A couple of weeks ago Ron and I went to the big Farmer’s Market in Asheville for the annual herb sale, and after just a short while, we were fumbling around trying to carry our tiny plant purchases. At the end of the long rows of plants and plant sellers stood a woman who could be a stunt double for Granny Clampett. She was selling bags she had made from recycled feed sacks and vinyl. At first I pooh-poohed the bags, thinking they were like those flimsy things you can buy at Whole Foods for $1.00. I already have a pile of those and I never remember to bring them into the shops in spite of signs in the Whole Foods parking lot reminding shoppers not to forget their Eco_Bags, or whatever they call them now.
Because we were juggling and dropping our recent plant purchases, though, I took a harder look at them. Once I looked more closely I realized that her bags were nothing like those crummy supermarket bags. These bags were sturdy and roomy. They were fully lined with fabric, had outside pockets, and reinforced seams and handles.
The next step was to peruse the many sizes and shapes of these wonders. We settled on a bag fashioned to hold one of those Ingles’ milk cartons. We loaded the bag with our flats and six-packs of plants and were delighted that the flat bottom accommodated the plants without letting them fall on top of each other. In addition, the long straps allowed Ron to carry the bag comfortably on his shoulder. I looked on admiringly, my hands now free to grab more baby plants.
The following weekend we went to the Black Mt. tailgate market and I remembered to bring the bag from the car. It was perfect for carrying the strawberries and micro-greens and other fragile purchases without crushing the delicate food. Mid-week I took the bag into Hopey’s and found it the perfect size for my purchases and easy to wrestle into the way-back of the car because of the long straps. The next day I pulled out the card I had gotten from Granny C and called her up to order some bags for the shop. She was really nice and told me to come by her house to pick them up. I agreed and we set the date. She warned me, though, “My house is kinda hard to find. Folks get lost.” (Key the music from Deliverance.)
Her house is in Pensacola, NC, right outside of Cattail. Both are about twenty minutes in the wilderness outside Burnsville, which is pretty remote as far as I am concerned. Because I am hopelessly urban I was scared to go alone, so I enlisted my friend Nancy Byrd to go with me and hold my hand.
We met at the Burnsville Ingles, which was crazy crowded, but Nancy saw me coming in my Golden Chariot and waved me over. Siri did a fine job of directing us to the bottom of a mountain in Pensacola near Mt. Mitchell. The road we had reached was Sharp Top Mt. Rd., and Siri apparently felt her work was done at that point, because she cut out and wouldn’t help any more. I didn’t have a street number for Granny C, and all I had to go on was, “Pass two mobile homes and a cabin, and I’m next to it.”
After about forty yards the rutted paving stopped and the road became a narrow goat path tilting up at a steep pitch. Nancy and I passed a series of trailers and shacks, which might have been termed cabins by someone who wasn’t addicted to HGTV House Hunters, as I am. We passed a scary graveyard and came to a fork in the road. Neither direction seemed like a road, but more seemed to be like two roads diverging in a yellow wood. And because I was unwilling to travel both and be one traveller, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could. I didn’t want to make the mistake of taking the one less travelled by, so I picked up the phone and dialed Granny’s phone number. Of course I had no service in that remote place, so even though we were sure we had already passed the mysterious dwelling of Granny C, we revved the engine and climbed higher in my frisky little car.
The road became narrower and steeper, and I grew concerned that I would never be able to turn around and would become an inadvertent resident of Pensacola. Suddenly, around a hairpin curve, a tumbledown farm materialized in front of us. We were chased by dogs and chickens as we drove into the yard. Standing there just staring at us blankly was a man in overalls. We waved gaily, but he continued to stare. Nancy braved the dogs, chickens and the solemn man and walked across the yard where he stood his ground. Did he know Nina Boone, Granny’s other name? He didn’t speak but just pointed up. I wasn’t sure if he was saying that she was dead and had gone to heaven, or if she lived farther up the mountain. We decided to go for the latter and navigated some rutted switchbacks as we ascended.
We passed several other residences that might have been inhabited and got to a double wide which was apparently the end of the long road. The front door was standing open so Nancy ventured across the yard to the door and lo and behold we had arrived in the right place. Unbelievable.
The place was crammed with bags both completed and in the works without a place to sit or set anything down. Even the bathroom, which I needed immediately, was full of bags. Nina had divided the bags by size and by the type of animal on the feedbag, and I went wild stacking bags on top of bags until I had amassed a good selection. I couldn’t wait to leave, though, because it was claustrophobic in there, filled as it was with plastic and cigarette fumes, but nonetheless Nina informed us that she leaves her land no more than once a month to restock ”stuff like eggs.” I asked why she didn’t just get some from her neighbor, and she scoffed at the idea. “I ain’t paying six dollars a dozen for so-called organic eggs! What do you think I am? Made of money??” Clearly not, but she had gotten a sizable check from me.
As we left with the loot, we noticed a line of hay bales lined up against the front of the place. Little plants were emerging from these bales and we became curious. Nina explained that you can, as she had, plant flowers and vegetables right into the hay bales, fertilize and water them, and then watch them flourish. As the hay rots, it feeds the plants, and then “you have you some mulch.” Nice idea!
We said farewell to Nina, and she encouraged me to return soon for more bags. Thank God Nancy offered to make the return trip for me when the time came, as I had no plans to ascend that craggy mountain again. We returned to Burnsville for lunch and I wished more than ever that my month-long abstinence from alcohol were finished. and I could down a glass of wine.
But now I have the bags! They really are great, so stop by to get some. I know you will love them.