The Call of Home

Photo of Pack Square by Sepavo

It was only four days after moving to Asheville, Margaret Rose recalled, that she realized Asheville had always been her home. “It just took me a lifetime to get here.” Now a retired, downtown resident of 18 years, she remembered what her friends’ retorts were when she gave voice to that realization of homecoming. They would quickly interject, shaking their heads. “No one chooses Asheville; Asheville chooses you.”

Why, everyone seems to have a story of how they came to live here, thought Margaret Rose, and many of those stories are miraculous.

Margaret Rose loved collecting stories and they were everywhere, here in the mountains that nurtured, then when you were healed, let you go. She wondered what stories she would hear today as she headed for The Vault Cocktail Lounge to try their famous burger for which they had won the ‘BEST in WNC.’ The outside patio was filled with customers – bridesmaids in costume feting the bride-to-be, couples with dogs in tow, children and folks of every ethnicity, race, age, and dress.

I think that’s why I like this place, Margaret Rose mused. Everyone, no matter what, can feel comfortable here.

Once inside, Margaret Rose noticed the place had recently been transformed. The Vault, from which the lounge got its name, had been opened so that diners could have a broad view of the diners on street level and outside. Margaret Rose caught the eye of the bartender and made her order. “We like to serve it Medium Rare, if that’s ok,” said the bartender. Only two bartenders, Neva Jo and Butler, were hustling to keep the growing crowd happy with food and drink, all the while checking IDs.

Margaret Rose took a seat at the far end of the bar, just under the trophy signifying the burger’s prime spot as Champion in Western North Carolina. While waiting for her Vault Burger, cooked The Vault way, she nursed a cold glass of beer and looked around at the growing crowd of patrons inside and out. Inside too, there was a mix of diverse people.

This is the way I like it, a friendly place for all.

To pass the time, Margaret Rose started a conversation with Butler about his tattoos. She had read John Irving’s book, ‘Until I Find Him,’ about a character whose entire body from neck to ankle was tattooed with music and portraits of Bach and Beethoven. She had learned that the tattoo artist could be identified by his or her motifs. One of the most famous tattoo artists stenciled roses. “Were all of your tattoos done here?” she asked Butler.

“Some,” Butler replied,” but most came with me to Asheville from Charleston and were done by my buddy.”

“Amazing,” said Margaret Rose, “they don’t look like the ones done here.”

Huge pastel drawings, portraits and landscapes, were spread over Butler’s muscular arms, shoulders, and legs. Butler was a regular museum of art. While she finished, Margaret Rose turned once more to look at The Vault with the missing wall. My, My, she thought, another example of the gentrification of Asheville. Even The Vault has not been spared.

Margaret Rose thanked Butler, paid her tab and drank the last of her Pisgah Light. She searched the faces of those dining in and out to see if she knew anyone. No, it was clearly a tourist night at the early hour. Maybe the locals come in later. Margaret Rose decided to walk off her dinner, stopping often for tourists who were buried in their street maps debating which way to go next.

Walking the streets used to mean a chance to hear the buskers perform and to be one with the congeniality of the city, especially around the Vance monument. But the bare-breasted lady and bench-hogging Appalachian trail walkers with their dogs made for increased policing, and before long the streets had become like any other, robbed of their music, quaintness, and quirkiness. Now she seldom heard sighs on the streets punctuated by, “Only in Asheville.”

As she walked home, she was surrounded by homogenized hotels, rising up on every corner, soon to block the sun. The establishments around the hotels were closed to renovate for the upscale tourists soon to fill the hotels. Arguments were blazing around any open space. Should it be green or provide green bills of revenue?

Margaret Rose had a preference for ‘green.’ There was a more vocal group who were always talking increased revenues. Margaret Rose let it be known that it would be helpful if Asheville Greened UP. Rooftop gardens, even one on the newly reconstructed Art Museum rooftop, would be so appreciated and oxygen producing. In New York there was an elevated, peaceful park on a rooftop between two buildings. Anyone could apply for a key and many enjoyed the space. Families had picnics, and friends met for tea under the arbor. It was community building in an urban neighborhood.

Where was all this going? thought Margaret Rose, as she rounded the corner for home above the Haen Gallery. Years ago a group of citizens had determined the qualities they wanted in Asheville because this was where they would raise their children. Are these values changing? Margaret Rose thought, Well, change is inevitable. But change for the better is preferable. Who gets to define better?

Where your treasure is… she mused. After all, The Vault’s wall has been broken into. Was Asheville slowly being robbed of its treasures? Was her beloved city becoming a theme park? “Keep Asheville Weird” tee shirts would no longer be marketable. Would re-making Asheville in the image of the tourists it hoped to draw simply backfire?

Margaret Rose chuckled to herself, remembering how one friend had defined Asheville. “Asheville is where tie-dye meets bow tie.” I wonder what he would think now? Which one is winning? Still, this is home, thought Margaret Rose. Asheville had changed before and it would again. One thing is constant. Asheville is still calling people here to experience HOME. It allows you to choose tie-dye or bow tie without judgment. Those who answer the call to come home to Asheville will make Asheville what it would become.

Of that she was sure.

Written by Sarah Larson