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HERB BENHAM: Welcome to my home

We were on our way to Fancy Gap — yes, that's the name, you may or may not want to Google it — and we were lost having taken a detour.

"I'm not sure how to get back on the Blue Ridge Parkway," said Sue the navigator and chief itinerary officer.

We spotted a woman with auburn-colored hair across the road in front of her house and she spotted us at the same time. We've learned that Southerners can't stand to see anybody lost. It's almost a personal affront and if you're lost, at least they don't want you to be friendless too.

"Can I ask you a question?" I yelled across the road as we walked toward each other. The answer was, of course, yes.

I explained our confusion and she started to give directions that included "catching a little itty bitty road down the way" and then she said, "It'll be easier just to drive you there," motioning to her Jeep and for a minute I thought she might drive us there and then give us her car.

"Follow me, it's only a mile."

A mile? If it wasn't three miles I am a white squirrel and 15 minutes later she led us to this itty bitty road that we would have never found. She had now gone 30 minutes out of her way.

"Do you drink wine?" I asked because we had six or so bottles in the car, packed because I didn't know if parts of the South were still dry or if they were as soused as the rest of the country.

"No, I don't,'' she said, with a North Carolina Blue Ridge twang that sounded like mountain music.


Maybe friendliness comes with people having a front porch. It seems like everybody in the South has one and front porches breed friendliness.

The most spectacular front porches were in Charleston, S.C., and if that wasn't enough they had side porches too. I've never seen so many; if a house was three stories high, they'd have three porches. Their porches had porches.

I also have never seen such a concentration of beautiful homes. I like Bakersfield, and we have some attractive houses and neighborhoods but Charleston makes Bakersfield look like a teardown. As Buck Owens used to say, in jest because he had more money than anybody, "If I had your money, I'd burn mine."

If you have a house in Charleston, your family could live there and you could see them when you wanted but when people wore out, they could retreat to their wing and you to yours and then you could reconvene next Thanksgiving.


Along with the porches and spectacular houses in Charleston, we noticed lots of "Hiring" signs in store, bar and restaurant windows. That was true everywhere we went. Everybody is looking for employees.


The reference to white squirrels wasn't exactly random based on our visit with Keith and Gena Hawk, our former neighbors who used to live on 21st and Pine and who now live in Brevard, N.C., just about as pretty a place as any we'd seen. Keith asked us if we'd seen a white squirrel yet.

White squirrel? Is that like seeing a Southern leprechaun or a smaller version of Bigfoot?

When I shook my head both to convey skepticism as well as "No, we haven't," Keith said, "And they're not albinos either."

If they existed, the idea of a white squirrel was more palatable than the masses of brown squirrels we have on the bike path that seem to have no natural predators outside of bike wheels.

I wondered what the punchline was and when he might let the greenhorn in on the joke.

A few minutes later a white squirrel ran across their front lawn and scampered up a poplar tree. We could use some of those along with Gena's home cooking, which we miss.

Her cooking and their graciousness. Keith's Southern, from Brevard, and she might as well be. The night we were there they took us to an Argentinian asado barbecue at friends who live on the French Broad River. These people can hardly get together without music.

James and Tricia Johnson and Rob and Beth Mangum played the mandolin, guitar, stand-up bass and a fiddle. They had plenty of good bluegrass in their repertoire but they played "Streets of Bakersfield" and "Mama Tried," because they wanted to welcome us. Make us feel comfortable. It was hard not to be.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.