Thursday, August 28, 2014

Driving South, Driving Slow: Valdese, NC

I'm transitioning back to the South now...slowly, because there is a lot to digest, and a long car ride through beautiful countryside is a great..ahem...
vehicle to do just that.

I pondered my way through Wall, NJ, Troutville, VA and into Valdese, NC, where I would stop for an overnight.   

Why Valdese, NC?  An obscure location, with a remarkable story, one I've been involved with for the past four years: that of the Waldensians.  

I'll pick up the thread in 1848, when the Waldensians received religious freedom after centuries of persecution and near annihilation.  Peace brought a new challenge: their numbers then grew rapidly, too much for their land in the Cottian Alps to support them.  

A number of families began emigrating--across Europe, to South America, and the US: New York, Texas, Utah, Missouri, and North Carolina.  We had learned about the Waldensian colony in NC in Torre Pellice in 2012; I'd wanted to visit ever since.

In May 1893, a colony of 29 Waldensian immigrants found there way here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as they run through western North Carolina, and prepared for winter.  

Preparing for winter...29 people...11 men, 5 pregnant women, with 13 children under the age of 16.  No money, no houses, no food, no English (except for one person).  Build houses, plant crops, survive, and get ready to receive 200 more immigrants in November--and the onslaught of winter.  How did they do it?  More ponderings...but back to August, 2014. 

I drove into town on a Sunday, shortly after noon, and noted the signs everywhere: Waldensian History Museum, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Waldensian Winery...even street names like "Italy St." and "Arnaud Ave."  You name it, there was a mural, statue, fountain or field identified with the Waldensian history.  

Only one of these venues would be open today; I waited patiently for The Trail of Faith Museum to open at 2 pm, picking through a McDonald's salad, one of the few culinary options in what is a fairly typical small Southern town.

More ponderings.  What were the North Carolinian Waldensians like today?  What were they doing?    Are they people of deep faith, or more secular, as many of their Italian counterparts have become?  Probably a mix, I decided, and hoped I could connect with some.  

I had all I could do to understand the accents in placing my McDonald's order.  But when the Trail of Faith museum village opened, Sylvia, the receptionist, welcomed me with a mild one, and understood my own NY-tinged mongrel accent.  I introduced myself and explained my interest in the Waldensians, and she promptly gave me a discount.  So the Waldensian generosity is alive and well in Valdese, I thought.   

We had hardly begun looking at the reproduction of the Angrogna Valley in Italy--where the Waldensians lived and where I had just lived for three months--with little lights indicating the locations of Bobbio, Villar and Torre Pellice, towns I've grown to love, when two ladies entered.   Sylvia excused herself to check them in, and encouraged me on into the video room.  

As I went, I couldn't help overhear their conversation: these two ladies had recently discovered the Waldensian history, and Valdese--so close to their homes in Charlotte, NC.  They wanted to learn everything they could in preparation for a trip to Torre Pellice planned for November. 

"Well, you might want to talk to that lady over there," Sylvia replied, pointing at me.  "She just got back from some time in the Waldensian valleys!" 

Eyes widened as they turned to look at me, a wonder of wonders, a live body who had touched the holy grail of Waldensian soil in the Motherland...we introduced ourselves as the video started.

To be continued...

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