Take a Wellness Weekend

How a simple vacation can inspire joy, happiness and a positive attitude.

Posted in , Mar 29, 2011

Rest, relaxation and renewal

It was a Thursday afternoon and my sister, Susan, and I were driving around the mountain town of Walhalla, South Carolina, population 3,500.

Raindrops splashed on the windshield and my mind flashed back to all the work that wasn’t getting done at home. Maybe I should have brought my laptop after all.

“Look!” Susan exclaimed. “Antiques.” She pointed to a cluster of old factory buildings on the edge of town that had been converted to shops.

“Let’s stop.”

I parked close to the metal overhang and we dashed inside, deafened by the sound of the spring rain pelting the tin roof. “Doesn’t it remind you of Grandma Keith’s farmhouse? Remember how we used to sleep upstairs right under the tin roof?” Susan asked.

“Yes, and I’ll never forget that sagging old featherbed,” I said, and all at once amidst the ladder-back chairs and faded mahogany end tables, the rusty wagon wheels and stacks of old books, we were a million miles away from nagging to-do lists.

This was our time together, 24 hours to stroll down an old-fashioned Main Street, to drop into shops, to linger over tea, to visit with people who always had time to chat. It wasn’t a trip to a crowded resort or a stay at a fancy spa. No traffic jams, no “organized activities,” no lines at must-see destinations. It was just another one of our perfect small-town getaways.

Susan and I started this tradition a couple years back when we were dealing with the demands of our dad’s care. I lived outside Atlanta and she lived 150 miles away near Greenville, South Carolina, and whenever we got together it was all about insurance forms and bills and stress. “We need to take a break,” I said one time. But how? Susan worked most weekends and I didn’t like to be away from my family for long.

“Let’s find a bed-and-breakfast in some small town halfway between you and me,” I suggested. After a night in a gracious turn-of-the-century inn and then breakfast in front of a beautiful tile fireplace, we were hooked. Now we got away together every few months, always in a small town where we could go for long walks and eat, talk and shop.

At this tin-roofed shop in Walhalla, Susan bargained for a scratched side table that she wanted to glam up with gold paint. The shopkeeper maneuvered it into my car. We headed to the Oconee Belle inn, a two-story white clapboard house with rocking chairs on the front porch and a huge red front door. The innkeeper, Vanessa, greeted us. “You’re our
very first guests,” she said. She took us up the tall center stairwell bathed in the warm glow of a stained-glass window. We chose the Mountain Laurel room for its bay window and claw-foot bathtub.

Vanessa recommended several restaurants in town for dinner. “Let’s go for the one with homemade desserts,” Susan said. We were a little discouraged when we didn’t see a single car in the parking lot and then found that there wasn’t a soul in the dining room. Just as we were about to escape, a woman came through the kitchen door, wiping her hands on her apron. “Guess the rain kept everybody home,” she said cheerfully. We sat in a booth and ordered, not expecting much.

How wrong we were. The quesadilla appetizer turned out to be a dinner-size portion dripping with cheese, and the apple cake had a melt-in-your-mouth cream-and-caramel sauce. We were so stuffed that we couldn’t even eat the chocolates Vanessa left on our pillows that night back at the inn. The next morning we had a breakfast feast of fresh fruit, local jam, muffins, thick bacon, eggs and grits with real butter.

After that we definitely needed a bit of exercise, so we strolled down a sidewalk lined with charming cottages, their front porches cozied up with ferns and rockers. Susan and I turned the corner. There stood a white clapboard chapel with a small steeple sweeping up from its gable. “Let’s go inside,” I said. I walked up the steps and tugged on the door. Locked.

Just then a woman bustled up. “Are you here for the service?” she asked. “It starts at nine-thirty. We have to share a priest with another church and we only have daily mass on Fridays.”

Susan and I sat down on velvet pew cushions, admiring the beautifully carved white ceiling trusses and the Easter floral arrangement. The organist played a familiar hymn and Susan and I sang, our voices blending perfectly. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed being with my sister in church and hearing her sing. When was the last time we’d been able to worship together? How wonderful to stumble on this once-a-week service at exactly the right time!

It was like every visit we’ve made to a small town, full of unexpected delights, long soaks in bathtubs, leisurely meals where we were the only guests, flea-market finds and uninterrupted time together, talking, singing and saying our bedtime prayers. These mini-vacations are always a Godsend. All it takes is a little planning, not much money and the willingness to go off the beaten path. For 24 hours I set aside my to-do list and savor the simple joys of being with my sister.

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