I found Lake Norman in the middle of the Pacific
We were living on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. My husband and I were driving our daughter to her piano lesson – about to find out that things back home in Buffalo, N.Y., were not well.
The city was inundated by a record snow fall. The radio news bulletin reported several people crushed to death by snow plows as they sat in their cars buried under towering drifts. Buffalo’s Blizzard of 1977 was about to change a lot of lives, including ours.
Our plan had been to stay in Hawaii one school year, finish a series of travel guide books for our Honolulu publisher and then decide what to do.
Return to Buffalo? No way. Twenty years there had finished me off.
But there was the other question: Where will we go? We couldn’t stay on Kauai while we had school-age kids. Outer Island schools were marginal at best, and race relations were a disaster. If you were Caucasian, you were in trouble.
We researched weather all over the country. It was either too cold, too windy, too rainy, too dry, prone toward earth quakes, hurricanes or tornados.
Dare we Yankees live in the Deep South? I don’t think so. We’d blow our cover the first time we said “you guys” instead of “you all.” Never mind “Y’all.”
It all boiled down to avoiding bad weather and natural disasters and finding good schools and friendly people. Oh, and it also had to be beautiful, affordable, four seasons – mostly spring and fall – a large lake to ski on, a major metro area within a half-hour’s drive an international airport and … well, it was a long list.
Those were the pre-Google days when you did your research in a library. The Kauai library was both under stocked and understaffed. But it did have a well-worn copy of Woman’s Day magazine.
I stumbled onto an article on where to retire. We were a long way from retirement, but the list of desirable features turned out to be about the same. Who knew there was a large lake north of one of the nation’s major banking centers?
Obviously, the map maker didn’t. No wonder we couldn’t find it. We were looking at an old map. The lake we were looking for – a lake created by the dammed up Catawba River – was not completed until 1961.
That’s how much I knew when I bought a round trip ticket from Kauai to Charlotte. My mission? Buy a house and find a piano teacher. I had never been to Charlotte, and my experience with North Carolina amounted to a chilly mid-winter dash down Interstate-77 escaping Buffalo en route to Florida.
Was this whole move to the South a dream or just a stupid idea? I’d prefer to call it inspired. Since it all worked out so well, I’d even go so far as to call it brilliant.
I’m no dummy. I called ahead to line up a realtor to help me with our quest. Only I called Charlotte, not a lakeside community.
I’ll never forget that hot April day. The realtor spread out a map on her car hood and began searching for Lake Norman. She mumbled something about Route 16, and I stood there wondering how a lake with 520 miles of shoreline had become so elusive.
Before I toured houses, I insisted on going into the high school to get a sense of how the students were getting along. Keep in mind, I had just arrived from Hawaii where race relations, at least those in schools, were approaching meltdown.
These kids at East Lincoln High seemed happy enough. I met with the guidance counselor, asking directly if there was any discrimination against whites. He scrutinized my face for signs that I might just be joking. But I was dead serious. Since I was the only person in the universe with kids planning to go from Kauai High to East Lincoln High, I vowed to get it right this time.
I had a list of wants from each member of the family including land expansive enough for the horse our daughter didn’t have. I met a builder who showed me the house he had almost finished.
I suggested it would have been nice to put a big window in the master bedroom. “Then where will you put the bed?” he asked.
I didn’t understand. I knew what a bed was. I just didn’t know the word “bed” had two syllables.
At the end of the week I had a house. I’d signed a lot of papers, arranged for a mortgage and found a piano teacher. I had a four bedroom, lakefront house in Westport for less than $80,000. I never heard any mention of Denver.
I was excited. Wait until the family sees the lake, a sparkling oasis in the midst of lush green Piedmont slopes.
Imagine: we had to go to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to find Lake Norman.