This is from the twenty-sixth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me and if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.
The Best Christmas Present Ever (Part 1)
Barb and I had talked a number of times about what our first Christmas in Bryson City might be like. We had wondered, Would we would be enjoying our new home? Would we feel welcome? Would this feel like home?
Now it was only two weeks until Christmas. The town was decorated to the nines. Lampposts were adorned with garland and festively lit Santas and reindeer. Christmas lights and stars crisscrossed up and down the streets. The store windows were decorated with window paintings, trees, and displays. Even Sneed’s Café, perhaps the tackiest of the local cafés, made an attempt to be merry—though, of course, tackily so.
On Saturday Rick, Barb, Kate, and I went downtown for the annual Christmas parade. Kate loved being carried by her “Uncle Rick.” As we strolled the streets I imagined we were in a Currier and Ives scene—without the snow. The streets were lined on each side with, it seemed to us, everyone in town. We were surprised to discover how many people we knew and how many knew us. To stop and chat with patients and friends, to have them welcome Rick, to have them talk to and tickle Kate, and to have them offer their best wishes and prayers for Erin’s coming arrival all contributed to making us feel at home.
The parade began and included cars with public officials, the sheriff’s calvary, the high school homecoming court, and high school marching bands from Robbinsville, Cherokee, and Bryson City. We cheered and clapped as floats from a variety of community groups—each one throwing candy to the kids—passed by. I found myself hoping that Kate and Erin would be able to ride on one of these floats one day.
For most of the parade, we wandered. The folks without kids wouldn’t just stay in one place. They’d walk and talk and visit and laugh. We did the same. Kate was now riding in her carrier on my back, and she took it all in—squealing with joy at each passing float, holding her hands over her ears at each passing band. We met a number of new folks—including Monty and Dianna Clampitt, who owned Clampitt’s Hardware Store. Monty was also the chief of the rescue squad.
“The squad’s been around a long time,” he said. “We’re housed in the volunteer fire department, and our guys are trained in all the search-and-rescue techniques. I’m sure you’ve already met our ambulance crew—Don and Billy. We do everything from extractions of people from automobile accidents, to searches for lost hikers in the park, to rescues of folks that’s been hurt or hobbled in the backwoods. And because of all the water, we have to know river and lake rescue techniques, too.”
“Sounds pretty intense.”
“Sure is. We’re always in training. Guys get together every week to learn new skills and to keep the old ones up-to-date. We’ve also got to keep all the equipment in shape and ready to go at an instant’s notice.”
“Do you all get much medical training?”
“Yep, my guys are all trained in basic life support—basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation. All of the guys are trained in basic first aid—and most are certified in advanced field and wilderness first aid. We see about everything from severe trauma to hypothermia to near drownings. Like I say, it can be intense.”
“Do any of the local docs work with you all?”
He cocked his head and looked at me a bit queerly. “No. Why?”
“I just thought that with all the medical stuff you have to do, you might have some of the doctors involved.”
“Hmm. Well, to tell you the truth, none of them have seemed that interested in what we do. Don’t get me wrong, they all support us financially, but I don’t think any of them, excepting Dr. Bacon, have ever been down to the station—and Dr. Bacon hasn’t been down for a few years now!”
We watched the Cherokee High School marching band go by, playing “In Excelsis Deo.” Then he looked back at me. “You sound interested, Doc.”
“Well, I’d like to come to a meeting or two and learn more about what you all do.”
“After the holidays I’ll call over to your office and have you come down for a visit.”
Bringing up the end of the parade was Santa’s float. Kate squealed with delight. We all felt filled to the brim with holiday cheer.
The week before Christmas I ran into Nancy while rounding at the hospital. “What are you and Barb going to do for a Christmas tree?” she inquired.
“I’m not really sure. I guess we’ll just go to the Christmas tree lot down by the river and pick one up.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that.”
“Why not, aren’t they any good?”
Nancy laughed. “No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just that there are folks who sell live Christmas trees with their roots intact. That way you can plant the tree after the holiday.”
“Are they expensive?”
“Not really. The Shulers sell them for less than the cost of some of the cut trees.”
During lunch with Kate and Barb, I mentioned Nancy’s suggestion. Barb loved the idea. So after work, we drove up to the Shuler place in a small valley cove. Their home place was at the top of the cove, and there was a small trailer home at the entrance to the cove. Across the hill was a well-manicured orchard of four- to five-foot-tall Norwegian spruce trees. We parked by a sign next to the trailer. A couple about our age came out to greet us.
“Howdy,” the man said as he approached, offering his hand, “my name’s Greg Shuler. This here’s my wife, Myra.”
“Hi, I’m . . .”
Before I could finish, he interrupted with, “Dr. Larimore. Yep, I know ’bout you. I done hear’d ’bout your fishin’ trip with Don Grissom over thar in Cherokee.” He smiled. “It’s real good ta finally git ta meet ya.”
I couldn’t help but wonder, What had he heard? But rather than ask, I introduced the family. “This is my wife, Barb, and our daughter, Kate. I hear you have Christmas trees for sale.”
He smiled as his hands spread toward the expanse of trees. “Just a few.”
We walked among the trees, looking them over and chatting until one caught Barb’s eye. While we were looking, an elderly man walked down from the home place. He had a slight limp and seemed frail. “This here’s ma pappy.” Greg introduced us. His family had been in Swain County for well over a hundred years. As we talked, the senior Shuler was whittling a small stick. I found myself wondering about his life. Then, without a word, he handed the knife to me to examine.
“It’s a mighty fine pocketknife,” I commented. “It looks old.” “It was my pappy’s. It’s a Buck. ’Bout as good as you can get.” “Mighty fine gift. Your pop must have been something special,” I said, looking the knife over and imagining what it must have meant for a boy to receive such a gift from his daddy. I handed it back, and it was then that I saw his eyes staring at me, filling with tears. He turned on his heels and walked away silently. With nary a word he had told me volumes—about himself and his pappy. I wanted to know more.
Greg was watching his dad limp back up toward the house. “Sometimes he gets like that. I think he knows his time is short. To him, family is everything.” Greg sighed and turned to me. “You come back tomorrow, and I’ll have her dug out and the root ball bound in burlap.”
“Any chance I could get it delivered?”
“Yep. But I’ll have to charge ya another five bucks.”
“No problem. It’s a deal.” I shook his hand and turned to leave. “Oh, one thing, Doc.”
I turned to face him.
“Don Grissom’s a real nice fella and all, but he’s not much of a fisherman. My family’s been in these here hills a long time. I know some of the better spots. I’d love to take you fishin’ sometime—if you’re interested.”
“I’d love to go. Just let me know when.”
“Maybe after the holidays.” He paused. “One more thing, if’n it’s no problem.” He looked at his wife and placed an arm around her shoulder. She looked down. “Myra here. . . ,” he paused again, looking for just the right words. “Myra here’s thinkin’ of givin’ my pop some grandkids. If’n we’re gonna have one, we’d be right proud if you’d be our doctor.”
“I’d be delighted, Greg. Delighted.”
We shook hands. They both smiled ear to ear.
“Bet she’s already pregnant,” observed Barb as we were driving away.
© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2019. 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.