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There couldn’t be a more perfect way to spend a Friday evening.

Panoramic view of Waynesville in western North Carolina

Panoramic view of Waynesville in western North Carolina

A week ago tonight, Mike and I plopped our chairs on the lawn of the Haywood County Courthouse in Waynesville, North Carolina. We were staying in a log cabin in Maggie Valley (yes, seriously) that a faith-filled couple makes available at low cost for those in ministry. “Vic’s Creekside” was a green refuge for our last few days of summer vacation.

We chowed down on bacon and eggs from the deck perched 3,500 feet above sea level, inhaling clean mountain air with every bite.

Vic's Creekside Cabin

Vic’s Creekside Cabin

We rested. Read stacks of books. Rested some more.

We fell asleep at night to the melody of a tiny waterfall just upstream and the harmony of the creek tumbling down the mountainside.

The solitude was medicinal. When you drink in quiet, the healing flows right down to your sandaled feet.

But we are also social creatures, so a couple days last week we ventured into nearby Waynesville, a town of about 10,000 souls known as the Gateway to the Smokies.

Gateway to Waynesville

Friendly souls.

Real friendly.

In fact, I might just speculate that the folks of Waynesville are the friendliest people on the planet.

CeCe, Michelle and Allen at the Chamber of Commerce gave us their time and their cards. The jovial redhead who waited on us at the City Bakery provided sightseeing advice along with pastry.

When we tried the door of H.A.R.T., the community theatre twice voted finest in the entire US of A, a young woman looked up from plucking produce from a garden across the meadow and called out, “We’re closed! But hey, you wanna see inside?”

Haywood Arts Regional Theatre

Haywood Arts Regional Theatre

Christy turned out to be the assistant manager, and on our impromptu tour we were fascinated to hear about HART’s plans to open a bistro in their new facility opening this fall.

The sales associate at Steeplechase English Toffee offered delectable samples. (Tropical toffee, anyone?)

Teresa Pennington, award-winning Artist of the Blue Ridge, personally showed us around her gorgeous gallery.

Pennington

When the stunning stained glass windows of historic First Baptist of Waynesville drew us inside, a vivacious blonde named Jeanie showed us around and chatted as if she’d known us forever.

And here’s the thing: these are busy people. Why should they care so much about welcoming strangers?

But they did. Somehow a communal spirit of hospitality is as pervasive in Waynesville, NC, as the blue smoke on the nearby mountain range.

So when folks mentioned the Friday evening summer tradition of mountain dancing in the streets, we were there smack on time and right up front.

Metal bleachers bracketed Main Street and a bluegrass band set up shop right in front of the Mountaineer Express newspaper. Bags of cornmeal were poured onto the pavement, and when the fiddling began the young and the elderly were the first ones to start moving their feet to the ancient rhythms.

Amateurs? Experts? Both and then some.

“That banjo player up there has won a couple of Grammies,” commented Billy Joe, the young husband seated next to us on the lawn. “And the caller? That’s Joe Sam, a state representative!”

Then Billy was up, pulling his wife Amy to her feet, and as they joined the dancing they called back, “C’mon, y’all, join us now!”

Waynesville Dancing in Street

A bit wistful but mindful of a healing knee, Mike and I stayed where we were.

But we clapped. And we laughed. And we bid our new friends goodbye when we collected our chairs to head back to our cabin.

“Here’s my mobile number,” insisted Billy as we left. “You ever need anything, you call us, you hear?”

What makes one place pull you in and another push you out?

Beats me, but hear me now: I want to be like the people of Waynesville.

Holding out a hand, offering help to a stranger, inviting others to join in the dance.

And maybe if we each work on that a bit, y’all, our communities can become the friendliest place on earth too. It has nothing to do with the topography of the place, but everything to do with the geography of the heart.

“Come back and see us!”

Thank you kindly; I think we will.

Tree in Great Smokies

Great Smoky National Park, July 25, 2015 (M. Rowe photo)