Finding Fletcher Ridge

2017-01-26-16-13-41

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.

Fletcher Ridge

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.

A Rumination On Silence

2014-10-04-17-57-08-hdr

Silence
Even the word is a rebuke to its meaning
Full of sibilance and a hard press of wind
between the teeth
Silence.
No.
Silence!
That’s better.
Is it possible to speak about silence?
Isn’t the act itself a rebuke to the subject?
I once read the words of a great jazz musician
who said
Writing about music
Is like dancing about architecture.
And so
Isn’t speaking about silence
like painting about nothingness
or sculpting about nature?
One of the most
devastatingly effective prayers
I ever heard
was on the subject of silence.
The pastor
a bit of a rogue
prayed a bit and then said in the hushed tones of prayerfulness
we were to be silent
but rather than the ten or fifteen seconds of silence
considered acceptable in a Methodist gathering
one long minute passed
and then another
and
well, it was awkward.
By the time his voice was lifted
into the rafters of the old church
I was having to suppress laughter
while coughing and sneezing and squirming in the pews
reached a fever pitch.
They were not amused
but he was
and I was
and we are still friends.

Saving Steps

34-bill-sharon-mike-1972

On the little farm in Mount Carmel we had a few chickens so that we would have fresh eggs.

Every morning one of the little chores that we would have to do before we went to school was gathering the eggs that had been laid by the chickens the night before.

We had a little chicken house about 100 feet down the hill from the back of the house. Every morning one of us would take a little straw basket down to the hen house and gather up the eggs. Usually there would be five or six eggs. Sometimes more. Sometimes less.

One morning I was getting ready to go to school and I was pretty excited because I had some brand new blue jeans.

New blue jeans were a bit of an event around our house. We didn’t always have enough money to buy new clothes and it really meant something when you got a new pair of blue jeans. I still remember those jeans. They were so dark and blue and had copper rivets at some of the stress points. I was real proud of those jeans and pretty excited to have them. I was so excited that I forgot to take the egg basket with me when I went to get the eggs.

When I got down to the hen house I had a real problem because there was a bumper crop of eggs that morning and I didn’t have the egg basket. I got all the eggs out and there were nine of them. I could get two eggs in each hand so I realized that meant two or three trips up and down the hill even if I got the basket.

Then I noticed the nice big pockets in my blue jeans. Ahhhhh. Problem solved.

I started stuffing the eggs in the pockets of my new jeans. Nine eggs? No problem.

I started walking up to the house pretty pleased with myself that I had solved my problem without having to make extra trips. What I didn’t count on was the steps leading up to the back porch. I went trotting up those back steps and I heard “pop pop pop” around my thighs. I immediately realized I had broken some of the eggs and big tears started coming to my eyes.

I walked into the kitchen and presented myself to my Mom who wasn’t upset at all about the eggs. She tried to make me feel better as she stripped those jeans off of me and started cleaning up the eggs. She said she would wash the jeans for me and I could wear them the next day. I was devastated. I went back to the room I shared with my brother, picked out some of my old britches and put them on and went off to school.

I wore my new jeans the next day but they weren’t quite as nice and new as they were the day before. I learned a valuable lesson that day about the consequences of trying to save a few steps.

Happy Birthday Jesus

2014-10-17-19-42-03

Happy Birthday Jesus. I love Jesus. I dig on Mohammed, blessed be his name, too. Pass the gefilte fish. Know that if you ever go to a meat and three with the Buddha, he’s going to have the pie. I am Shiva, the re-constructor (not the destroyer … bad translation.) Hare Krishna!! I embrace all religions … all faiths … and I believe that there are things in this Universe that we do not understand, and cannot understand. That’s why it’s called faith. I have been in the high temples of Europe and smoky houses of faith in the Orient and have felt a sense of awe in those and many other sacred places. Infinity is a thing. At the end of the day, higher mathematics and religious ecstasy are the same thing. Ones and Zeros. If you want to get strip searched at an airport, drop a Koran in your bag. I was once robbed with a Bible. Failing to embrace someone else’s faith is to deny your own. Good and Evil exist in the world. I’ve seen both up close. They both have bad breath. Which is to say … what we do in this life echoes in eternity …  what you do to the least of these you do unto me … love thy neighbor … thou shalt never eat anything bigger than your head…  thou shalt not do murder … these are all just as important as smiting the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. This is taken from my Book of Common Prayer. Peace unto you. And also unto you. Love one another. As it is written, so it shall be. Amen.

Now What?

And so now I return to my regularly scheduled life. 

Doing a big campaign like Foster Campbell is like going off to war except nobody dies and I don’t end up with PTSD. But now I want to sleep in my own bed. I want to take my wife to dinner and enjoy her making fun of my bed head hair when I get up in the morning. I want to play golf on Saturday mornings. I want to surprise my daughter when I pop in and have lunch with her. I want to take care of my clients. I want to be able to say yes when a friend wants to have a drink after work. I’m gonna go see my mother, and my brother. A friend of mine is buying a boat and, even though I don’t know anything about boats and I have a moderate fear of deep water, he wants me to go with him to get it and I think I will. 

All of that will be awesome. This campaign will become a memory. The adrenaline rush of trying to bend an entire state to my will, on a deadline, with strategies, words and pictures cannot be adequately explained to someone on the outside. We won a lot of races this year and I had the good fortune to elect the governor of Louisiana 25 years ago. But the world has changed yet again and Foster Campbell striding onto the floor the United States Senate is not to be. The world is a sadder place because of that because John Neely Kennedy will be a boring lapdog and Foster Campbell in the United States Senate … that … that would’ve been a hell of a damn show.

Baseball Brings Us Together

jv-baseball

I took this photo and wrote this more than a decade ago. Tonight, Americans will put aside their differences and watch a baseball game. This is why:

This has been a great year. A year of highs and lows. Of sweet memories and bitter disappointment. This picture is one of my favorites from the year … the hands of the JV squad joined together before a game. Such hope. Such promise.

When I think back to all the times I’ve spent with my children at ballparks over the years it seems like I’ve spent a lifetime there … and it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. I’ve eaten some great hamburgers and some bad hotdogs at the ballparks. Our children and our team have brought us together. Many of us would never have met otherwise.

 There is a timeless quality to a baseball game … a suspension of time. Baseball is the only major team sport without a clock. It’s the only major team sport where the defense starts every play with the ball. It is a game of finesse and power, of speed and deliberation, of individual effort and teamwork. One mighty swing, one errant throw can change the course of a game in the blink of an eye.

It has been such a joy to watch these young men grow and develop over time. One of the players from last year was at the ballpark today and it was like seeing an old friend. We shook hands and in that handshake were all the memories of last year and of this year and of all the memories yet to be.

We will never regret our hours at the ballpark. We will remember the wins and forget the losses. We will come across a picture in a box some distant day and we will feel the dust of the field in our mouths, we will remember our children standing in the closely-mown grass and we will remember these timeless days with sadness and longing.

Bill Fletcher

May 11, 2004

Home

 

 

 

 

Young Fletch with Tree 3

“All things on earth point home in old October:

sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences,

hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds,

the lover to the love he has forsaken.”

– Thomas Wolf

Art in the common places.

Checkers

1956-dad-and-papaw-owens-playing-checkers

This is a photo of my father, William Burke Fletcher, and my maternal grandfather, Craig Owens, two years before I was born. My mother, Shirley Fletcher, sent my family some photos of them playing checkers through the years tonight along with this note.
 
“Your Dad always told people he won me in a checker game with my Daddy. When he came to see me they always seemed to get into a checker game. It continued for many years even after we married if they were together very long the checker board came out. I was looking through pictures tonight and wanted to share these picture with you. Love You Mom, Maw.”