[Editor’s Note: This continues a series of guest essays by people hailing from Alexander County, telling in their own words why they love to live, work, and play in Alexander. We hope to bring these to readers on a monthly basis. Essays are reviewed by a committee from the Promote Alexander County group: Gary Herman, Laura Crooks, and Micah Henry.]
By EMILY KILLIAN
“From the Brushy Mountain splendor, to the lake shore–calm, serene;”
When asked to write this essay and ponder what it is that makes Alexander County so special to me, the first words that came to mind were lyrics from Alexander Central High School’s alma mater. Geographically speaking, Alexander Countians have it all: mountains that stretch and climb and roll; a river that winds and flows and connects us with our Carolinian neighbors; a lake that hosts crowds on summer days and a brave few on chilly winter mornings. I only regret that it took leaving to realize the magic of this place.
I spent four wonderful years in Tallahassee, Florida, as a student at Florida State University. I think I learned more about who I am and my roots than I did in any class I took while there (sorry, Dr. Merle). For starters, our weather here is perfect. We should not take for granted that we are able to experience all four seasons–the sweltering heat of summer, the crisp chill of autumn, the delicate cold of a snowy winter, and the dampness of a spring that will help our flowers bloom.
Each year I was away, I would try my very best to make it home for the annual Apple Festival, as autumn in North Carolina is my favorite and apples are a daily staple in my diet. If you have not yet tried a cherry lemonade, you must prioritize it for next year’s festival (which will undoubtedly be the third Saturday in October). That is another thing I love about Alexander County: the events made possible by an involved and connected community.
Football Friday nights. Apple and Apple Blossom Festivals. The Annual Christmas Parade. Robin’s Run. Relay for Life. Chances are you know what each of these events is if you dwell in our county. The significance of these events is the unity it fosters in our community. I could search the world over and I doubt I would find a place where residents are more likely to rally to support a cause than we are here in Alexander County. Whether it is a 5k community run, a pep rally at the high school, benefit meals hosted at local churches, Alexander Countians step up to the plate when neighbors are in need. I hope this is something that will continue in perpetuity.
Speaking of perpetuity– I jumped at the chance to write this essay for several reasons, the main one being that my grandfather worked for this publication. The special, full-circle aspect of writing for a publication that once featured photographs taken by my grandfather is not lost on me. As soon as this prints, I plan to take him a copy and show him this essay. I am sure that I am not the only one in this community who feels strong familial ties to the area. The six degrees of separation is a phenomenon that suggests all people are six social connections away from one another. I would argue that in Alexander County, it might be two degrees at maximum. In a working world where networking is everything, our residents are at an advantage. As someone who has spent the majority of her life answering to “Coach Killian’s daughter,” I understand that the backbone of this county is connecting the dots between who you know and who you have yet to meet. No one stays a stranger for long in our town.
Another exciting thing to consider is that the county has grown so much. Those who know me know I am passionate about fitness and wellness. A fear I had when returning from college was that the workout modalities to which I had grown accustomed would no longer be available to me. I was particularly concerned about finding spaces to continue my yoga practice and put my indoor cycling instructor experience to use. One year later and I have found my home with One Love Yoga and am elated to begin teaching with a new studio in Bethlehem called Beats, Barre + Bike, which will open on November 5. Since graduating high school, a brewery and an ice cream parlor have been added as options for entertainment in our small hamlet. At the root of these new business openings and industry growth is a shared desire: make our community a better place to live. Whether it is by emphasizing healthy lifestyles, providing a safe space for gathering with friends, or celebrating the diversity in our community, we have made great strides forward and I hope, with time, these strides will become even greater.
After graduating college, I was convinced that I was going to go out into the world and force good into it. I worried that returning to such a small place would limit my capacity to change the world. I could not have been more wrong. In a small town like ours, change is made on an individual level and can be seen as it ripples throughout the community. This is unique to a small place and is something at which we should marvel. How cool it is that we can put positive things into this community and watch them blossom into powerful change?
I hope that at the very least, my words have reminded you of the things you find special about this place. I regret that it took leaving for me to realize that Alexander County, North Carolina, is a beautiful place that taught me and provided me everything I need to be successful in my adult life. To the places and people I hold dear here–thank you for making this my home.