Relias’s Garden

I think this photo does a good job embodying Aunt Relia.

Today I found out the news that my Aunt Relia had passed. I loved my Aunt Relia very much. I have not met very many people like her.

Soon after hearing the news, I was very surprised at the emotions that welled up inside of me and leaked out of my eyes.

While I was not faithful in any way staying in touch with her, I can tell you that I have told many of my love for her. She was a person who touched me in the core of my soul.

She was active, fun, resourceful, uplifting, funny, talented, energetic, free and kind. I have always wanted to be like her.

I adore the photos below. I particularly love the last two showing my Aunt and Uncle on adventures. All of the photos of Relia in this post were borrowed from her daughter’s Facebook page.

I idolized my Aunt and Uncle. In fact, I still do. I loved hearing them talk about their adventures around the world. I even loved hearing about their labors right there in Nantahala.

The first time I remember meeting Relia was during one of our several family reunions we held at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Bryson City, NC. I believe it was Christmas of 1978 and we all gathered around the banks of the Nantahala River. At the time it was a modest establishment as it had only opened in 1972.

My aunt and uncle and some business partners took over the Tote ‘N Tarry Motel in that year and turned it into a world class outdoor center and adventure hub.

That first visit, we had limited accommodations and there was only one small restaurant where we all ate every meal. The family pitched in to cook and clean the restaurant. I remember that after dinner we usually played games like Hearts or Dog Bone Dog Bone. I can also remember listening to adventure stories about river trips.

It was so amazing to be there with the entire family. I loved the gatherings and I loved knowing I was part of something so special. I still love knowing that.

I remember on one of our family visits thinking to myself that someday I was going to work at the NOC. While I was still in high school at the time, it wasn’t likely to happen soon. But eventually it did.

In the summer of 1995, I spoke with Relia and Payson and asked if there was a way I could come out and guide the river for the summer. Somehow, they made it happen. My favorite memories of Aunt Relia were from that special summer.

They were both so gracious to allow me to stay in their beautiful mountain side home that summer. When I say mountain side, I mean it. The house was literally built into the side of a mountain. I stayed in their guest room and it was so amazing. It had amazing views. However, the thing I love the most about it was the outside shower.

I walked out the back door to the guest room on to a deck. The deck was in between the house and the stone side of the mountain. There was total privacy and the shower was AMAZING!

I remember after my 2 trips a day guiding visitors down the Nantahala River, I would come back to the house. It was so pleasant spending down time with them both. Relia and I watched a bit of Lonesome Dove each night and it was delightful.

I was sad when that summer was over and I had to drive back to TX and return to my “real” job of teaching middle school.

That summer my love for the NOC, but especially for Relia and Payson, was permanently seared onto my heart.


I cannot help but think of this verse in Matthew 7:20, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

This is a universal truth.

And I can tell you that Relia’s garden, her life and her legacy, has brought forth some of the most delicious and beautiful fruit possible. So many of us, including myself, have blossomed as a result of her tender sowing and thoughtful care. And now in her passing, she leaves a bounteous harvest that has the silos of love overflowing in a bounteous bumper crop of abundance.

I believe her greatest gardening was done with those closest to her. She has a wonderful husband, raised up amazing children who have amazing hearts, tremendous talent and loving spirits. She has touched the lives of thousands and thousands of friends and acquaintances.

Aunt Relia and daughter Cathy

Her daughter Cathy, evidences this nurturing of the her family garden by the poem she wrote about her mother.

They say that I look like you
I hope they are right
May I honor your adventurous, loving, caring spirit with my face

Yesterday I dug in your garden with Jennifer
You are there with us
We watched Daddy and Naren digging in the pond

You are there with us
We cried together, we laughed together,

we shared meals together, we told stories together
You are with us

Today is your birthday
I blew bubbles on the porch for you
They floated sparkling in the light over your garden
You are there with me

You made us a family
you are with us all always
I love you MY MAMA

– Catherine Kennedy

The seeds she has help to sow extend down through the generations and will continue to do so.

As one small evidence of that, I am going to share a few pix of me and my children as we have visited NOC over and over again throughout the years. The NOC is one of my favorite places on planet Earth. I am so thrilled that my children have also fallen in love with this special place that Uncle Payson and Aunt Relia have helped create.

As I sit here on top of a hill in Dry Canyon and am surrounded by natural beauty, I think of the beauty that flowed from within her.

Surrounded by beauty and thinking about Aunt Relia and her family

As soon as I heard about Aunt Relia today, I decided immediately that I was going to go up into the mountains and write about her. I feel it is a fitting tribute to the love of nature, adventure and fun that persists in my life today and mirrors many of the special attributes of my aunt.

I wanted to do something beautiful in honor of Aunt Relia. So I captured two of my favorite things: wildflowers and an amazing sunset. They are my humble gift to her.

A glorious sunset for Aunt Relia
Beautiful wildflowers for Aunt Relia

As tears trickle down my cheeks, I can imagine with my vivid imagination Aunt Relia out on a nice walk in the heavenly woods right now. Her hair is down and flowing in the light and marvelous breeze. She is carrying a basket in her hand and has a cheerful spring in her step. She stops every so often to look at the beautiful wildflowers, pick a few berries and mushrooms, and take in the warmth from the intermittent rays of sunshine that poke through the dense woods.


Every once in a while she gets a sheepish grin on her face and chuckles softly as she thinks about her family and loved ones. She stops on the trail, takes a deep breath and thinks to herself, “they are gonna be fine.” She then continues her saunter into the woods and over the next small hill and out of sight.

Relia is right. We are going to be fine. She has raised good fruit. Strong fruit. She has planted seeds all over and has seen those seeds grow and create even more seeds.

Relia’s garden is thriving.

6 thoughts on “Relias’s Garden

  1. Ach! SO touching. That NOC has such far-reaching life-changing effects. I met my husband there 18 years ago. We still go back to western NC and visit. It really changed our lives for the better! Condolences to Jennifer and Cathy. My heart aches for you so.

    Like

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