Wildacres is near Little Switzerland, NC, a mountain-top retreat of hotel style rooms and more charming cabins that caters to creative people looking for space and time to do their work. Every year, a group of our faculty goes to Wildacres for a weekend to discuss and practice Writing Across the Curriculum. At the WAC retreat, we discuss how we write, how our students write, how we use writing in classrooms across campus. And every year, for twenty years, Dr. Gayle Price had led the retreat, teaching “rookies” for hours and responding to the “veteran’s” ideas with enthusiasm and praise. “The spirit of Gayle is with us,” Dr. Janet Land told us , fighting tears, on our first night.
I and WAC and You
The spititualists sit down at our table for dinner. They wear tie-dyed t-shirts and Life is Good pullovers. Both are middle-aged women, soft and round. One holds the vegetarian entree, still wrapped in foil. “May we sit with you?” the white-haired woman asks. “Of course! Do! Sit!” we politely murmur, Southern girl hospitality kicking in by instinct. We pass bread and salt and comments.
“Who are you? Where are you from?” they ask. We tell them we are faculty, we are on a writing retreat for the weekend. “Oh, nice,” they say. They seem one entity.
“And you” we ask. “Where are you from? What do you do?”
“We’re Edgar Casey followers,” they say. They pause. “Spiritualism. Reincarnation. Past lives.” They seem shyly defiant.
“Oh, wow!” we say. We assure them. We even ask if they will conduct a seance. No, they say. We are disappointed.
We are comfortable. The food is comfort, the tea sweet, the coffee warm. We get silly. We start virtual tweeting. We fall into our grooves, we ignore the spiritualists. we sip coffee, we laugh at ourselves.
At seven, dinner ends. We murmur politely again. We get up and leave.
Later, I think of the conversation we could have had.
The lobby at Wildacres has a large fireplace and lots of comfortable seating. The various groups of guests use the space to talk, to sit and read, to write. It is the place that “veterans” use to work on the projects that they will present on Saturday night.
We find chairs and footstools and spots of connectivity in the lobby with the glass windows overlooking the mountains. The air is warmer than usual, musty and damp. It is the air of the 1940s, of paneling and grandmothers.
We sit, we plug into computers, music, reading.
We open the doors to let in the cool mountain air. The group of spiritualists conducting a reading closes the door to keep the spirits in.
They begin scooping ashes out of the fireplace. Scrape, dump. The sound permeates the air before we identify the source. We read, they scrape. The ashes are scooped, they stack wood. The wood is stacked, they add newspaper, kindling, spark. The warmth is planned and deliberate.
They close the door. We sit near the hearth.
The rooms at Wildacres are plain but comfortable, and all have a lovely view of the mountains or trees. The food is always exceptional and served family-style at round tables. The library has tall, sloping ceilings and walls of windows and is the place that the sessions for WAC rookies always took place with Gayle.
We sit at lunch and pick at hominey salad. Stolidness eventually dissolves into giggles.
“What exactly do students mean when they say they are ‘talking’ to a boy?” we ask. We laugh like schoolgirls.
We pass chicken and buns and salad and stories. Outside, the rain falls, gathering in puddles and streaming over the hills.
In the library, we use her handouts, her ideas, her words. We freewrite using her prompts. We read her sample assignments. We stamp our papers as she once did. We replicate.
We wonder if she is with us.
At night, the lobby becomes a gathering place. Our group always brings food and wine and tells stories around the fireplace. In past years, those stories mainly came from Gayle, her booming laugh punctuating the funny bits, her arms flung wide as if to embrace us all in the narrative.
We tell her stories, but they aren’t ours. Without her, they are just facts and information, they aren’t really stories.
We toast her. We cry.
We hope that she is with us.
We hope that our tellings are a reading, that we can evoke her spirit by calling on her memory.
Nearby, the spiritualists murmur politely.