Sheila Mobley and daughter Nicole have found new lives in Roanoke and at Hollins.
This moving thing feels familiar. This last time it was leaving drenching humidity of Sarasota, Fla. to move to pristine Roanoke, where my daughter Nicole would attend Hollins University. There was getting rid of the things that I wouldn’t want to be caught dead with, just in case. And the usual fake cheer – “it’s going to be fun exploring a new town!” – when really I was dreading all the emotions of packing. I was also sad to be leaving my parents behind.
Finally, after a three-month process of downsizing, we made the drive some 800 miles, with three howling cats in tow. We reluctantly arrived here after two days, with one hailstorm-cracked windshield and one near-death experience with a semi-truck.
But some of the greatest times come from the simplest and least-anticipated moments. Our first week was spent family-camp-style, sleeping on air mattresses and eating on the floor as we awaited the arrival of the moving van. The cats appreciated the arrival of the boxes and the huge maze and playhouse created for them, each claiming the highest box to scour for treasures being unloaded. It literally took one month to find my living room. Piece by piece the gridlock cleared as each item found its way to its new home.
“Mom, I found the coffee mugs, they were in with my underwear!” Nicole said.
“Of course they were,” I yelled down the hall.
Then I found the passport photos that we had needed to get her a new passport. They were in the mixing bowls, of course, right next to the spices!
Welcome to Roanoke! The town with plenty of churches and long traffic lights that allow ample time for prayer. Land where the grass truly is greener, in more ways than I would have imagined, although I did have a few early lessons to learn:
- I walked right past my own car many times because I wasn’t used to seeing a license plate on the front of the car.
- I chased a tow truck down the street with my car on it because I had parked somewhere I shouldn’t have. Only the locals would have known better.
- I learned that no amount of rain can wash off zebra slime – something to bear in mind when going to the drive through Safari Park zoo up near Lexington.
- Most importantly, I learned to never, ever use your GPS when going to visit someone on Bent Mountain unless you have a strong heart and four-wheel drive.
But there was also much better news. From the first weekend here, my daughter and I have become fans of the numerous festivals in Elmwood Park in downtown Roanoke. We had our first family photo taken there at the India Festival, dressed in traditional clothing from the theme nation, which we proudly framed and sent home to relatives. We have enjoyed many other festivals there from concerts to the Local Colors event, which to us represents the true Roanoke, a cultural melting pot of truly good souls. My daughter even went on to volunteer with local refugees from Bhutan. This, she states, has changed her life for the better.
I remember the feeling when I was driving through downtown Salem and saw a woman pushing an old-fashioned baby carriage while licking an ice cream cone: It was like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell print.
And I love going to the post office, where it’s a social hour with everyone else in line. And a man in this town would never, ever think of not opening a door for you, or walking in front of you. Roanoke feels like how people must have behaved when my parents were growing up, something I had not been familiar with in Florida, where snobs run abundant.
The kindness of the people here has taken me aback every day. All ages and races. They have made me feel so welcomed. I joined a local movie group with the kindest, most accepting people I had ever met. Through this group I met the best friend of my life, who introduced me to the greatest man I have ever met. My friend Kay hosted a dinner at her home for Dirk and me. As we three sat holding hands at the dining table, with a bay-window view of the beautiful hills in the Cave Springs area, she expressed her thanks for our wonderful friendship until we all had tears in our eyes. It was the kind of warmth that you feel watching a Hallmark movie.
Kay and I have enjoyed exploring restaurants, sharing a tent and a bonfire on Bent Mountain and appreciating many lazy Sundays floating on rafts at Smith Mountain Lake. She, like most everyone I meet in Roanoke, is from Florida, strange as it may seem. Even two of my co-workers are from the same city I lived in, and one went to my high school! Everyone from my hair dresser to the taxi driver I once used here, and many in between, all came from Sarasota. I am not sure what the universe was trying to tell me other than this was to be my new home.
The change of seasons brought new appreciation for the beauty of the surrounding mountains. From getting stuck in the car wash when the water turned to ice and being pushed out by a total stranger, to having someone give me some traction device to put on my shoes so I could walk better on ice – people here truly have a heart.
Mom and Dad came to visit this past summer, and I enjoyed exploring even further and showing them my own slice of heaven. We shared a lovely meal and hike at The Peaks of Otter, not to mention sampling 32 different types of wine from the winery – from what I can remember anyway! We also had fun exploring the science museum and farmer’s market in downtown Roanoke with them, as well as cooling off in Dixie Caverns.
Of course no tour would be complete without a trip to the star on Mill Mountain. I wanted my parents to see every reason why I love this place – from the rivers to the hills and every house and building in between. It was almost as if we were outside looking into the looking glass.
Now, with year two of college under way and things looking bright, I can only say that this town feels right as we create new lives along the twisting Blue Ridge roads. For me, it’s been a great adventure where every day feels like I am still a tourist. I am always anxious to see what lies around the next corner, or in this case, the next mountain! My list of still-to-dos includes hiking one of the many knobs on the Appalachian Trail, catching a movie at the old Grandin Theatre and taking some writing classes at Native Grace on Market Street.
I love the idea that I can do anything I want. This town is open to anything. That is why I have opened my heart to Roanoke.