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A Stone's throw: Life on the mountain


Betty Stone



As long as I can remember, people have tended to retire in college communities. The attractions are obvious: intellectually stimulating environment, programs of interest, opportunity for continuing education, people. All of it makes for a vital social life. Although I have not been a part of the Oxford scene, I understand it is booming, not only with sports enthusiasts or retirees, but with a vibrant young population, as well. 


I do not hear as much about Starkville, probably because it is so close. It is not likely many Columbians would choose to retire in Starkville just for the University perks. It is too easy to commute. But Starkville does have many attractions, even those apart from the university: a good theater, excellent restaurants, a symphony. 


In addition, from my youth I have always known Starkville to have a great personality, where people were friendly and really liked each other. (I think towns, like schools or academic classes, have personalities just as much as individuals.) 


Even home, sweet home Columbus provides more opportunities, from both the W and the community, than we can handle: theater, music, art, enrichment classes. If you cannot find a way to enjoy life, you are either sick or it is your own fault. 


However, I have recently spent a weekend at another university community that enjoys a really amazing lifestyle. Sewanee, Tennessee, has, as far as I can tell, one traffic light. I do not know how large the local population is, but it is intricately woven into the fabric of the University of the South, an Episcopalian institution that is so physically beautiful you think there ought to be background music. 


Our oldest daughter opted to go to college there and, these many years later, has never really left for long, either emotionally or physically. She has converted her husband to the Sewanee mystique, and they have for years had a summer place there. Not only have they tightened ties to the locality, but so have many of their college friends who have bought property on the mountain to which they retreat as often as possible from many different directions. It is easy for a visitor to see why. 


Sewanee is a mountain town, much smaller than Oxford, Starkville or Columbus. Its nearest neighbor, Monteagle, might be larger with its well-known campgrounds, but it hardly qualifies as urban, either. That means, for students and for locals, they must devise their own entertainment, which they do -- in capital letters. 


My daughter says there are no "Hollywood" invitations there. You do not dare invite anyone to come by -- for coffee, drinks or dining -- if you don't mean it. They always accept. The beauty of it is that, contrary to many places, they reciprocate. There would be nothing to do otherwise. Restaurants are few. It is, for the most part, a servant-less society, but everyone pitches in. Many meals consist partly of what the guests have offered to bring. Friends pop in from time to time with delectable offerings of recipes they just doubled in order to share. Chances are they might stay for lunch when they come by. 


It seems amazing to me as a visitor. It is almost like an extended family or even -- do I dare use the word? -- a commune. Not in the political sense, I hasten to add. 


It is a free, fluid, active community, where someone might disappear for a while to hike one of the scenic trails, or friends have an open invitation to drop by for a swim, and do. The family dog, a German Shepherd, has appointed himself official lifeguard and takes his responsibility very seriously and, sometimes, noisily. 


My sister, her grandson, and I visited there the last week before her family had to leave for home. The Sewanee Writers' Conference and the Monteagle Crafts Fair and Home Tour were in progress; but, unbelievably, we were too busy to go. Or maybe our timing was just off. 


It is easy to understand why the mountain exerts such a pull. It provides not only a beautiful place, but a joy of living that is a powerful lodestone.


Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.


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