Bryson City Tales — An Evening to Remember

This is from the twenty-fourth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 3.12.40 PM

AN EVENING TO REMEMBER

As I walked up to the screen door at home, Kate wasn’t there waiting, as she usually was, but I could hear Barb humming in the kitchen. This is always a good sign. When’s she’s humming, she’s happy. Barb’s joy always lifts my spirits. Before I got to the door, I could smell her fragrance—it was Tatiana, her favorite perfume. I didn’t think it was too bad either!

As I opened the door, she was there to meet me. She was all ready to go. Her hair and makeup were perfect. Her simple but elegant maternity dress was stunning. Wow, she was beautiful! She gave me a hug and a long kiss. Wow, again!

“The sitter took Kate out for a walk in her stroller. It’s just us.” “Want me to cancel dinner reservations?” I asked suggestively. Barb backed up a bit and smiled, her arms still resting on my shoulders. “Take your time, big boy. Your lady and your baby are ready for a night on the town.” She affectionately rubbed her expanding abdomen with both hands. “Besides, Dorinda and Kate will be back in a bit. Now go get ready and let’s blow this joint.”

We drove across town and up the hill just south of the main traffic light. After a little dogleg around the library, we pulled into the small parking lot of the Fryemont Inn. We strolled up the front driveway toward the main entrance—a large front porch with several occupied rocking chairs and a nearly endless view up the Deep Creek Valley. The famous Smoky Mountain haze was setting in as the sun retreated behind the distant peaks. The air was cool. We stood in each other’s arms for a few minutes, slowly and deeply breathing in the crisp, clean mountain air. The view, the surroundings, and the air were all invigorating.

How welcoming to then step into the large, warm sitting room, with rocking chairs and overstuffed couches scattered comfortably about. Several were arranged in front of the large stone fireplace. We followed a long narrow hall that led to the dining room. The foyer outside the dining room displayed framed articles from scores of food critics and travel correspondents lavishing praise on the inn and its chef-owner, Katherine Collins. The pictures showed a lovely woman who possessed a beautiful smile and long sandy blond hair.

Finally we opened the old entry doors into the dining room. In the background we heard the croonings of a 1940s-sounding album. The dining room was nearly seventy feet long and about forty feet wide, with a floor of wide maple planks. Large dark timbers supported the vaulted ceiling. We were the only people there. As we moved into the room, we saw it: a massive stone fireplace with a large fire roaring inside. In front of the fireplace, perhaps ten to fifteen feet away, was a small round table set for two. It had a bouquet of freshly cut flowers and a scented candle.

After a few moments, a young woman came from the back and greeted us. “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Ellison. Are you the Larimore party?” We smiled, as the reservation book was otherwise empty. As we were escorted to our seats we felt like a king and queen.

“Katherine has asked me not to provide a menu,” Elizabeth explained. “She will be cooking a special meal for you.”

Elizabeth left us alone to enjoy each other, the fire, and the relaxing environment. We reminisced about our first months in Bryson City. In many ways, it wasn’t what we had expected, but we weren’t really sure we had known what to expect in the first place.

We laughed about my first delivery and the missed world-record muskie. We contemplated my first patient who had had a miscarriage and the couple whose honeymoon had been derailed by a ruptured appendix. We reminisced about my experiences with Louise and Millie. I mused about how delightful it is to practice with Mitch and Ray—and to get to know Dr. Bacon— but also how unwelcoming and unfriendly Drs. Mathieson and Nordling had become.

Barb bubbled as she discussed the imminent arrival of Dr. Rick and the not-yet-imminent arrival of Erin Elizabeth. But we spent most of our time talking about how most of the townsfolk were making us feel so welcome—especially the football community.

“You really enjoy working with that team, don’t you, darling?” asked Barb, as she reached out to hold my hand.

“The coaches, the kids, and the parents have all made me feel so welcome. I do love working with them.”

Barb smiled her beautiful and sparkling smile. I squeezed her hand.

Then, out of nowhere, someone was at our side—radiant, warm, and friendly. “You must be the Larimores.” She offered her hand first to Barb and then to me. “I’m Katherine Collins. I’m pleased to meet you and delighted that you’ve chosen to come to the Fryemont Inn for your anniversary.”

“Is it usually this quiet?” I asked, wondering if maybe the food might be suspect.

She threw her head back as she laughed. “No, no. In the summer, we’re booked solid from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Then we fill up again for two or three weeks during the color season. We close the inn after Thanksgiving and don’t reopen until the first of April—although this year I’m thinking about keeping the dining room open all year long. Anyway, this is our quiet time. We use it to freshen up the old place—and to welcome new friends.”

She continued, “It will be my pleasure to serve you a special feast tonight. I’ve prepared my favorite specialty—slow-cooked prime rib. But first, Elizabeth will bring out some appetizers. How does that sound?”

We nodded eagerly.

“Fine,” she said, “I’ll let Elizabeth keep an eye on you, and I’ll go to work on the rest of the dinner.”

In just a few moments Elizabeth appeared with two small plates. “This is smoked Smoky Mountain rainbow trout. We smoke them using an old family recipe. On top is a puree of caviar and capers and on the side some homemade thin croutons. Enjoy.”

We did. When Elizabeth reappeared, our plates were empty.

The next course was what Katherine called her Silver Queen corn chowder, a thick creamy chowder that was slightly sweet and a bit spicy. The soup was accompanied by freshly baked, piping- hot sourdough rolls and honey butter that melted in our mouths.

Each course left us more and more enchanted with the inn as the evening progressed. Others came into the dining room but were seated near the windows, away from us. We felt as though we had the place to ourselves.

The salad dish was fresh milk mozzarella cheese on top of thick ripe beefsteak tomatoes that Katherine grew in her vegetable garden at the inn. When topped with freshly ground pepper and dried basil, it was magic.

As the salad dishes were being cleared away, Katherine reappeared. “Are you still hungry? In a moment I’ll bring the main dish. The A-1 prime rib comes from a farm near here where the grain-fed cows are raised without chemicals or hormones. The beef is lean and so tender you can cut it with a fork. I’ve been slow-roasting it all day, over salt, in my oven. Would medium be acceptable?”

We felt our mouths watering and nodded in eager agreement as she disappeared, soon to return with two giant plates. On each one was a huge slab of prime rib surrounded by mashed potatoes, crisp steamed garden green beans and snow peas with a small section of zucchini and squash.

“The potatoes are Yukon Gold—the best—slow-cooked and mashed with a bit of garlic, fresh sour cream, and pepper. I steam the peas and beans. They’re fresh from the garden, so expect them to be a bit sweet and crisp. The zucchini and squash casserole is a recipe from my grandmother. And no, I won’t share the recipe with you!” She mocked sternness, and we all laughed. This royal service was infusing our evening with an even deeper sense of celebration for a marriage and a career that were both launching into a hopefully pleasant and enjoyable future. We had no way at that point of seeing the storm clouds forming on the horizon—clouds that would threaten my very ability to practice medicine. But at this particular and special moment, we were celebrating.

We were left alone to enjoy the best prime rib we had ever tasted. Indeed, you could cut it with a fork—and it was over an inch thick. We simply couldn’t finish it—but we savored each bite. As we ate, we laughed and conversed. Barb talked candidly about what it was like to be a doctor’s wife, and I confided in her about how my initial feelings of ineptitude and stupidity were being transformed into a slowly building confidence.

When Katherine came to check on us later, she laughed. “Can I get you folks a doggie bag?” Her eyes sparkled in the light from the fire that was being stoked by Elizabeth throughout the evening. We nodded in agreement and settled back. The atmosphere was beyond romantic, and the service had been superb—attentive, yet giving us the privacy we needed to talk and to revel in each other’s company.

Katherine appeared with a tray loaded up with ten or twelve desserts, each one looking better than the other. We finally decided to share a freshly baked peach-and-blackberry cobbler, smothered in vanilla-bean ice cream—a laudatory cap to a wonderful evening.

I was apprehensive to think what the bill might be, but when the check came, we were shocked at how little this feast cost. We thanked Katherine for the lovely evening. She graciously thanked us for being her guests and invited us to return. We would—many, many times.

“If you all are interested, why don’t you go out and sit on the front porch. There’s a nearly full moon that will rise over the valley in a bit. There’s some blankets right by the door, and I can bring you some hot chocolate, coffee, or tea.”

We decided to take her up on the offer and had comfortably settled into a rocker for two when Katherine arrived with the hot chocolate. This time, instead of disappearing, she inquired, “Mind if I sit a spell with you?”

We welcomed her to pull up a rocking chair. As the moon rose and illuminated the Smokies, she told us about the history of the inn and how her family had purchased it for her and her husband, Jim. They were recently divorced, so Katherine was now the sole proprietor and chef.

She described her upbringing in Sylva and went on and on about her travels, yet how she was always drawn back to these mountains. “There’s just something about the Smokies. Mysterious. Romantic. Wild. Lush. Untamable, yet not too large, not too immense.”

I could, even after only a short time in the Smokies, understand her sentiments. Looking out over the moonlit hills—almost silvery in radiance—the dark sky seemed glittered with countless sparkles. This masterful showpiece was ours to just sit and enjoy. Yes, these hills were definitely taking hold of me at a deep level.

Then Katherine spoke, almost in a whisper:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

I looked at her. She was staring out at the hills and sky.

“A bit of ancient wisdom from the Psalms.” She cocked her head toward me and smiled. I wondered if she was blushing. “Not real sure where that came from. It just seemed appropriate.”

We sat for a bit longer, enjoying the sights and the silence. Barb touched my arm. It was her signal that she was ready to leave. So we stood to go. A simple thank-you seemed inadequate for a woman who had made our anniversary so memorable and us feel so welcome. As I pondered how to put our gratitude into words, she spoke.

“Dr. Larimore . . .”

“Walt,” I corrected.

“Well, OK. Walt . . .” She paused to look at the valley. Her eyes were misty in the full moonlight. “A lot of us young people leave town to get our medical care in Sylva or Waynesville—or even drive to Asheville—at least those who can afford it. But since Dr. Cunningham arrived, some are starting to stay. Now that you’re here, I think others are going to stay, too.”

She was quiet for a moment, her hair gently moving in the evening breeze. Then she turned to face Barb and me. “I’m glad you’re here.”

I took in a deep breath, not really knowing what to say. In just a few words she had deeply encouraged me, almost empowered me. With the arrival of Rick and the support of our patients, maybe, just maybe, we could overcome the resistance of some of the old-timers, especially some of the doctors who were still so antagonistic about my presence.

While looking out over the seemingly endless mountains, shimmering under the full moon’s silver light, I slowly exhaled. “I’m glad we’re here, too, Katherine.”

Barb whispered, “Me, too.”

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)
 

PAST STORIES

  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember

© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.