The Best Kind of Goodbye to Travelers Rest
by Celeste Hawkins | November 14, 2016
Two years ago, I started this blog with a post titled, simply, “No Wonder Travelers Rest Here.” Now, more than 45,000 words later, I’m saying goodbye. But not how you’d think.
Love at First Sight
I remember the very first moment I ever saw the town of Travelers Rest. How could I have guessed then, years ago, that it would steal my heart?
That it would grow to become one of the dearest places in the world to me.
That it would even feature as the celebrity of a website I would create just for it?
That earliest memory is grainy, unrefined. A college friend was driving, and as we came upon the old brick building at the intersection of Center Street, my eyes were opened to a Main Street of upcoming shops and restaurants.
Where did this little town come from? I wondered.
Apparently, I’d passed by the other side of it on Highway 25 at least a handful of times in my years in the area, never knowing it existed in its small town quaintness.
Now, I knew. This was maybe 2009.
And I was charmed.
And there were no take-backs.
In the timeline of our friendship, it was Leopard Forest Café next, when it was still housed in Swamp Rabbit’s Brewery stead. See, I was still in college at North Greenville University at the time; we hosted several reading events at the space and even unveiled our annual “The Mountain Laurel,” the school’s literary and art magazine, to a small crowd in a dimly lit room with tables, one mic, and the smell of coffee.
Then there were thrifting visits alone.
Then there were geocaching visits with friends, the first time I set foot on the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.
Then there were Saturday visits at lunchtime when my parents would come to visit from out of town.
These are my early images of Travelers Rest. Our first dates, you might say.
After school, I knew about as much as anyone can hope to know when entering the world: two things.
I wanted to stay in the area, and I wanted to write.
I decided to stay in Travelers Rest for the friends I’d made, for a boy I had a crush on (He became my husband.), for familiarity’s sake. Because of the area’s perfect position near up-and-coming cities and the beauty of the outdoors.
At that time, I knew little about my career, just that I wanted to write.
My first gig was as a contributor for “The Woodruff City Bulletin,” a little local paper for a city I didn’t even live in. I mostly wrote about summaries of council meetings and more national topics.
Time went on, and like most recent grads, I tried my hand at several different part-time and odd jobs, but always writing on the side.
After two years out of school, I earned a spot on the staff of “The Travelers Rest Tribune.” Through my time as a journalist, I met and interviewed the interesting people that make Travelers Rest what it is. I joined the Chamber of Commerce and met other business owners, too.
I fell more in love with our town and its people.
The Initial Idea
Three years ago, I began writing and editing for 10Best.com, a travel website that provides guides on hundreds of cities in the U.S. and across the globe.
When you visit each individual city guide, you can explore listings of the best restaurants, shops, hotels, and attractions in the city, as well as feature-length articles that give more detailed reviews of the destinations within the city.
And I liked the idea of being able to find all of this helpful info about what made a city visit-worthy all on one website, and I began to think maybe my town – Travelers Rest – could benefit from something like that. That I could be a travel writer who lived in a city called Travelers Rest.
That was the initial idea for TravelersRestHere.com.
So, here came the pitch. I was a self-employed freelance writer who wanted to write about my own town.
It was one of the scariest and bravest and best things I’ve done to date.
The City of TR took the pitch. They agreed to provide the initial funding for me to start working on the official travel website for my hometown.
One by one, I met the owners of our restaurants and storefronts and cozy inns and one-of-a-kind places and created business listings for them. I rounded every corner taking pictures. I started a blog, which wasn’t even part of the agreement.
I just wanted to make our town known, appreciated, successful.
Telling Your Stories
The last two years have been incredible. They’ve left a mark on me that I can’t erase. As both the owner and editor of the site, and also a contributor, I’ve met so many of the fascinating people of Travelers Rest and had the privilege of telling your stories.
I’ve met the mayor’s gardening wife. I’ve met the restaurateur who dared to turn her family’s cafe back into a place to be. I’ve learned about and met the ones who collect railroad memorabilia and hunt down ghosts and create instruments from scratch.
They’re some of the most down to earth people you could ever hope to meet, with stories you won’t soon forget.
Every minute has been a reward.
Let me stop generalizing for a moment and share one of them:
[box style=”1″]Winding roads in the backcountry of South Carolina feel archaic at moments. When you turn the bend and see a still-open general store, or clothes spread across a line to dry in an April afternoon, you can’t help but believe the car you’re riding in, a portal, has taken you back to an older age of the land.
And that’s just what I sense, as I pass through the uncharted territories northwest of Travelers Rest, a seafarer riding up, down, and up again on the grounded waves of road.
Farms to my left and right have covered their crops with shiny blankets, and their tenders poke around here and there, as if tucking in the loose edges. Cattle graze in green fields.
But when I arrive at the vineyard, it’s as if by accident. The chateau-inspired facade appears to have been misplaced from its origins in the French countryside, and dropped instead at the foot of the Upcountry’s mountains.
Even from the parking lot, the scenery won’t allow me to make my lunch reservation on time. Instead, I admire the nearby hills, close enough to reach and touch, I think to myself.
But I cannot touch them, so I choose second best. I frame the nearest hill into the left side of my camera’s viewfinder. A dirty road leads the eye right toward it; maybe they use the road to get from the other side of the parking lot to the vines growing up on the hill to my right.
Now, at least my memory can reach to the hills in the days to come.
Once inside, I see a semicircle of people straight ahead, gathered around a bar and drinking glasses of wine the way birds peck into soil, intermittent and open-eyed. There’s a general low chatter, and shoppers browse the gift shop filled with corkscrews, candles, and bottles of clear and red.
The hostess points me to the café’s menu, sprawled on a black chalkboard taller than me. She recommends a panini and wine tasting. I request the turkey and cheddar and then step out onto the cool of the terrace.
No one else is here. Only black wrought iron tables with seats for two or four. But they’ll come soon. Deviously, I choose a table one row in from right against the patio’s edge.
And I was right. An older couple, two wines each, saunters over to the front row and takes a seat. They talk low and seem free of cares. But they’ve positioned themselves on the very opposite side of the dining area.
They’ve thwarted my plans to make unaware subjects of them.
But when he moves from across the table from her to the chair at her side, wanting to share that view from beside her, I decide I can’t hold it in.
“May I be so bold as to take your picture?” I say, a bit nervous but smiling.
Why am I doing this? I think. They don’t want their picture taken. C’mon. You’re bothering them.
“Yes,” he says, after a quick glance between them.
And I’m so surprised. My explanation comes out before I’ve even processed their consent.
“You just look so perfect over here,” I say. “You can do what you’re doing. Don’t mind me.”
They continue speaking to one another, facing toward the beauty before them. He puts his arm around her.
I stand behind, trying a few angles before the couple; the table, with its wine glasses and flower vase filled with pink flowers; the bars gating in the patio; and the hilltops, unenclosed, with trees of green, were just so.
“You’re naturals,” I say, with charm, still clicking away. “You two must really like each other.”
“I got the better end of the deal,” the man says, believably, looking at his wife. Her hair is short and blonde, and her happiness quiet.
Maybe it was indecent of me; I felt out of place in their intimate world. But when I sort through the dozen or so takes later, I find I’ve been rewarded for my vulgarity.
Even a profile shot can’t hide her smile. While her eyes peruse the mountains, his stay fixed on her.[/box]
Where I’m Looking
When I first started TRH, I was working from home as a freelance writer. In the beginning, I wrote every blog post, including the one last fall on the history of North Greenville University – where I attended school, met my husband, made some of the best memories of my life, and hoped to work one day – when it was a high school.
Several staff members at the university saw my post and really liked it and the way I told the school’s history. I’m not sure if this affected their decision, but they decided to reach out. They decided to offer me a full-time writing job with the new marketing team at the university, and I accepted.
As you can imagine, it’s been a challenge to find the time to work a full-time job and also maintain a travel website that can really also be a full-time or at least part-time job all its own.
You might remember that a few months ago, we wrote a post that we were looking for a new owner at Travelers Rest Here. This was because I hoped to find someone who could step in and give TRH the attention and dedication I could no longer give it.
We did find her. Boy, did we find her. (Keep reading.)
It’s with mixed emotions that I’m stepping away from TravelersRestHere now.
And I feel a little like the couple in my story as a I say goodbye to you. I’m looking at the ones beside me, hoping you know how much I’ve loved you and enjoyed our moments together.
You’ve been wonderful. You’ve supported us and shared our posts and written me emails when we got a fact wrong and advertised with us and told us good ideas for our next stories and let us know when we told you something you’d never known before. Thank you!
But, too, I’m looking ahead with excitement to what’s in front of me. The something different and beautiful that’s up ahead and I’ve yet to discover. The next adventure. The next story. The next idea.
For you, this is really no goodbye at all.
TravelersRestHere will still be here. I’m so excited about and confident in the direction that our new owner Lacey Keigley, who’s been with our team of writers for nearly a year now, will take this project as it moves forward.
She’s a well-loved face around town and an experienced blogger who I think really “gets it,” what we’re trying to do here at TRH.
Both she and the rest of our team that you’re already familiar with – Melinda Long and Jason Greer – will continue to tell the stories that you want to hear. I feel sure they’ll continue to make TravelersRestHere.com a place of discovery, of untold secrets being told, of community.
So stick around!
And for me, this is really the best kind of goodbye. Because it’s not really a goodbye, either; it’s just “See you later.” Hopefully even “See you around.”
Though we’re pursuing a new adventure, my family will continue to live and work and play and dream and grow right here. (You can even keep up with my work, if you’re interested, at OhSunnyCeleste.com.) At home. In Travelers Rest.
It’s the best kind of goodbye to Travelers Rest, if you ask me.
None at all.
All the best,
Lucas and Celeste