My people are from the rough and lovely mountains of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. Up in those hollows, where you hail from matters. Who your people are is also of considerable import. Some of my ancestors were from a place called Fletcher Ridge.
One Sunday afternoon, my Dad and I decided to try to find Fletcher Ridge. In the days before Google mapped the world, finding a place was more difficult that hitting a button on your phone. There were few street signs and vast swaths of unmapped area.
Directions offered by store keeps and gas station attendants usually involved phrases like “that big oak” or “a big red barn set back from the road” or “Junior Johnson’s place” or “where that big Chestnut used to stand.” If you didn’t understand those directions then, truth is, you probably shouldn’t be up in the mountains to start with and you might want to go back home before somebody gets the idea you are from the federal government and decides to run you in a ditch, or worse.
We drove from Mount Carmel, through Kingsport and on through the known world. We passed through Gate City, then up the valley toward Nickelsville, then a quick right up Big Moccasin, then up, up, up into the mountains. Unmarked roads. Some paved. Some with shot gravel. Some plain dirt.
We went up and down ridges, into dark hollows and through vast stands of virgin timber. We did not find Fletcher Ridge. We were both disappointed. As I drove, I said to my Dad, “Well, it’s not like we are going to come around a corner and there’s going to be a big sign that says ‘Welcome to Fletcher Ridge.’
He agreed and we decided to head home and in that moment, in that exact instant, we came around a curve and there, up in a guy’s yard, was a homemade wooden sign.
I got on the brakes hard and pulled over. We were stunned to silence. Then we started laughing. Fletcher’s love to laugh. I got out and took some pictures. We admired the guy’s handiwork including the wooden dog he carved with its own sign – Bad Dog.
A photo of that sign and dog has been on the wall of my office for some 20 years. It doesn’t mean much these days, except to me and a handful of Fletchers, Owens, Blevins, Cortners, Herndons and Jesses.
Fletcher Ridge. Perhaps now it only exists in my imagination. A high place in the mountains. A place where the truth matters. A place where people keep their word. A place of honor and justice. A place where you are expected to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. A place where almost everybody can tell a good story, or play a guitar or sing a pretty good acapella version of Amazing Grace.
One day soon I’m going to go looking for Fletcher Ridge again. Maybe Google found it. Maybe my brother will go with me, or my Mom. Maybe we will take some ham biscuits with us and have lunch by a creek. Maybe we will find it. Maybe we won’t. It will make a good story either way.