I recently visited Helen, Georgia, for the first time during my daughter’s fall break late last year. First of all, let me say that the Crumblys are not great vacationers. Since my husband and I both own our own businesses, we are not used to being off grid for any amount of time, so it’s hard to leave work at home, even for a few days. And I admit I did bring some freelance assignments along on this trip.
But overall, it was a relaxing weekend away from our accustomed environment. The Bavarian-themed scenery helped drive home the change of pace.
We took our kids to play mini-golf for the first time, and we did some gem mining. Both of these activities were big hits with little people, as was the TV in the hotel room. We have movie nights at home on a portable TV, but the big screen with cartoons at any hour of the day was a novelty they won’t soon forget. At the end of each day, the adults on the trip collapsed into bed while the small people complained that the night was still young.
We didn’t do anything terribly novel in Helen, but we enjoyed the scenery, and it was nice to have fun things to do with small children in one place. Honestly, it was so close to home — just under 2 hours — that it was barely not a staycation, but being away from home was a good reminder to slow down, put away the laptop and enjoy just being with family for a little while. If we had stayed home, we wouldn’t have been as exhausted after brushing wet sand off tiny hands and clothes after gem mining, but I know I would have been picking up my laptop to write or organize riding lessons every time I had a naptime break.
Everything was pretty kid-centric except a trip to the Hardman Farm Historic Site the last day of our trip. Those who have been to Helen probably know where the gazebo atop the Native American burial mound is. The beautiful West End Mansion, the farm’s centerpiece, which served as the main residence, is just across the road from it. We were fascinated to learn things like the fact that Anna Ruby Falls is named after Anna Ruby Nichols, the daughter of the farm’s original owner, Captain James Nichols.
Our guide said Nichols built the Italianate-style home in 1870, and to someone like me whose love of old houses borders on obsession, it made for an incredible tour. The red glass in the front doors is original to the house, save for one piece that restorers had to replace. I couldn’t tell the difference, and my daughter was the only one in our group who could locate the newer piece. I forget now how tall our guide said the ceilings were, but they soared above us with intricate plaster molding around the overhead light fixtures and at the tops of the walls. The whole structure was designed to channel any breeze through open doors and windows on the first floor to a cupola above the top floor.
Our children were doing the requisite flopping and moaning by the end of the hour-long tour. Apparently touring a 19th-century mansion was as tortuous for them as it was delightful for us. So, we motored on to lunch and a stop at Babyland General Hospital (home of the Cabbage Patch dolls) on the way home. The story of how its founder, Xavier Roberts, made Appalachian folk art dolls into a million-dollar endeavor is another column in and of itself.
I understand if COVID-19 concerns limit how much you choose to travel right now. I do think that if you feel comfortable staying in a hotel, it’s possible to safely travel somewhere like Helen where there are a lot of outdoor activities and you can enjoy a takeout option for local food. The staff at the Hardman Site were conscientious about separating families during the tour, and a good portion of that event was outside.
As you can see, our little trip ran the gamut from typical tourist activities to more educational fare. Nothing particularly exciting happened, but it reminded me that unplugging for a few days and getting out of town, even if it’s just to a place a couple of hours from home, can be a great way to reconnect with loved ones.