I once had a conversation that went like this:
Me: My biggest fear in life is that I will die in Kernersville.
Her: Why would you care where you die?
Me: I rather drown in the pool at the Paris Ritz or crash a plane into Iguazu Falls… or be shot by a jealous lover in Taos… something like that.
Her: You’re so dramatic.
Me: Are you saying the problem is me?
Kernersville is a perfectly lovely town with a fine historic district. At the crossroads of Main St. and Mountain there once stood a tavern where George Washington ate breakfast. There is a stone marker to commemorate this historic meal. For years a tanning salon stood on the site. I once joked to a woman that George Washington got his tans there. She believed me and repeated this, as fact, to her teenage daughter.
Geez, I thought, and I live here?
Truth is that I had a rough start and a low opinion of Kernersville. I didn’t fit in and it soon became evident that, if a tough city gal like me was to survive here, I needed to learn to keep my head down and my F-ing mouth shut.
But there is a reason why I stayed, a reason why the population of this town has almost doubled in the past twenty years. Here we wake to the song of the birds. It hardly ever snows and the gardens are lush with flowers. The rolling hills and halcyon of the Carolina Piedmont is the sort of place that’s too easy and comfortable to leave. Once you move here you tend to stay.
A short drive west is a location where a group of Moravians settled and stayed. Old Salem dates from the 1750’s. It became a center of talented craftsmen who valued education. Here they built Salem College, the first women’s college in America.
Winston-Salem is now known as the “City of the Arts” and for good reason. Not just because it founded the first arts council in the US, but because it is home to the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts (SECCA), The Reynolda House Museum of American Art and the UNC School of the Arts. Major film, theatre and music festivals are held each year. The list of attractions is endless.
East of Kernersville (take that, Steinbeck!) lies a place where Quakers settled, also in the 1750’s. Here the nationally recognized Greensboro Symphony led by the superb Demitri Sitkovetsky is heard. The Eastern Music Festival brings hundreds of concerts each year. And, historically speaking, from the Battle of Guildford Courthouse to the brave black students who sat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, Greensboro has survived the best and worst of human nature.
And in the hub of this place, where art grows quicker than tobacco, Jule Korner’s father founded the Town of Kernersville. Jule was born here, on Main St and stayed. He built Korner’s Folly on Main St. He lived here and died here, on Main St.
His great home, Korner’s Folly, often called “the strangest home in America”, appears to have three stories from the outside but on the inside there are seven different levels. The ceiling height ranges from five and a half feet to twenty five. Originally there were stables on the first floor and the attic is believed to have been the first private “Little Theater” in America. Obviously Jule possessed a wildly creative soul. People laughed at and criticized him for his unusual tastes and constant renovation. He was an artist, his home was a work in progress and neither he nor his home fit in.
And like many evolutions in the piedmont, Jule’s home had a difficult start… rough beginnings as a livestock stable… with a dirt floor covered in horse sh!#. As time progressed it was altered to hold a reception parlor and sewing room. The heart of this home survived a continuous state of flux on so many levels, growing pains of constant change. The ceilings may have felt too high or hung too low, staircases and passages too wide or narrow. It was never a good fit for the Korner family then or to the many who visit it today. But the attic… in the attic of the structure grew actors and playwrights… the arts of the theater. Here our yesterday “lighted fools” as they strutted or fretted their “hour upon the stage”.
We are Korner’s Folly. We’re the actors, the inventors, the explorer and pilgrim. We are the artists and we are the art… all works in progress… ever blending.
I’ve grown to like Kernersville, this place that I call home. And when I die… let my ashes blow with the winds and settle where they may… because I belong to this land.