Falling in Love off the Beaten Path

The Country Squire Inn and Restaurant between Kenansville and Warsaw, North Carolina.    Article originally published in Life in the Third Degree.

In the summer of 2003, I took Shannon with me on a road trip, just the two of us. She was at an important age, going into the eighth grade, which in my own history was the threshold for beginning to understand things as an adult. Too many “grown-ups” don’t seem to remember their youth, and that’s unfortunate for both their children and themselves. Too many of my colleagues tell me they can’t/don’t/won’t talk with their kids because, well, they’re teenagers, as if being in different phases of life excuses their lack of interest in their kids’ minds and emotions. I was determined not to be the distant parent.

I had recently received my Second Degree Elevation within my church organization and was driving “up North” to attend their annual spiritual retreat. This gave me a chance to bond with my new teen and to explore the rural lowlands of North Carolina in the hopes of finding answers to a particular genealogical mystery.

Our trip lasted ten days, with the second half spent camping in the woods with Mom’s very cool friends with tattoos, pentacles, and Goth skirts, and then driving straight home for 19 hours, with a brief stop in Carrollton, Georgia, to get directions from an angel—but that’s another story. By the time we reached home, my daughter had a much better understanding of Mom and vice-versa, and I wouldn’t trade that time together for anything.

The first half of the trip was a little more awkward. We left on a Sunday afternoon, simply because we couldn’t get everything together quickly enough and my ex wasn’t terribly happy about my taking a trip without him. I’d considered inviting him, except that he had only disdain for my spirituality and also I needed to know that I could made a road trip on my own. I needed that burst of self-confidence that comes with a cross-country adventure where you know you’ll find your way if you get lost and that you can take care of yourself. We did.

The first day, I drove for nine hours or more—a grand feat for someone who feared her ancient back injury would make the road hard, but after the first day, the stresses of home and the work world lifted and so did my soreness. My daughter and I discussed every shallow subject we could think of, and we were starting to get into deeper waters.

By the time we’d crossed parts of Alabama and then every detour in the bowels of Middle Georgia, it was well into darkness and dreary weather and we were on the outskirts of Augusta, Georgia. I was exhausted and wanted the first hotel we could find. Unfortunately, we could find only a few hotels along the road. The next morning, we discovered that our road merged with a new highway lined with beautiful, clean, sparkling hotels…about a mile from where we ended up.

When my ex and the kids and I had traveled on vacations and business trips, we’d always stayed in “nice” hotels. Even though the hotel was a well-known chain where I’d had good luck before, that first night of our trip was a new experience for my daughter.

I paid the bill through a mouse-hole in a glass-and-barred window, and the disgruntled woman on the other side slid me a bent key. Our room was on the second floor, for which I was grateful, considering the shadows lurking in the parking lot. Our room had a door that closed all the way but was a little lopsided. I pushed a chair underneath the door knob and braced it with other furniture and suitcases.

The phone in the room didn’t work. Well, actually it did, but you had to wait for the other hotel guests to hang up first. The sign outside the hotel boasted microwaves and refrigerators in the suites, but the ones in our room had been torn out, with the wires still dangling. To top it off, the room was infested with roaches. I considered sleeping the car, but I was too afraid of the crazy old white dude hanging out in the parking lot.

We went to bed early and got up at the crack of dawn and left as quickly as possible, laughing about it after we reached a safe distance away. Then our conversations took a deeper tone and we really got to know each other.

We crossed South Carolina in a few hours, faster than we’d planned for, and by noon, we’d reached our ancestral lands in North Carolina. We spent most of the day comparing modern roads with maps from 1810 and digging through courthouse records. Along the way, we saw a beautiful bed-and-breakfast inn that called to us. We’d purposely not made hotel accommodations for the trip so that we could set our own schedule and stay where we wanted…and this place, we wanted—badly.

Several times during the day, we stopped by to see if we could get a room for the night, but no one answered the door. We called the number on the sign, but all we got was a message to leave our name and number. Since my cell phone had just died, we had to make our calls from a phone booth.

About an hour from dark, we tried one last time. We so wanted to spend the night there. We’d read their pamphlet’s description of the rooms for rent, we’d walked around the grounds, we’d admired the shade trees and gardens. We had our hearts set on spending the night there. But when darkness was coming and we still couldn’t get an answer, we gave up. There weren’t other lodgings in town, so we left, dejected. We would have to drive an hour out of our way to find a place to sleep.

Life in the Third DegreeOn a road “less traveled,” a road in the middle of the proverbial nowhere, we saw a sign for an “old inn” and stopped at an unusual Tudor-style building. We found a sign on the door that said to come next door to the restaurant if we wanted a room, so we parked the car and followed a stone path through a courtyard to a second building. When we walked inside, our eyes had to adjust to the dimness of a room with a huge wooden chandelier, candles, and enough Medieval-style décor to make my heart jump!

Because we hadn’t stayed at the pretty little inn in town, we’d happened onto a Medieval-style restaurant and inn that normally catered to bus tours from the coast but opened on certain week nights for the locals. We had a wonderful time there that night and, over candlelight, we kept marveling about what an incredible find we’d stumbled upon. If we’d settled for what we thought we wanted, we never would have had our heart’s desire.

I’ve seen the lesson of that evening applied many times since, but most recently in regard to relationships with men. Sometimes you can find one in a well-known area with a well-known name and discover he’s infested inside and flanked by shadows. And sometimes, you can find one who’s attractive, interesting, and seems to be everything you could want, but you just can’t get inside.

And sometimes, the real prize is off the beaten path—unusual and different, relishing being unique, a perfect match you didn’t dream existed. And one you never would have found if you’d made your home elsewhere.

Yeah, that’s where I want to sleep.

Article originally published in Life in the Third Degree, available for download now.