Humor, mystery and a wonderful menagerie of characters

Although migrations have become a significant and controversial aspect of our current history, there is another annual migration that has been with us for centuries. That is the annual arrival of visitors to Appalachia that has become an honored tradition. It is customary for retired and/or wealthy families to make the annual trek to the Southern Highlands. The “summer home” visitors have reshaped the Appalachian economy and a large percentage of the native work force is now engaged in building, repairing and maintaining the homes of the summer folk. In fact, many of the men and women who once farmed this land are now the employees of the summer residents: wives become cooks and housekeepers and the men develop carpentry skills. They build sun decks, kilns and fireplaces and with luck, they become “almost” a part of the summer family.

The tears of these poor men: Victims of Cowee Tunnel disaster deserve recognition

In a region as rich in local lore as this, it may seem like every story’s been told to death, including that of the infamous Cowee Tunnel disaster. 

North Carolina, though, is also home to the old-world tradition of telling stories through song and has an ample supply of musicians like Balsam Range frontman Buddy Melton and his buddies, Haywood native Milan Miller and Piedmont bassist Mark W. Winchester, who on their 2010 album Songs From Jackson County relate the incident about as well as anyone else ever could.

Frazier’s latest novel is a marvelous read

... never acknowledging that the general culture is often stupid or evil and would vote out God in favor of the devil if he fed them back their hate and fear in a way that made them feel righteous.

 — Varina, page 329

Back in the eighteenth century, England developed a popular form of novel called “picaresque.” Essentially, this name was applied to a novel in which the hero or heroine travels to exotic places where they have exciting adventures. The characters were frequently a bit disreputable but survived in spite of the odds against them. Moll Flanders and Tom Jones were popular examples.  

Book examines ‘meanness’ in Christianity

The author of this book is a speech language psychologist and university educator. Now in his sixties, Billy has extensive experience in assisting individuals with intellectual disabilities.  In addition, Ogletree is a Christian writer with an extensive career which includes more than 70 professional articles, chapters and books which speak directly to his primary interest: “the challenging, but cathartic possibilities associated with following Jesus.”

Grief and redemption in the wilds of Wyoming

I fled him down the nights and down the days;

I fled him down the arches of the years;

I fled him down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

— “Hounds of Heaven” by Francis Thompson

The devil is all over this dark tale

Since Luke Bauserman is a folklorist, it is safe to say that many of his characters already exist; some have existed since the beginning. Certainly, someone has told us tales of how death and the devil have communicated with mortals before.

Plott hounds hold unique place in WNC history

I had my first encounter with a prize-winning Plott hound several years ago when I was hosting a Liars Bench program at Western Carolina University. I had asked David Brewin to bring Nannie, his Plott hound, to the program.

As I remember it now, Nannie was not on a leash, but it seemed unnecessary. She came and sat by David and surveyed the people in the audience, her dark brendle coat shimmering under the lights. No stranger to crowds, she was calm, even composed and she seemed to briefly study each individual on the crowded stage.

Carden in the rye: WNC storyteller bridges past, present

There is no middle ground.

With Jackson County storyteller/playwright Gary Carden, you either love the guy or you tolerate him, a curmudgeon some might say. Luckily, most folks in Western North Carolina appreciate and revel in the singular, beloved personality that is Carden — an increasingly rare voice that serves as a vital window into the past.

Book celebrates ‘all things Appalachian’

Some four years ago, I reviewed Matthew Baker’s first book, My Appalachian Granny, a delightful collection of anecdotes, photographs and provocative history. Much of the book dealt with Baker’s friendship with Evelyn Howell Beck, whose life reflected the qualities that the author had come to admire.

A desperate tale, beautifully written

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

Then your light will rise in the darkness,

And your night will become like the noonday.”

— Isiah 58:10

The setting of Desperation Road is a short stretch of highway in Mississippi between Magnolia and McComb near the Louisiana state line. It is a rural area and other than the Fernwood Truck Stop and the Armadillo bar, there is nothing of interest ... just closed stores, a bus station and a half-way house. This is where Michael Farris Smith’s characters spend their time in a desperate search for peace or redemption. They are all defeated and bear the scars of their encounters.

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