By Keith Whitson
I recently enjoyed the absolute best soup and sandwich shop I have ever eaten at. There was a nice selection of homemade soups. I tried the vegetable beef. It was full of every vegetable I could think of – potatoes, whole kernel corn, tomatoes, celery, onion, beans and more. It came in a rich beef broth with tender, juicy cuts of beef.
To accompany my soup, I got the deluxe grilled cheese sandwich, filled with American, feta and blue cheeses melted to perfection on perfectly buttered and seared homemade bread. Add a nice juicy, homegrown tomato and lettuce inside and my mouth was watering.
After lunch I strolled around the quaint town, where it was obvious the citizens take pride in their hidden gem.
What impressed me most was how friendly the people are. It was as if they had never seen a stranger. They were quick to strike up conversation. I began to question if I had met them somewhere previously to give me that sense of comfort and familiarity.
Looking around, I saw varied ages and cultures There were also varying styles of dress and, yet, they all blended perfectly. There were businessmen and women in dress attire as well as many in casual wear.
As I window shopped, I noticed many one-of-a-kind stores. Each building on Main Street was occupied, as well as those on side streets. Shoppers had everything they could want from hiking and casual clothing to dress clothing.
My passion is for the creative and artistic stores that offer unique and one of a kind items. There were plenty to chose from. I entered one shop and was instantly amazed to find the creative talents from the area were so apparent.
Works of local artists showcased the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Handcrafted jewelry, sculptures and more were on display.
But, it was obvious that art plays a big role in this town, just as it should. The surroundings are tranquil and exude a sense of beauty everywhere you turn.
Just down the street, was an amazing performing arts center. Looking at the sign outside, I noticed that several local groups were going to be performing soon. There were stage productions scheduled with area theater groups as well as the local high school. I would love to go back there and see a performance.
Next I came to a small park in town with large shade trees, a bubbling fountain, benches, tables and playground equipment for youngsters. I saw some folks sitting back to read the newspaper, while others were playing with a dog in the grassy lot.
I sat down on a bench to rest and began to imagine what it would be like to live there. It was close enough to the interstate but tucked away in its own magical space of hometown appeal, with evidence of prosperity and happiness.
I got back up to walk around some more. I noticed a bowling alley, a movie theater and a skating venue. It was obvious there was plenty offered for every age.
There were nighttime venues for adults, teens and the younger crowds. Bluegrass, jazz, hip-hop and country were all on tap.
I asked about jobs in the area and one resident described the abundant growth they had experienced. There were manufacturing jobs, medical jobs and jobs producing specialty products. Housing was on the uprise. Older neighborhoods were being refurbished and newer ones were being built to accommodate the growth.
“Is education and health care as good here as everything else I am seeing?,” I asked. The answer was a definite “Yes.” There were new, modern schools and a superb health industry with every service imaginable.
As I rounded the next corner I was taken back by what I saw. This can’t be the same town that folks talked about years ago. Surely not! This is the town that hung an elephant.
There, in a gorgeous park, was a beautiful, life size elephant statue, sitting in a large fountain, with water coming out of her snout, shooting up in the air and hitting on her back, before splashing back down in the pool.
A plaque at the fountain base read “This is dedicated to making a difference, in a sometimes harsh world, by a new generation who acknowledge the past as we strive for a better future.” It was signed by the generation that participated in the 2016 Erwin Elephant Revival.
By now, you know my column is imagined but my hopes and dreams are real for generations coming up in Erwin. I was deeply moved by the events of the recent Elephant Revival. The Unicoi County High School Drama Department did an emotional and touching tribute with a play they wrote and performed.
I attended the Low Country Boil and was impressed with what can be brought to town with some effort.
The week’s events with the children and youth saw so much enthusiasm and participation. But, the parade was the crowing moment. The 9:30 hour at night set the stage for the UCHS band, floats of happy children, glow bands everywhere and the unveiling of the elephant statues along with the grand life size replica of Mary.
The youth were being introduced to a new way of looking at our past. They were being shown an example of doing good, no matter how many years have passed. They were being shown a community that offered love and hope.
I was literally moved as I thought, this is the generation that will make a difference. These are the leaders of tomorrow. May they embrace diversity, growth and well being for all, while holding onto the integrity and traditions of our past.