Sometimes you visit a place so full of good people and good things happening, you have to tell people about it. My husband, Chuck Reece, and I had the opportunity to visit Old Fort, NC, this past weekend. Our sister publication, Salvation South, is launching a new podcast in a few months and we are doing a story about how Old Fort turned itself around after some major employers shut down. If you want to know more, you can read all about here.
Old Fort is a little mountain town about thirty minutes outside of Asheville. The way they turned their economic prospects around is through making it a destination for mountain biking. First came the trail, then some coffee shops and restaurants, then a brewery, then a bike shop and a bike clothing company and so on and so forth.
What Old Fort managed to do in all this change is maintain a sense of place and an air of hospitality. They did the best they could with what they had and have gone from strength to strength ever since.
It makes sense that Old Fort has a sense of hospitality when you have the stories like Gogo and her hobos to lead the way. I can’t tell the story as well as her granddaughter, Wendy, but she’ll tell you all about Gogo while you are inhaling one of her otherworldly cinnamon rolls. Gogo was the wife of a train engineer and lived right next to the tracks. Back then, hobos who rode the rails knew that if they got off in Old Fort, they could go down into Gogo’s basement and stay warm next to the furnace. In the morning, Gogo would holler down the stairs that breakfast was ready, and they could come get a hot meal before they continued their travels. She never judged and never scolded. She just fed the lost sheep with what she had.
Stories like that seem impossible to imagine in our modern day world. I bet Gogo never even locked her door. But Gogo’s legacy continues to ripple through the Old Fort community even today. When Wendy got laid off from her job during the pandemic, she was desperate to find a new way to make a living. She taught herself how to make cinnamon rolls, and soon her friends were begging her to make more. In the same house where Gogo fed her hobos, Wendy perfected her recipe and then stood in her wrap-around driveway to put hot, fresh rolls in the trunks of customers as they drove past the door that the hobos once used before turning onto the road home. They carried a little bit of heavenly sweetness back to the ones they loved during a scary and confusing period of our lives.
Wendy made so many cinnamon rolls that she could open a bakery right down the street from Gogo’s house, and it is now a fixture of the Old Fort community that feeds both body and soul. If you love cinnamon rolls, follow them on social media. We bet it won’t be long before you can get them in the mail. No pressure, Wendy!
I think what caught my attention about Gogo and her hobos is that we never really understand the lasting impact of the little kindnesses we do for each other. Our small acts of generosity will echo through the years into the lives of people we don’t know. We will influence the people that will come after us just as we were influenced by the people who came before us. It is our turn to carry the torch for kindness and hospitality for this generation, and it is up to us to decide how high we carry it.
You can see Gogo’s light shining in Wendy’s hand from a long ways off.