So how did we find this little place in Appalachia?
Well, when we were little kids, my grandmother would pack my mom and us, in her Toyota Corona station wagon, and head for the mountains of North East Georgia every summer and sometimes Spring Break as well. She was really in to genealogy and had traced out the family line on both her mom’s (Hazel Ashe) and her dad’s (Kit Carson Ritchie’s) side. She corresponded with a woman named Jesse Mize, who also did genealogy and lived in Athens, Ga. She was a distant cousin of ours, and she was also a woman of great hospitality. We would stop at her house each year on the way to Clayton, Ga, and she would give us a key to her cabin there; Tip Top Cottage was the name she tagged it with
Through her genealogy, my grandmother discovered a relative on her dad’s side, named Andrew Jackson Ritchie who had founded a school in North Georgia with the hopes of bringing education to the people of the Appalachian Mountains by training up students to become teachers. The school eventually ended up in Dillard, Ga, where it was called Rabun Gap- Nacoochee School, and is still there to this day. My grandmother located old tombstones of Eli Ritchie and others, while me and my brother would run around and play in the graveyards, more fascinated with the groundhogs and many creeks, streams and rivers in the area. All this played so much into my mind as a boy, and started quite the love affair with the Appalachians, to the extent that I would one day pack everything into my car, ask my cousin Jesse if I could rent her cabin while I looked for work, and I moved up there, not sure of what would happen next.
A friend of mine from when I worked at the hospital in New Smyrna Beach also came with me, but found he didn’t like mountain life as much, and didn’t want to stay. I did find work on the road though, and would drive down to Alto, GA, where I would park my car, hop in my boss’s truck, and head out to do cell towers, from N.C. down to South Florida, and then west to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. After a few weeks of this I talked to a woman who ran the laundry in down town Clayton, and she had a sign up for an apartment to rent. I told her I was interested, and so she showed me this two-bedroom apartment on a road that ran parallel to down town. So now we had to come to a price, and she looked me up and down and said, “Is it just you?” “Yes”, I answered. “Well,’ she said, ‘I was want’n 250 dollars a month for it, ya reckon you can afford that on your own?” At the time I was bringing home 400 a week, so this was the best news I had heard. This was around 1995, and since then the area has become more and more popular to tourist, to retirees, and building developers, so you would be lucky to find something for rent in the neighborhood of 1500 a month. Here is a picture of my old apartment building today:
I have always wanted to share this area with my kids, so it was nice to take a week off with Lily and check on my mom’s condition, as she has been healing from a fall that led to a broken arm, and she also has what the doctors believe to be a case of Cellulitis, causing her legs to swell. This stinks in the mountains because everything is either up or down hill and she lives on the north face of a mountain. My mom liked to do a 2.5 mile walk every day, but this has really cramped her style, so I am hoping to get her down here to Florida where we can take care of her. Lily spent some time exploring the woods behind my mom’s house while I spent the first night and next day recovering from food poisoning, thank God that went away. Lily did great though, taking some amazing photos, finding wild onions, ramps, and collecting rocks for her sister’s succulent garden