The Old Paths: Bigger than you think

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

The atmosphere has shifted in Walnut Cove.

I’ve felt it for a while, and we talk about it often in our prayer group at church. But now others are acknowledging it publicly. I heard at least four different speakers say it this past weekend during all of the memorable events I attended. I nearly had to pinch myself to realize it wasn’t me speaking! I’ve said for many years that this day would arrive—that a much-needed change was gonna come.

You see, I grew up in “The Cove” on the old paths. I saw a downtown area full of vacant buildings—many of which were deteriorating. I saw a town with no parks for children to play in. (Neither Fowler Park nor Lions Park existed when I was growing up.) I saw a town with no place for youth to gather. (The Palmetto Theater and the town bowling alleys were gone by the time I came along.)

So I was simply biding my time until I could graduate from good ole South Stokes High and hit the road running! And no, I didn’t intend to look back. I loved my family and intended to visit them, but I was determined that my permanent address would no longer read “Walnut Cove.”

I soared off to college in Chapel Hill, later got married and lived in Kernersville, taught school in Guilford County and went to church in Winston-Salem. I literally only came to downtown Walnut Cove about once a year—for the annual Christmas parade.

As the years passed, I inched back little by little. I found myself moving to the Walkertown side of Forsyth. Then suddenly I was living right back in Walnut Cove and felt absolutely “stuck”—longing to escape out West somewhere. Mentally, my bags were packed, and I assumed that being back home was just for a short season.

And then in February 1996, I began having dreams and visions of great things happening in Walnut Cove. After a while, I realized I was destined to stay here to help make it happen—shades of poor old George Bailey yearning to travel the world but having to stay in lousy old Bedford Falls.

Please forgive me when I tell you I was absolutely furious with God when the knowledge came that I had to put down roots in The Cove. Yes, mad at my Maker. It’s a wonder a whale didn’t jump out of the Town Fork and swallow me.

But in His infinite wisdom, Father knows best. And in His mercy, He forgave me for my anger. And in His love, He changed my heart and put a love for

Walnut Cove in it. That love grew until some days it felt as though my need to BE in Walnut Cove, PRAY for Walnut Cove, BLESS Walnut Cove became nearly as big as my need to breathe.

Yet all around me, I would hear the murmuring and complaining and griping about the town. When I’d go out of town, people would turn up their noses when I told them where I was from; their pity was real. Sometimes the way folks would say “Walnut Cove” sounded like a cuss word or as if they needed to spit out the bad taste in their mouth.

Some days it was tough to believe greater things were in store.

Then one evening, my hubster and I were watching “The Avengers.” As the Marvel superheroes were trying to close the portal of evil that was affecting their nation, I wasn’t thinking about Walnut Cove in the least. But suddenly I heard, “This is so much bigger than you think, Leslie.” I was so startled that I zoned out of the movie for a few minutes. I sure hope Iron Man closed that portal.

I knew exactly what that word from Heaven meant: that what was going to happen in Walnut Cove was absolutely huge. I kept it to myself and my immediate family.

About two years later, an out-of-town minister who is now a chaplain in Washington, D.C., was praying at our church one evening. She suddenly began to laugh with joy, praise God and nearly jump up and down in her excitement. She cried out, “Leslie, this is so much bigger than you think!” You don’t have to tell me twice.

Yes, I believe my hometown is destined for great things in many areas. If you can’t see the change already, open your eyes! The renovation of The Palmetto, arts and music downtown, an annual Springfest and Christmas Tree-lighting festival, the busy new restaurant in the long-vacant bank building at the center of town in addition to the other great restaurants in the downtown area, a health and wellness center coming to the old Dodson Hotel property, a big new playground in the Walnut Tree community, new businesses like a coffee/smoothie shop and a taxidermy opening up on Main Street—just to name a few positive changes!

And this is just the beginning. Caroline Rutledge Armijo’s $350,000 national grant for “The Lilies Project”—an arts/park/history project for Walnut Cove—has indeed brought us to a bigger stage. Taking the toxic coal ash and transforming it into something beautiful to bless our town has grabbed the attention of the nation. And that’s just part of “The Lilies Project.”

It also honors Jester Hairston, the actor/songwriter born over near the Belews Creek Steam Station who wrote the song “Amen” used in the Academy Award-winning movie “Lilies of the Field.” This, in turn, brought a

New York City filmmaker to Walnut Cove this past weekend to film part of her new documentary “Tracing the Hairstons.”

As I sat in the Walnut Cove Library on Saturday for the kickoff of “The Lilies Project,” I heard Stokes County Arts Council Director Eddy McGee talk about Walnut Cove being in the national spotlight right now. I heard an environmental activist from out-of-town say that Walnut Cove was a model for the nation to learn from.

At part two of the kickoff on Sunday, I heard the NYC filmmaker say that Walnut Cove was the heart of the country’s largest family, the Hairston’s. At the MLK Day march and service on Monday, I saw black and white people marching through downtown Walnut Cove in unity, singing songs of victory. I saw them worship together as we reaffirmed Dr. King’s dream for unity, equality and justice through nonviolent means and love.

Then I heard a minister there say that Walnut Cove would be a model for the nation, and I shouted, “Amen!” I believe the spiritual must be the first concern: What is won in the spiritual realm through prayer will manifest in the physical realm through positive change. And this positive change comes when people work together in love and turn loose of greed, hatred and self.

I am excited to see what all is on the horizon for Walnut Cove and indeed all of Stokes County as we are all so interconnected. Dear readers, trust me when I tell you, “This is bigger than you think.”

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News