Little Greenbrier School

Here is a place you’ll remember. You walked this gravel trail when you wore your Aunt’s hiking shoes on your feet (they crowded your toes) and you sang a song about the rhododendrons with your friend that walked beside you. Do you remember?

Where the trail begins lives a school, that was also a church, see the graveyard? This used to be a village before the government made it a place for everyone. A teacher is there.  She was very old and wore mountain clothes and looked like she might die very soon, but her eyes were bright and her wrinkles grew deep when she smiled. She smelled like the air in the mountains and the laurel. She used to teach at the school that was also a church, and she has pail lunches for all of the children.  She’s going to write songs on the slate blackboard and all of you will sit and pay attention to her, because children have always paid attention to her. It’s dark in the school, the day is dark and cloudy for now, and the weak sunlight barely hits the warped glass windows. The teacher who has always been a teacher lights her oil lamps. Everyone is enraptured by those oil lamps.

After you’ve sang and eaten your lunch from galvanized pails (apple, bread, slab of cheese, cup of milk, cloth napkin) at the small desks, some of you will wander slowly around the graveyard, and some the boys will run too fast around the smoothed down stones and some of the girls will cry out, “Don’t step on the graves!!” The teacher will come out of the schoolhouse and walk slowly to the graveyard. All the boys expect to be in trouble and the girls expect them to be, too. The teacher will smile (she’s seen this before of course) and explain in her soft but firm voice the origins of Ghost in the Graveyard and everyone has their eyes on her and only her as they listen. She knows about really important things. Everyone likes her very much. The girls go so far as to love her.

After playing for a while everyone has a chance to use the outhouse, so everyone does except for one or two squeamish ones. Then you walk, waving to the teacher who stands in the door like a life sized daguerreotype.  She waves back and walks back to the dark schoolhouse, oil lamps flickering and making impish shadows inside.

Do you remember?

– The Little Greenbrier school sits tucked back behind Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When I was in fifth grade and attending a week-long mountain camp in nearby Walland, one of our days was spent with a teacher at the Little Greenbrier School, before continuing on our long hike to the Walker Sisters’ Place. Greenbrier was a bustling little village before the Smokies were made into a National Park, and the teacher had actually been a teacher there during the time before FDR made the area public.  When Xander was around sixteen months old, we decided he was big enough to tackle a small hike with us (walking himself, not in a carrier or sling – how he hated those things!)- we went to the Little Greenbrier School and to the Walker Sisters’. I remembered the trail taking a long time when I was ten. It’s actually not that long, but with a sixteen month old, it takes a while…which is fine. Lots to look at and remember. More info on the Walker Sisters and Little Greenbrier here:

Walker Sisters

Little Greenbrier


"... all my lovers were there with me, all my past and futures."

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