Updated: Jul 30, 2021
When I stumbled into Morganton five years ago, admittedly, I was a woman on the run — running from grief with all the gusto I could gather. After calling the coast of North Carolina home for more than two decades, my husband passed away unexpectedly. A year later, my youngest son graduated high school and it was time for me to start a new chapter in my life. I said farewell to Wilmington and set out to explore western North Carolina in search of a new hometown.
The sudden loss of my spouse had the profound effect of propelling me into a race toward realizing my dreams, one of which was to write and publish a novel-length book. I first imagined becoming a writer during my undergraduate work at the University of Houston while I was taking a children’s literature class. After that, I dabbled in writing and art on the side as life got busy with marriage, a full-time teaching job, a business partnership, and eventually parenting. Meanwhile, my dreams germinated at the bottom of my heart — indefinitely — until June, 2016 when my proverbial nest became empty.
Having earned a master’s degree in 2015 to practice speech language pathology, I briefly considered my original plan to work as a travel therapist. Ultimately, I decided that I had to take the opportunity life was giving me and follow the vision in my soul — a vision to seek and find my full potential without the constraints of a conventional profession.
By the time I began my galavant through the hills and dales of the Tar Heel State in search of a new place to call home, it felt like my heart had gone before me. With precious memories of motorcycle rides through the winding terrain of Appalachia and a broken heart over my husband’s death, I set out on a journey, hoping that I could find my lost heart and somehow make it whole again.
After roaming the mountainous region of North Carolina for about three weeks, I ended up at Mulligan Macks in Marion after my plans to hike Mount Mitchell had been delayed by freezing temperatures. The good folks there told me all about the foothills. One gentleman pulled me aside at the end of the night and whispered to me — as if he was sharing top-secret information — that I should go straight to Morganton. In response to his suggestion, I got up the next morning and drove twenty miles east, directly to the Burke County visitor’s center.
Ed greeted me with a delightful serving of enthusiasm and answered all my questions about the community with a sparkle in his eye that showed genuine pride and fondness for the area. I left a few minutes later, armed with an eclectic array of information about Morganton, and went to the Grind Cafe. There, Reagan greeted me with an energetic smile as he told me about their organic coffees and various other unique menu items. With a fresh, toasty cup of joe, I took a seat by the window and let the spirit of Morganton seep into my soul like sunshine. A couple hours later, I thanked the affable staff at Grind Cafe and continued my journey. “Take care, Cinnamin. Come back and see us sometime,” Reagan said with a genuine smile that tapped at the door of my heart like an old friend who had come to visit.
After a jaunt around town and a stroll along the Catawba River Greenway, it was time to experience Morganton nightlife. Brown Mountain Bottleworks was bustling on that Thursday night, so I got a drink and sat down in a corner to take it all in. Moments later, a lovely lady came up to me and introduced herself as Rhonda Edge. I shook her hand and we conversed as if we had known each other for ages.
“I’m a realtor,” she told me, “so if you end up looking for a house here, I’ll be happy to help you.”
“I’m not planning to use a realtor, but it’s such a pleasure to meet you,” I said. And that’s when I found out how genuine this woman really was. “That’s no problem at all,” she said with a sincere expression of kindness in her voice. “Would you like for me to introduce you to some locals?”
“Sure!” I said. And in true Rhonda fashion, she wasted no time. Within an hour, I had met a lively array of characters who welcomed me with utmost sincerity. Later, I followed the recommendations of locals who said I should try Root and Vine, where Aimee greeted me like a VIP and put me in the attentive hands of her capable staff. Consequently, the sweet potato hash was delightful!
The next day, I woke up thinking I had found my new hometown. So, I settled in for a few days to confirm my decision. During my visit, I witnessed a man painting a street light pole downtown. I was moved to emotion by the mindful strokes of his brush up and down the lamppost. For reasons I did not know, he cared about what he was doing, and that impressed me. Over the next few days, I visited most of the shops downtown and a few other establishments on the outskirts. As I surveyed the buildings and streets, it was obvious that somebody cared about this town. Somebody loves this town, I thought. And as I listened to the stories people told me, I decided that it was true. According to the locals, Morganton was a sleepy, dormant town for a while before it began to emerge from its cocoon as the butterfly it is today. And I wish I could mention all the names and places that have wiggled their way into my heart since my arrival. But then again, if I did that, what would we have to look forward to in subsequent issues of Welcome Home to Morganton?
Within a few days, Morganton had wrapped its gentle arms around me, and I was comforted like a babe at the bosom. In a message to Rhonda, I told her that I had changed my mind about using a realtor. She agreed to help me find a house, and the ball started rolling. “I want a charming old home,” I said, “you know — one with hardwood floors that creak and a covered front porch with a swing.” Rhonda smiled with confidence and assured me that we would find a home just right for me. After keeping an eye on the market for a month or so, I came back to town and looked at a few properties. Nothing seemed right at first. But there was one house that kept catching my attention each time I searched online. I avoided looking at the place because the house was situated very close to the street with hardly any front lawn. However, when Rhonda mentioned the property, I decided I should at least drive by and consider it. Because everything else about the house seemed right for me, I finally decided to take a tour and consider it further.
We started our viewing in the obscure back yard where I was mesmerized by two magnificent pecan trees and a charming little garden. Then, I found the starfish pond! I could go on for days about all the precious aspects of my home, but the main thing was that when I walked into the living room, I felt love — lots and lots of love. The home was one hundred forty years old, and I could feel the stories it wanted to tell. I wiped away tears as I told Rhonda that my search was over. I had found my heart in Morganton — and a home where I hoped it could heal.
That June, I moved into a charming old cottage near downtown and let my roots wiggle into the rich soil there as I established an Airbnb business and started an organic garden. Every day since then, I have been grateful for the love I feel from this community; for the beauty of this region; for the peace I have found in my new hometown. This morning, I walked out the front door of my home, retrieved my bicycle from its place on my covered front porch (with a swing) and hopped on with a dreamy sense of relief and freedom. After a sea of tears and an ever-filling pool of smiles, hugs and laughs, I finally completed the book I came here to write — with immense gratitude for the loving encouragement of this community, who made it possible. And although it was not the story I imagined writing when I moved here, it was the story that insisted on being told. And so, with the advice of Sir Philip Sidney’s muse, I looked in my heart and wrote.