Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Recently, Bunny, the children, and I spent a week at the lake celebrating his upcoming retirement. After 41 years of working in accounting, Bunny is calling it quits and is getting ready to sit back and enjoy life. What? I keep telling him days get really long at home so he needs to have a plan, get a part-time job, or spend some time making a bucket list of things he wants to do. Well, that’s what I thought until I read a book at the lake about Moses and Bertha Cone and their Blowing Rock Manor. The book tells the story of how a child from immigrant parents prospered and established himself as a true American. Moses Cone was one of North Carolina’s leading textile manufacturers and was the son of German immigrants. Cone became a prosperous, powerful, well-liked businessman, who wrapped himself in American Imagery. During the 1880s and 1890s immigration from central and Eastern Europe soared and many Americans felt that their way of life was being threatened by immigrant invasion.
People feared that aliens would take American jobs and taint the country’s social and religious institutions. Patriotism and people reveled in the nation’s past and celebrated their personal roots in America. At that time, Moses and Bertha began to distance themselves from their immigrant history and adopted the ways of old stock Americans. Around 1900 the couple began building their dream estate, Flat Rock, which they hoped would make them safe from questions about their national origins. Flat Rock consisted of 3,500 acres and was modeled somewhat after the Biltmore Estates in Ashville. The colonial styled house consisted of 13,000 square feet, 23 rooms, and an interior that reflected the powerful image the Cones wanted to present to the world. Moses and Bertha cared deeply about what others thought of them, were very status conscious, and surrounded themselves with great possessions. The estate had over 22 miles of carriage roads, several ponds, and spectacular mountain views. For enjoyment, Cone grew apples, and other fruits, and completed some philanthropic projects such as building a school for the children of his employees. With the completion of his Flat Rock Estate, Cone had made it to the summit, socially, aesthetically, and financially. He was enjoying life and the view from the top of the mountain. But unfortunately only eight years after the completion of Flat Rock Manor, Moses Cone died at the young age of 51. Cone left a grieving wife who continued to oversee the estate until her death in 1947. Since the Cones had no children, the renowned Flat Rock Manor was donated to the National Park System. In one sense, The Moses Cone National Park is a symbol of a family’s great success. Parents arriving in the country as poor peddlers produce a son who would become one of North Carolina’s greatest manufacturers and the owner of a premier country estate. On the other hand, some 67 years after Bertha’s death, fewer than 650 of the 32,000 apple trees remain and the 500 acres of pastures have reverted to forest. Today the recreational park and craft sales center is a far cry from the exquisite working estate that Moses and Bertha Cone built in 1900. As I considered the life of the Cones; their wealth, status, and possessions, and how it was so short-lived, I re-evaluated Bunny’s desire to sit back and enjoy life.
When asked for his bucket list, I was given a simple list of three things. The first thing Bunny hopes to do in retirement is not have to hurry. After 41 years of getting up and being at work by 8 a.m. he intends to sleep a bit later and enjoy his mornings. His next goal is to spend more time with family and friends. For the first time in years, Bunny bought a hunting and fishing license and enjoyed fishing with the children last week at the lake. The final point on his list is to clean out his shop and begin some serious wood working projects. Indeed it sounds like an unpretentious bucket list for an uncomplicated retirement. Now on the other hand, if I ever decide to really retire, my bucket list will probably include a few more active goals. For instance, I want to go to every vineyard in Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. I intend to take my children back to Disney World, travel to New York, Alaska, out west, and a few other places. I may finally kayak down Black River, and plant a garden. We used to camp years ago and I hope to go camping sometime, and maybe take up bicycle riding again.
I sure hope Bunny enjoys some simple living while I continue to work because when I retire, I have things to do and places to go and I want him to go with me. But for now, I wish him a long life and wonderful retirement. Bunny may not have acquired great wealth and possessions like the Cones, but he has wonderful children and grandchildren to pass along his life’s treasures to. By the way, as soon as he gets his shop cleaned out, I will add to my bucket list the piece of furniture I want him to make for me.