Bryson City Seasons — Dungeons and Apples

This is from the fifteenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI 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.


Increasingly, my off weekends would be disturbed by patients who, when they couldn’t find me or Rick covering ER, would just walk over to our houses. My initial response when I’d see a patient walking up the driveway was to hide in a back room.

I mentioned this to Mitch one day, and he laughed. “Walt, don’t be stupid!” He smiled and then continued. “If you let folks do this to you and you don’t complain about it, you’re actually teaching them their behavior is all right. You gotta either leave town when you’re off—get you a farm to escape to, like Gay and I have—or you gotta tell folks you’re not available. Period. Just be up-front with ’em. Or you can do both. That’s what I recommend.”

I found applying his advice difficult, but I was committed to try. Barb, however, had no problem meeting folks at the door or on the driveway and telling them our family and off time were private. Period.

Over time, the interruptions became fewer and fewer. A few people left the practice, but most understood. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed leaving town on weekends. We especially loved driving around and exploring western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Our weekend trips allowed us not only to get away from the practice of medicine but also to spend quality and quantity time with our children.

I particularly loved our trips during the fall. Besides the wonderful colors that blanketed the mountains, it was the time of year we enjoyed visiting the orchards in our region. And our favorite was Barber Orchards between Bryson City and Asheville—not far from Waynesville.

The first time we pulled into the spacious lot in front of the Barber Orchards fruit stand, I was drawn to a sign just above and to the left of the front door:


On that particular day the store buzzed with activity. I presumed it was just because it was a Sunday afternoon, but later I learned this was a daily phenomenon—with great numbers of customers returning annually, like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano.

We finally found a place to park. I had to hold Kate’s hand more tightly, as the contractures in her left leg were worsening and her walking was becoming increasingly difficult—even while using the braces. As we entered the store, Kate’s eyes widened, as did mine. The array of goodies was tantalizing—a nearly endless variety of apples interspersed among patches of pumpkins and a group of gourds.

The staff typically offered samples for customers to taste. Besides the common varieties, like Granny Smith and the Red and Golden Delicious, there were many others, like Gala, Sundowner, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp, and Braeburn. That day we sampled apple varieties we had never even heard of, much less tasted. I really liked the Ginger Gold, which had a cream-colored flesh and was mildly sweet. It looked similar to a Golden Delicious but with an orange blush. Scott liked the look and the taste of the Gala apple—which had a distinctive red- and yellow-striped, heart-shaped appearance. The salesclerk told us they were an excellent snack for kids.

Kate and Barb were not nearly as interested in the fruit as Scott and I were. Instead, they sauntered over to the baked goods—where the variety was staggering. At least a dozen freshly baked pies beckoned—including strawberry-apple and apple-rhubarb. But the most fabulous aroma was wafting up from the apple muffins and apple cakes. By the time Scott and I arrived at their side, we found Barb and Kate chomping down on a warm apple turnover and sipping warm apple cider.

We sat on a bench next to an older man and watched the locals and tourists circulating around the shelves of gifts, jams, and jellies—and the myriad of bags and crates containing the apples. Barb picked up Scott. “Tell ya what. Scoot and I will head over to look at the cookbooks. Okay?”

“Okay with me!” I replied as she left Kate and me working on our turnovers. The old man next to us leaned over to Kate. “Nice set of braces you got there.”

I looked at him in astonishment—I didn’t consider it to be a very polite comment. Nevertheless, my stare didn’t dissuade him. “I used to wear braces like that on my left foot,” he said, more to Kate than me.

“You did?” Kate asked.

“Yep. It was after my stroke. My foot got a bit spastic. But my brace was metal—not a fancy plastic like yours.”

I smiled as I saw this old man connecting with my daughter. “But I don’t have to wear a brace no more,” he added.

“Why not, mister?”

“Had me some surgery. Now my foot’s ’bout as good as new.”


“Yep. You might want to ask a doctor ’bout it. I hear they do it on kids all the time.”

Kate looked up at me. “Daddy, I’d like to have my foot fixed.”

I nodded. She didn’t know I had been thinking about it for months now.

“Where ya from?” asked the man.

“Bryson City, North Carolina,” replied Kate.

The old man nodded and smiled. “You been in the jail there?”

It was Kate’s turn to smile. “No sir. I’ve never been arrested. I’m too young!”

The old-timer threw back his head and laughed out loud. I couldn’t help but smile. After he stopped chuckling, he leaned over to her. “Well, that’s good, sweet thing. That’s the only jail I ever knew of where you could actually be buried under it.”

“Really!” Kate exclaimed and looked at me.

Kate looked back at the old-timer. He appeared to be in deep thought as he rubbed his whiskers. “Well, it was some time back. I believe it was before the turn of the last century that they dug what they called the dungeon. It was a room dug below the Swain County jail. I never seen it, but my grandpappy did. He said it was a log room within a log room—with stones filling the space in between. The only entrance to the room was in its ceiling, and it was a locked trapdoor from the floor above it.”

“How’d they get the prisoners in and out?” I asked.

“Well, I believe they’d put a ladder down through the hole. And if the dungeon was occupied, there was another log room under the front outside stairs of the courthouse. Them stairs led up to the upstairs courtroom—which was used as a court, a schoolroom, a place for social gatherings, and as a church on Sundays.”

“I’ve heard about the church services held there,” I commented.

“Well, that wasn’t all. They had them a second log room what locals called the cage. It was just outside the courthouse and could be observed by anyone what was walkin’ or drivin’ by. They used it for what they called misdemeanants. And my grandpappy told me the courthouse over there was the first building in Swain County to get water from the first public water supply system.”

I smiled. “That so?”

“You bet. And since they didn’t have no pipes back then, the water was carried down a series of Black Gum logs, which are naturally hollow, ya know, all joined together, end to end. This wooden aqueduct carried water from a spring up the hill from the courthouse, and not too long after that the system was extended to other buildings in Bryson.”

“You know more about Bryson City than I do!” quipped my admiring daughter.

He reached over to stroke her head and smiled. “What’s yer name, sweetheart?”

“Katherine Lee Larimore.”

He appeared taken aback and was quiet for a moment. “I had me a little girl name of Kate. And she was ’bout near as purty as you.”

Innocently, Kate asked, “What happened to her?”

The old man’s eyes suddenly filled with tears. “She went on to glory when she was only a bit older than you. That was many years ago. But I still long for her powerfully. I miss her hugs, I’ll tell you that.”

Without even thinking, Kate struggled to stand up. She balanced herself against his knee as she turned to face him. “I give good hugs, mister. They’re mighty good for a sad heart.”

The old man looked at me, his lip trembling. I nodded. Slowly he leaned forward as my little girl hugged his neck. And then, ever so slowly, I watched his hands rise up to hug her back. They hugged for a full minute, and then he released her. I could see the tears running down his cheeks—and I felt mine filling my eyes.

Kate turned to me. She was smiling from ear to ear.

The old man pulled a handkerchief out of the front of his overalls and blew his nose. He seemed embarrassed. “Forgive me,” he whispered, talking to no one in particular as Kate sat back on the bench.

Then the old man slowly stood up and began to walk away. After shuffling a few steps, he turned around. “Thank you, Miss Katherine Lee Larimore, for my hug. I will never forget it.” Then he turned to leave.

We sat together, finishing our turnovers. I wondered whether Kate had, in some small way, opened up this old man’s dungeon and let in some light and fresh air. After all, she had a very precious way of doing just that! 



  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
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 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.

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