If you drive to the end of Route 263, a lovely country road in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, you will arrive at the village of Orkney Springs, home to an Episcopalian retreat center for the Diocese of Virginia called Shrine Mont. Guests are treated to southern hospitality and food grown from the gardens within the village. For over a hundred years, this sanctuary is frozen in time, containing all that’s romantic and charming about the south. The Waltons are alive and well at Shrine Mont.
For a few summers, I worked twelve-hour shifts in the hotel kitchen with southern women who had perfected comfort foods and served the families and clergy who came to Shrine Mont every year for reunions. It’s still the perfect place for band camps, bluegrass festivals, retreats, and conferences. All the food is made from scratch. I learned how to make pecan pies, “butt” rolls, and dressing balls. I chopped peppers and onions and washed and spinned lettuce for hundreds. I peeled pots of potatoes for mashing, all the while listening to the clucking of the mother hens who ran the kitchen with the energy and strength of someone half my age.
When I wasn’t working at Shrine Mont, I’d hike around nearby Lake Laura. Any given day or season, her shadows and colors calmed me. I enjoy living in Arizona today, but I never fail to remember fondly my time around the lake and the plush green of Virginia.
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