It was Friday evening in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, and I was following the lead of the friend with whom I was staying. He had been right to recommend the weekly Drum Circle in Pritchard Park. After driving in from barbeque at Luella’s, we had joined the crowd in the dark surrounding the drummers, my friend instinctively swaying with the rhythms and occasionally rubbing against me.
Walking afterwards, we passed other musicians, small tour groups standing on street corners, children running around a city fountain. When my friend asked whether I wanted to go past the Thomas Wolfe House, I figured proximity was in our favor. It was a favorite site that I had toured on two other visits to Asheville decades earlier. The old boarding house was down a quiet street, the only rambling Victorian structure left in a neighborhood of office buildings and restaurants.
The porch that wrapped around the front and side of the house reminded me of chapters in Look Homeward, Angel. The boarders visiting the mountain health resort used to spend evenings rocking on that porch, sometimes engaging the Wolfe brothers and sister in conversation late into the night.
When the house was open to tourist visits during the day, I used to cross the porch without thinking and head straight for the front door. Friday night I could see that the house was closed, but it seemed someone might actually just walk up the front yard path, climb the steps and enjoy the view from the porch the way the boarders used to. There were rockers and even a porch swing in view, but I could barely believe they would not be chained in place for security.
I checked every sign on the lawn. Nothing warned of alarms. Could I really do this? Could I really just go up the steps? Could I have this pleasure to myself? Could I really enjoy something just by going up to it and being there? Could I really have what I wanted?
A wary adult self was not sure, but I looked at my friend. “Let’s go,” I said.
In no time I was on the porch swing, still startled by the sheer luck of it – a place on the porch for me and for the friend with me.
I told him, “This is where Tom and his brother Ben used to sit in the evenings.”
My friend had already driven me a few days earlier to sprawling Riverside Cemetery. We had stood in a light intermittent rain next to the Wolfe family plot. We easily located Tom’s marker. It took a while to find the low stone where Ben is buried next to his twin brother Grover.
A little while later the rain had let up. My friend filled his pipe and lit it. I recalled having wanted to get here from the first days of planning the Asheville visit.
Three days later I was on the porch swing. I had not planned on anything just like this.
Sometimes you just go, though.