The Abernathys, Clevedale and Us – a Memorable Family Story!

Long before Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens in Spartanburg, SC graced the covers of magazines and became the subject of several videos and feature newspaper articles, Tim and I were there. Before Paul Roberts Abernathy retired after decades as an Episcopal Priest in Washington, DC, his wife Pontheolla Mack Abernathy had dreams of opening a Bed and Breakfast in SC where she was born and raised. Tim and I met Paul and Pontheolla in 2006 at the church where Paul was serving as Rector and before long we had become family or “frienalies”, the term Paul gives to friends who become family. Pontheolla and I took road trips in 2012 to search for the perfect B&B and after Paul and Tim joined the trips to see the finalists, Clevedale was the eventual winner.  Pontheolla’s dream had become a gorgeous reality. Three years ago this week, Tim and I made our final trip to Clevedale, and that trip in 2016 has been on my mind for weeks.

In last week’s Spiritual Writing class, my classmates and I were given an assignment to write throughout the week about the places that were important in our lives, and last night’s assignment for this week is to focus on the important people in our lives. I tried writing about Clevedale last week, and though I started, the words didn’t come easily. So instead, I decided to write a combined piece about both Clevedale the place, and Paul and Pontheolla, the people. Both have been extraordinarily important in my life and have helped to make me the person I am today.

Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens was one of Tim’s favorite places on earth. As we drove up the long driveway to Clevedale, Tim would say that  peace and calm would wash over him. The first thing he’d do when he got out of our SUV was to throw up his hands and declare “I’m home”. And who wouldn’t want Clevedale to be their home? It isn’t just a majestic Inn with tall pillars, beautiful layout and extraordinary furniture and decor, there are also lush gardens and fountains and many places that provide solitude and erase all your worries and troubles.

The trips we made down to Spartanburg before Clevedale officially opened were some of the most fun we had as frienalies. There was moving heavy furniture under the watchful eye of Pontheolla, laughing hysterically at Tim’s crazy jokes, trying out new restaurants, fun family vacations, yelling and screaming over our endless Scrabble games and there was wine… lots and lots of wine. Tim loved being Pontheolla’s taste tester, and she got him to try foods he’d never try for anyone else. Paul would say every now and then that Tim was his brother, but I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of that relationship until later.

Once Clevedale opened and Paul and Pontheolla became official B&B owners, we would visit as often as we could, claiming the room painted in Tim’s favorite color orange as “our room”.  Whenever we arrived, Paul and Pontheolla would rush outside to receive Tim’s coveted “bear hugs”! Paul would quickly gather up our luggage and head inside, followed closely by Pontheolla who would rush back to the kitchen to finish up whatever treat or new dish she was making for Tim. Sometimes Tim would hang outside for a few minutes to just take in all of the green grass and trees, the colorful flowers and bushes, and just the stillness that is a huge part of the acres of the property. On that last trip in 2016, Tim seemed more quiet than usual, taking it all in as if he was savoring every moment. I can’t even put into words how grateful I am that the four of us had that weekend together.

When someone gets sick, the worst thing you have to do is notify others. My call from NY where we were vacationing to Paul and Pontheolla was difficult. It began on day one with me informing them of Tim’s stroke, then the next day of another stroke, and another. Then the news on day four that the strokes were caused by a cancer. That news was the first sign of stress in Pontheolla’s voice, and I remember her yelling “this is SERIOUS!!” It sure was. Two days later as Tim had his final stroke right before my eyes I called Clevedale once again, this time screaming and yelling that Tim was dying. Paul was calm, continuously calling my name in attempt to calm me down. Pontheolla was on her cell phone calling our daughter to come back to the hospital to be with me. The day that they told me that Tim wasn’t going to wake up, Paul and Pontheolla each spoke to him as I held the phone up to his ear. I pray that he heard their voices.

When Tim died, Paul and Pontheolla closed Clevedale for a week and drove to Maryland to be with me. During the funeral, Paul gave a stirring tribute to Tim and Pontheolla sang her heart out. Thinking back on it, I would have given anything that week to run to Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens to sit calmly in the gardens and feel close to Tim in a place where he always felt welcomed and free to be himself. The first time I went to visit Clevedale after Tim’s death, it was the most difficult thing ever and I could hardly breathe as I drove up the driveway. Thankfully they gave me a different room to sleep in from the one that had been “ours”. Just like I still can at home, wherever I am in Clevedale, I can hear and feel Tim. I sat where he sat, I walked in his favorite part of the garden, and I stood in the place where he had a scary fall while helping Paul move some equipment.

It’s been a year since I’ve been there, but I know I’ll eventually go back. Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens is a place where we made some memories I’ll never forget and learned some incredible life lessons.  I learned that you do anything for family, that relationships aren’t always easy but the great ones are worth the effort, and that dreams really can come true. From Paul and Pontheolla I’ve learned that you’ve got to be tough to run a successful business, that you never give up on your dreams, and that hard work brings fabulous results.

I talk a lot about memories and writing about some of our most memorable times in such a memorable place has brought me a lot of peace. In a Facebook memory today our visit to Clevedale was posted. Paul commented that he’s often qwondered that if we had realized then how sick Tim was if we could have saved him. I’ve thought about that too, but believe that God knew Tim wasn’t suited to long illnesses and would likely not done well with chemo, so I am grateful that he died believing that we were still camping and that he was well. I’m grateful that he had all of those great memories of Clevedale too. As you’re reading this I hope you have a special place in your life like Clevedale Historic Inn and Garderns where you can find your peace, but if not, Spartanburg, SC isn’t that far away and I’m sure Paul and Pontheolla would welcome you with open arms. Tell them I sent you!





4 thoughts on “The Abernathys, Clevedale and Us – a Memorable Family Story!

  1. Dear Loretta,

    I read this mostly with tears in my eyes but a huge smile on my face. What a beautiful piece of writing it is, and what a moving tribute to friendship and to four incredible people – yes, you included.

    As you already know, I’m lucky enough to have spent a few days at Clevedale, because Spartanburg is my hometown. Even though Ted, Emilia, and I had never met Pontheolla and Paul before we arrived, the welcome to Clevedale they extended to us was as warm as the June breezes that passed among the magnolia trees all around the yard during our stay. We were there to inter my mother’s ashes beside my father’s resting place and to scatter my brother’s ashes (they died only seven weeks apart), and we could not possibly have found a more perfect place or two more wonderful people to entrust ourselves to for that difficult journey. I can’t even begin to recount all the ways Paul and Pontheolla cared for us and supported us during that time, but I will say none of us will ever forget their hospitality and care. (One of the ways was that Pontheolla, hearing the story of my mother’s dementia and my years of caring for her, gave me a copy of your book. How perfect was that?) I know it was no accident that our journey home led us to Clevedale and to Paul and Pontheolla. It was as destined as the sun is to rise tomorrow.

    I am so grateful to be able to read the story of your and Tim’s involvement in finding Clevedale and helping Pontheolla and Paul move in and, most particularly, the story of your last visit before Tim’s death. It’s a beautiful story, and yours is a wondrous friendship. I’m so glad you three have each other to remember, to rejoice, and to grieve together at having loved Tim and been loved by him, and then having to come to terms with his absence.

    Thank you for this post, dear Loretta. Someday you and I will meet at Clevedale, and I will delight in listening to the three of you tell even more stories about your wonderful “frienaly.”

    With lots of love,


    • Thank you for sharing your story Karen!!!!! I knew you had been to Clevedale but didn’t know the reason!!! Yes we have definitely some wild stories of those trips up and down the road AND the moving furniture memories are hysterical!! Pontheolla watched every step we took with those furniture pieces!! Just memories you’ll never forget!! And you’re so right things don’t just happen, destiny is everything!!
      See you at Clevedale!!

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