Day 14: Going Home Again

She’s tracing her roots is how my husband describes it when he tells people about the trip we took last weekend, back to my beloved Southwest Virginia. And while I wasn’t thinking of it that way, exactly, I suppose it is a rather accurate description.


It was a journey long-planned, you see, one with a specific purpose. I want to stomp around in the mountains I told them to see all the places I never appreciated when growing up there. It was all too ordinary back then, this living amidst the rugged Appalachians, a mere backdrop for after-school band practice and Friday night football games. And my brother and sister-in-law thankfully said yes when I asked them to serve as our guides, Randy and Lisa Rigg, two people who know this territory well.

We’ll stay at Natural Tunnel bubbled Lisa. And we’ll start Saturday Night at the Carter Fold, in Hiltons.

My heart skipped a beat, I must tell you. I knew we were in very good hands.


Stomp, we did, for the next 36 hours. I spent much of the time in a blissful state of awe—to say those mountains wrapped and rocked me like a baby is the understatement of the 520 posts on this blog. We mapped and drove and hiked and wandered; we traced family lines and hunted down homesteads; we followed railroad tracks and trailed along great rivers and crossed tiny streams, all in search of … what? Realization? Affirmation? That the Earth is mighty. That we are all connected to it—to its mountains and valleys and rivers and plains, connected in significant and inextricable ways—just as we are connected to each other, now, and for generations spreading in every direction.

That it has been this way since the beginning of time.

It was a gigantic blessing, this knowing, a sweeping grace that settled over me then and sits with me still as I write this from my current home in the flat midlands of South Carolina. Here, now, miles and decades and generations away.

We are connected, I know, to the Earth, to each other. And I am a part of it all, a link in the great chain.

US 23 historic markers
US 23 historic markers
sitting in Johnny Cash's rocker
Mighty pleased to be at the Carter Fold, just chilling in Johnny Cash’s rocker


Anderson Blockhouse view
Anderson Blockhouse view
Carter Cabin, built in 1784
Carter Cabin, built in 1784
window to the past
Stock Creek
Stock Creek


on the road to Fort Blackmore
the road to Fort Blackmore
Carter Cemetery
Carter Cemetery in Hunters Valley
Randy, Lisa, Tim and me: a cold morning at Natural Tunnel
on our expedition: Randy, Lisa, Tim and me



30 Days of Grace III

16. Mountain Wisdom

Those mountain people are strong she said, and she smiled as she opened her car door to leave.

I smiled, too, and headed for another corner of the parking lot.

It was true. It is true. And it’s a connection we share, Kara and I, that transcends the little bits of time we’ve spent together. I recognized it the first moment I met her, following a speech (it was a panel discussion, really) during which I mentioned growing up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

You’re from Wise she said, approaching me at the meeting’s end. Kindred spirits I knew, simply because it was a statement rather than a question.

I have family there she said.

And now her 91-year-old grandfather is in failing health, and she has just returned from a difficult visit to the hospital there. As happens in those mountains, there were magical moments—including the passing of this sage advice from him to her children, his great-grandchildren.

“Learn all that you can, with your eyes and ears wide open, and your mouth closed.”

A fine lesson for us all.

30 Days of Grace II


Day 11: A Christmas Letter to Lee Smith re: My Favorite Christmas Book Which She Happened To Write


December 8, 2011

To Ms. Lee Smith,

First may I say Merry Christmas to You and Yours. Second may I apologize, for this letter has been a long time coming, too long some would say.

You see I have been reading your books for many years and feel like we are close although I have only met you in person on two occasions. To hear Mama tell it we are practically kin, on account of our families were in the same business all those years ago, there in those beautiful Southwest Virginia mountains. And then you attended Hollins College, as Mama did, but I did not, a decision about which I was sure back then although now I think perhaps I was mistaken. You were from Grundy, I believe; I was a Wise girl.

(I especially like it that you choose to have “our” Piggly Wiggly show up in most all your books, a recurrence about which I am most pleased.)

There are many things about which I would like to write and tell you (like the fact that the first book I ever loved was The Last Day The Dogbushes Bloomed, which I read ON MY OWN when I was a girl who worked at the Wise Library one summer and I didn’t even know it was you who wrote it) but I will save all that for another letter. For now I will leave it at this: I am writing to tell you that I am re-reading your book, The Christmas Letters, because it is a very good Christmas story that is not at all sappy and if it is, it is sappy in a good way.

I have read it before and as a general rule do not re-read books because there are so many goods books in the world who could have the time? And so I tried to find another Christmas book, it being December. But every one reads like a Lifetime Television for Women movie, in which there is always a single girl and a lonely boy, and a well-meaning (quirky) friend, and a school Christmas play. Sometimes there is also a choir, which can be a children’s choir, or a choir of men who are down-and-out but who have really good voices, come to find out.

Anyway, what I want to do is this: Sit by my fireplace with a cup of hot tea and the quiet of the snow outside (I must confess that is not likely as I live in South Carolina now) and to read something with a genuine heart during this season of Christmas when my own heart is longing for it. And I think your story of Birdie Picket, and Mary, and Melanie, and them being women connected by experience, as well as family, and how you tied it all together with those recipes (mostly old-timey), is just exactly perfect.

With wishes for a very good holiday there in North Carolina (or wherever you might be now, and I hope it is somewhere writing a book like On Agate Hill which is my very favorite, except for Oral History. Or maybe Fair and Tender Ladies, it is so hard to decide),

Catherine Carter Rigg Monetti
daughter of Eliza Rose Sutton Rigg
of the Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly stores in Wise, Virginia

ps: I have decided to make Mary Pickett’s Award Winning Carrot Cake for dessert on Christmas Day. I think my Eliza (the one who is my daughter, not my mother) will really like the cream cheese frosting, with all that “confectionary” sugar, as she calls it.

pss: Now that I think of it, my mother Eliza would like it too, except for the carrots.

proof we are connected


30 Days of Joy