I was lucky to grow up in Asheville. My father was transferred here to be the plant manager of the then-Westinghouse, now-Eaton, manufacturing plant in South Asheville. At that time, this was a sleepy mountain town still reeling from the effects of the 1980s recession. The stories about downtown being a ghost town after 6 p.m. are true.
When we first moved here, we lived in an apartment off Hendersonville Road. Across the street, cows still grazed in a field dotted with old trees where the Weirbridge Village Apartments are now. My younger brother and I spent the summer swimming in the adjacent pool and riding our bikes around the tennis courts grabbing old tennis balls for our collection. We adopted our dog, Pal, from the animal shelter.
We’d go to Asheville Tourists games on Sunday during their “Knot Hole Game Day” promotions and thought nothing of the huge Marlboro man on his horse looking down at us from right field. A woman in the stands off the first base line would bring a plastic horn that she would blow and draw a response from her friend, who would yell with deliberate pauses between the words “Hit. That. Ball.” The only thing close to a sell-out I could remember was when the San Diego Chicken visited. Then again, I wasn’t old enough to understand why Thirsty Thursday was so popular. (I understand now.)
One of the perks of being the plant manager’s son was being the bat boy for the company’s softball team. Westinghouse would play other manufacturing companies in the area like Black and Decker, General Electric, and Square D. Everybody at the plant—from management to line workers—would come to the plant for the company Christmas party and Easter Egg hunt, where the big draw for the kids was a “penny hunt” for coins in a sandbox. Occasionally, we’d have parties at our house that were catered by Little Pigs BBQ or Bill Stanley BBQ. It was a real, solid community, and many of the former employees of that plant retired in Asheville after their careers with Westinghouse.
After she learned to drive, my mom would take us to the Pack library in our brown Chevette that struggled to make it up the hill on Biltmore Avenue. We’d often pass a woman walking with a two-liter Coca Cola bottle balanced on her head, heading to or returning from the Coke bottling plant (now Mission Hospital offices). We’d play YMCA soccer on the weekends. The Iannucci brothers were on our team, and we’d always go to their dad’s restaurant for pizza after games.
My brother and I went to St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall (now the AB-Tech downtown campus) where I had Mrs. Ross for fourth grade. She taught us English and math, and I still have my grammar notebook. To this day, I remember the songs that she would have us sing to remember grammar (“Herb the Verb,” among others).
We eventually moved away when my dad was transferred yet again, but Asheville always had this mystical feel about it that I missed. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was, but that feeling lingered. I’d always hoped that I could move back and perhaps raise a family here. When my parents moved back to Asheville and I started a company, I was able to make that happen.
When we lived in other places, there were two things that I would always remember about Asheville. First, how the water tasted—I still haven’t found another city where the water measured up. Second, the school song from St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall. It was simple, but always conveyed to me feelings of strength, comfort, and responsibility to one’s community. I hope to play a part in helping to make Asheville a place where my children and others have the opportunity to make similar memories.
“There’s a place of spirit in the land of the sky.
Special, small with standards high.
A school that molds the mind and heart.
In this world, she makes her mark.
In a world of confusion, our school stands firm.
Guiding us to seek and learn.
A sense of right has been her gift.
To her spirit, our voices lift.”
–St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall School Song