Flowers for the Immaculate Conception would often be grown on the deck you see here, which is in the farthest West of Western North Carolina, but Fran, who had the green thumb, just died at 90 years old, and Charles, here in silhouette, clocking in at 95, a highly decorated WWII Vet, is more given to heavy machinery to keep the bigger picture viable.
Charles is moving to Florida today, a sad day for the parish. He was one of the founding members so very long ago. I dare say that Charles is a symbol of what are now the changing demographics of this parish. He retired out of the Military with secrets he still cannot tell and, after his kids were grown up, moved here, building his own house on an impossibly remote mountain top, surviving many more decades to tell the story. So, no more kids, who themselves were elsewhere. The fad to move here and build a cabin was fairly short lived, perhaps only twenty years or so. And that was it. These “foreigners” as the locals call them no matter how long they’ve lived here get older and die or move away.
Much of that happened when I arrived at the parish. I hunted everyone down on the sick list and got them the sacraments and, when that happened, so very many of them up and died. They had been waiting. We had I think seven times as many funerals in my first year in the parish than were had in the parish since it was founded in 1962. To send people off to heaven was one of my greatest joys in the priesthood. It was also a huge challenge, for it was a two and half hour drive just to get to the parish before heading off on the hunt.
There has been an influx of “Latino” parishioners mostly from Mexico. They have lots of kids but their fate in the United States is an unknown at the moment. Their presence especially in Andrews will either make or break the parish. It’s true that Robbinsville picks up in the Summer when people come to visit their cabins, or walk the Appalachian Trail (this is AT country), or go wild-boar or bear hunting, or try their skills on the Nantahala Gorge World Kayaking Championship white waters, or whatever. But the winter can bring the number of people in church on Sunday to 11, or 7, or none. Other parishes count families. We count people.
If we’re in silhouette mode right now, that’s O.K. We’re all in exile in this world wherever we are in this world, for while we are here we are away from our heavenly homeland, where we so very much yearn to be. Amen.