Surprise, indeed!


Dear Readers: Consider the meaning of the word “surprise.” In its purest form, it means “something unexpected.” As I continue to enlighten you of the surprise trips my husband Bill and I exchange for our birthdays, let me just forewarn you that this chronicle of Bill’s birthday, which I planned, gives a bolder and more expanded definition to the word.

But let me begin at the beginning. The challenge of planning this particular trip for Bill’s surprise trip had to fit into several requirements. It could only be for five days, it should be relatively local and it needed to be reached by car. The dilemma swirled in my head until I had a conversation with a dear friend who told me about a place in Sugar Grove, Virginia, site of Burke’s Garden, also known as “God’s Thumbprint,” located in Tazewell County along the famous Appalachian Trail.

Hmm. “God’s Thumbprint.” That just oozes surprise, don’t you think? And how could I go wrong with God on my side. But now, a confession. I had just the slightest little “worry tick” that kept nagging at me like a gnat. But I quickly shuffled that pesky feeling aside and began planning. 

First, I booked accommodations at the “Kozy Cabin.” It looked tempting for an ideal little getaway, so off we went, over hill and dale to blend with nature’s beauty and have a more rustic experience than usual. Well…

After a day on scenic byways, we arrived at our destination and were met by our host. But where’s the cabin? “Oh, it’s up on that hill,” he informed us. A steeeep hill. He told us that the cabin would come into view as we ascended what was a clay ski slope that could probably eat an SUV but was completely unfriendly to our two-wheel-drive sedan. After slipping and siding, we resorted to walking, rather plodding, up the hill with our host. (The worry gnats were swirling.)

Big surprise awaited: a very small cabin, heated by an open wood fireplace, with a kitchen area smaller than my bedroom closet at home. And twin beds.

“I don’t think this will work for us,” I told our host. I think he was ready for that reaction because he immediately offered us alternate accommodations at a house on his property that he rented to travelers. “We’ll take it,” I enthusiastically replied.

Now, dear readers, back to the word “surprise.” The house was apparently available to hikers who would stay for a night or two, purchase foodstuffs from the nearby general store, and then abandon whatever they didn’t eat or use. Picture, then, a sprawling house that had been added on to many times but with no particular plan. Bedrooms, a bathroom, laundry room, an office and a wrap-around porch, all heavily laden with a conglomerate of furniture from the 40s, 50s and 60s. The industrial kitchen provided a stainless steel chest-high table with two wooden stools, over which pots and pans were hanging like stalactites from an overhead rack. The pantry was full of cans and leftover food supplies. Our host told us to help ourselves to anything edible. I told Bill to touch nothing!

While my engineer husband examined the architecture and construction, I busied myself in the laundry room washing all the towels, sheets and linens to at least make our first night tolerable. 

We spent our first day sightseeing, driving through the mountains on two-lane roads with hairpin turns to find God’s Thumbprint (ahem), and I must say Burke’s Garden in Amish country was worth the anguish. It occupied 11 very scenic miles of the Appalachian Trail with its unique geographical formation, making this circular valley take on a supernatural aura.

Darkness comes quickly in the mountains. By 8 p.m. we had retired, as the nightlife there…well. At 3 a.m. Bill informed me that the power was out. No heat, no lights, pitch black. Bill retrieved extra blankets so we snuggled in until 7 a.m. when we heard a knock-knock-knock at the door and our host announced, “The power is out.” He hooked us to a generator with enough heat to stay mobile as we dressed for the day. And yet more surprises: all restaurants and eateries were closed until after church time. Where were we??

We eventually found an open restaurant near the Interstate where we breakfasted, laughing at our adventures, and when we visited a local winery that afternoon I wanted to drink right out of the bottle. 

Monday morning it was bye-bye time. By then I was ready to be home, in my own little Kozy Cabin on the river, but much to my delight Bill raved about the experience. He likened it to when, as a child, he’d visit his uncle’s farm in Bertie County, North Carolina, where the house was heated by a wood stove which was also used for cooking, and water was supplied by a nearby natural spring, and of course, there was an outhouse.

If birthdays are supposed to be surprises, this one took the cake and the candles. But if Bill loved it, so did I. And I must confess that of all our
adventures, we have probably had more giggles with this one than any other. The thing is—I must convince Bill that no repeat performance is necessary. I know how: throughout the house I will begin leaving brochures of Paris, Rome, Madrid, Athens—you get the point. 

About Sylvia Weinstein Craft 25 Articles
Sylvia Weinstein Craft, as publisher and editor, has been cutting her teeth on printer’s ink for 35 years and enjoying every issue of it. What began as an 8½ x 11 quarterly has grown to a 24-plus page tabloid with a monthly distribution of 9,000 in almost 200 Peninsula locations. Sylvia is most proud of her dedicated designers, writers, photographers and other important team members who make this industry fun. Most of all, she is quick to express her appreciation to the advertisers and readers who make it possible for her to love her work.

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