Society. It was incredible. She had the Washington (a ham, cheddar, and apple sandwich with rosemary mayo) and he had the Lafayette (juicy fried chicken, ham and Swiss with blue cheese spread).

“Good thing we have so many hikes planned,” she laughed, “or we both might soon need bigger pantaloons.”

Summer Love

She’d fallen in love - after twenty-five years of marriage.

“I feel so light, so calm, so… happy,” she said boldly to the man sitting on the bench beside her. The man that had been sitting beside her for most of her life.

He stayed quiet for a moment, letting the town happen around him, impressed by how alive it was. This place certainly had its own rhythm. The rhythm of a joyous piece of music.

“You’re in love with Fayetteville, and it seems I’m now second fiddle,” he playfully pouted. “But I understand - it is quite lovable.”

So lovable that the couple was back for another visit after first discovering the charming small town earlier this year.

His gaze shifted from his wife’s contented face to the historic building across the street. Its creamy pink sandstone was quarried over a century ago from the very cliffs that made this area, the New River Gorge, so special. That hard Nuttall sandstone is now a siren call to climbers from all over the world.

Noticing the object of his admiration, she said, “Let’s pop in Lost Appalachia. I’d like to see what new designs Nicholas has come up with.”

She was referring to the wonderful little shop on the first floor of the old sandstone building. The shop directly under their flat, their home-away-from-home. Its name, Lost Appalachia, is a nod to things past and a call to celebrate Appalachian culture. Most of the whimsical designs on the shop’s wares are by the storekeeper, Nicholas.

They held hands as they crossed the street and entered the enchanting shop. As their eyes adjusted to the light, they caught the end of a conversation between Nicholas and another couple.

“Full house this weekend?” Nick asked Shawn and Amy, the owners of Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals.

 “Yes,” answered Shawn, “including a couple that stayed with us just earlier this year in the spring.”

“They must have fallen in love with this place too,” laughed Nicholas.

And it was at that exact moment that Nicholas, Shawn, and Amy all three realized that they were talking about the happy couple who had just walked into the shop.

“It's us! We’re back!” she confirmed, and a long friendly conversation ensued.

They talked (with only mild trepidation) about the whitewater rafting adventure they had planned for tomorrow. They asked for advice on mountain bike rentals, and they inquired about trails that would enable them to watch rock climbers scale the sandstone cliffs of the Gorge.

“We have one more question for you,” she said before turning to depart. “We noticed that metal directional sign in the unusual stone planter near the bottom of the hill, but we’re not sure what it means. Can you tell us?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Amy. “It’s a sculpture by WV metalsmith Jeff Fetty entitled, “New Directions: A Sculpture for our Community. The directional sign points to other locations known for whitewater rafting (Zambezi), mountain biking (Moab) and rock climbing (Yosemite).”

Amy added with a smile, “when asked about the meaning of his sculpture, the artist told the newspaper that it was supposed to communicate to visitors and locals that they have arrived in a world-class destination. That they lived in a world-class destination.”

In total agreement, they bid farewell to the owners and headed down the street to the ice cream shop they’d been daydreaming about all afternoon.

“Pralines and cream?” she asked as the deliciously sweet smell of the shop was upon them. “Of course,” he responded, barely able to contain his childlike excitement.

Ice cream cones in hand, they headed in the direction of home stopping to enjoy the shade of a maple tree on the courthouse lawn.

As the last of the cone’s crumbs tumbled into her lap, she said, “let’s find some live music this evening. I hear there are several places around town that have a band tonight.”

Reclining onto his back in order to achieve a better view of cottony clouds in the bright blue sky, he said, “I can already hear it. I’m the harmony, you’re the melody and Fayetteville is the rhythm.”

She laughed out loud at his syrupy sweet remark. It was music to his ears.

Fall Forest

Every time they looked up colorful leaves were slowly falling, fluttering really, through the beams of sunlight that had finally made its way into the forest. This canopy was almost impenetrable the last time they visited but today it was honeycombed.

Light, color and the smell of woodsy incense - a deep earthiness with subtle spiciness - filled the woods.

They simply could not get enough of these beautiful trees, and they felt incredibly grateful to be back in this special place while fall color was clearly peaking.

If she had it her way, they would stay in this enchanted forest until not a single leaf was left on the trees. But alas, today’s hike was coming to an end.

Seeing a glimpse of disappointment creep onto his wife’s face, he teased, “we have three more days of hiking ahead of us. Tomorrow we’ll explore the old-growth forest that’s only a mile or so from our vacation rental and you can hug trees that are over 300 years old!”

She caught his eye and smiled. These trees, this forest, this town had brought so much joy into their lives.

Walking out of the woods, they felt the warm sun on their faces and heard the sweet sound of children playing; in just a few steps they had exited a National Park and entered a town park.

They strolled back through the park and the adjacent neighborhood the same way they’d come, but instead of heading straight for their beautiful flat, which overlooked the stately courthouse, they popped into the corner pub, Southside Junction.

He ordered and took their snack outside to a little café table on the sidewalk where she waited.

She watched the squirrels on the courthouse lawn, and he watched the town folk. Both enjoying the gentle hustle and bustle on this gift of a day – 75 degrees and sunny.

“You asked yesterday about local artists,” he said leaning forward to grab the last fried pickle, then sliding back in his chair. “I read about one last night after you fell asleep. Her name was Elizabeth Grafton. She used a hammer to cut glass bricks into multi-faceted pieces that she mounted in cement. It sounds like a crude process but, apparently, her stained-glass work is exquisite.”

But to call Elizabeth Grafton’s work stained-glass was a bit misleading. Her work didn’t just allow the passive transfer of light through colored glass, it captured the light and shot it back out the other side in hundreds of vibrant little bursts.

“I wonder where we could find the work of Ms. Grafton?” she said finishing off her sweet tea. “I’d love to see it.”

“Just on the next block.”

But it wasn’t her husband who’d spoken. It was a local woman who just happened to be walking by. Without breaking her slow but steady stride, she said, “There’s a gorgeous piece by Elizabeth Grafton inside my bank. Stop in and have a look.” She used her steaming coffee cup to indicate the direction of travel.

“To the bank!” he asserted, and they stood to leave.

As they walked up the street, having no idea what delight was instore for them, they casually discussed their evening plans.

“There are two breweries in town, and I’d like to check out both,” he said.

“Lagers, pilsners, and ales, oh my! Should we hit the ATM while we’re here?” she laughed while opening the bank door.

And then the laughter stopped. Time itself seemed to stop as their eyes traveled across the long lobby and into a small alcove. From within the darkness came sparks of light and color. That combination, along with the organic shape of the design, soothed her mind while simultaneously stimulating her soul.

It was an odd feeling. Not one she experienced very often back home but one she had come to expect during their visits to this quaint small town. It was the same feeling she’d had just earlier today when they entered the autumn forest.

He spoke first after they found themselves directly in front of the artwork having no memory of transversing the lobby. “It’s a tree of life.”

“Yes, it most certainly is,” she whispered, a little awestruck. “Seems this place is full of them.”

Winter Respite

As she slipped into the warm water her body released all the tension it had been holding. She watched it float way in ripples, disappearing before it reached the sides of the generous soaker tub.

She’d come back here to rest and, perhaps, to heal, knowing the power of this place and fully intending to let it wash over her for the next week.

The steam coming off the deep water reached up to caress her face, and she felt her whole head relax. With that heavenly sensation, she decided to surrender her sense of sight, closing her eyes. In exchange, her body felt the relaxation even deeper.

She could hear the pattering of her husband in the next room. Twenty-five years of marriage enabled her to picture his exact motions and mannerisms: He was opening the box and removing another slice, his eyes growing wide with anticipation as he moved to his mouth the crispy crust covered in sweet red grapes, sharp gorgonzola cheese and aromatic rosemary.

It was their new favorite pizza, a flavor combination only recently discovered by the self-proclaimed foodies. They’d picked it up at Pies and Pints on their way into town, and then stopped at Studio B for a bottle of vino. It had been a long, cold, stressful week. They were both looking forward to a cozy night in.

After the errands were complete, they had pulled into the back parking lot of their favorite vacation rental and found themselves, once again, face to face with an old-fashioned Italian stonemason setting big, pink-tinted stone into an opening in the historic building that housed Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals.

“Hello again, Cinto,” he’d said while grabbing his bag and the pizza.

Cinto was the name given to the mural that faithfully greeted them every time they visited this special place. It was an homage by a local artist to the Italian immigrants that constructed this building and all the beautiful walls throughout the small town. The masons used Nuttall sandstone quarried here in the New River Gorge. It was an ancient rock, made stronger than granite from billions of years of compression.

After entering the building and climbing the formidable stairs, they both paused to look at the framed artwork hanging in the second-floor landing. It was a meticulously hand-drawn crest by Firenzo Janutolo, a son of the family of Italian stonemasons who construed this building. The drawing was completed in 1903 but didn’t find its way here until 2013 when a fourth-generation member of the Janutolo family gifted it to the proprietors of Lafayette Flats.

It was after reaching their flat and settling in that she found herself in the luxurious tub sipping the last bit of her full-bodied red wine. She was daydreaming about tomorrow: a slow morning filled with hot coffee, a trip to Love Hope (the beautiful light-filled art gallery), and a gentle walk through the snow-tipped forest followed by sweet hot chocolate.

There is a special happiness found in being contented in the present moment while simultaneously giddy about the future. And she’d found it. She seemed to always find it here.

Slowly standing to pat herself dry with a fluffy white towel, she called out to her husband, “how about a movie tonight?”

He waited for her to enter the room, pink and glowing from her soak, before responding, “sure, but let me tell you first about this book I picked up from the library downstairs. It’s called Far Appalachia and it’s by Noah Adams, the guy we used to listen to on NPR. He wrote a memoir about traveling the New River from its headwaters in North Carolina to its mouth here in West Virginia.”

She cuddled up next to him on the couch and he continued, “in the section about Fayetteville, he wrote, ‘A lot of people who come to Fayetteville spend time trying to figure out how to stay,’ and I’d imagine he’s right.”

“Oh, yes,” she sighed as he gave her a knowing look. “Do you think we could figure it out?”

Lafayette Flats Boutique Vacation Rentals

Fayetteville, WV

Thanks for visiting the small town by the big bridge.