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Friday, July 10, 2009


Tom Pruitt told Ted Stern, whose farm he was caretaking, the old Caudill farm in Air Bellows---Tom's sister Bessie married a Caudill---he needed help, somebody to live here year-round to work the farm of 250 acres, 23 head of Herefords, beef cattle, and Christmas trees. Ted Stern was then president at the College of Charleston in South Carolina with a summer farm in the mountains for the view out the window. I'd been out of school a few years and doing a good job of nobody going nowhere. That came to an end with a major realization, that God Is, and a year later I entered a new world, an old world I knew nothing whatsoever about except a little of the nonsense flatlanders believe about hillbillies: don't have all their teeth, make liquor, illiterate, fiddles and banjos, bib overalls, poverty.

I tend to think of my arrival here, 9:30 pm, 31 October 1976, the day of my birth. I'd say what I call a realization, otherwise known as getting saved, was the moment of conception. The day my parachute landed me here I think of as a birth. I thought committing to live on a country road in the mountains where I knew nobody something on the order of going swimming in the ocean at night during a lightning storm. It seemed to have a lethal edge. It seemed like a vortex of redneckism, wondering what to do when somebody says, "You callin me a liar?" It never happened and I never did come up on a still in my walkings around to get shot. A few times since then I almost got myself shot, but not by surprise.

Tom seemed like he might have been from the generation before my grandparents, from great-grandparent times. That was coming from the world where electricity came half a century before it arrived in the mountains. Tom wore khaki pants, khaki shirt, Mason shoes, an old-timey man's hat with brim all the way around. With the image in your mind, wash the clothes and hang them on a fence to dry 500 times, never polish the shoes. Half inch long brown lines ran down from the corners of his lips permanently from the snuff that was always in his mouth. Tom could put two fingers to his lips and spit accurately 15-20 feet.

Soon after arriving I needed firewood. Didn't know how to use a chainsaw, had never seen one except in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and videos of the made-for-tv biker band, the Plasmatics with Wendy O Williams chainsawing a Cadillac onstage. Found a little Sears chainsaw in the barn with maybe an 18 inch bar. It barely ran. I figured out how to make it splutter enough to convince me it could run. I didn't know then that when Tom pointed giving directions, you don't follow where he pointed. He pointed to where it was in his mind as he was seeing it, not on the landscape. He told me of a good place on the farm to get some wood. He pointed and when I set out to get some wood I went to where he pointed. Generous, I thought. A big mound of already cut tree trunks, just perfect. About a 6" diameter and 6' or so long. All I had to do was cut each one into three logs. I filled up the truck easily and grateful to Tom for thinking of me.

Next day I learned I'd got into the locust posts he'd been cutting all summer for fences. He hadn't been thinking of me at all, except with most likely dread: city boy that didn't even know how to use a chainsaw, didn't know what a bush-axe was. The first job he put me to that I could do on workable days through the winter, he showed me the bush-axe with Byzantine curve to the blade, like something in medieval war movies. He took me and showed me a place that once was meadow, grown up in saplings. He wanted it meadow again. I was all with it. I needed to get into physical shape. Often I changed clothes at lunchtime because they were soaked, and frequently a light snow on the ground. Every night I'd wake in the night and both arms would be numb from shoulder to fingertips. I believed Tom gave me the project to get rid of me. It was just what I wanted, something to help me get into shape by spring so I could start doing farm work besides hacking down acres of saplings and bigger.

Everything about Tom was new to me and at the same time familiar. I identified his accent similar to my grandmother's in Kansas City, who was from a small town due west of KC on the Kaw River, Perry KS. I thought it odd, but figured it was a rural American accent. I understood Tom's talking from the first time we talked. None of my friends who visited here from other places has ever understood anything he said. I just learned three years ago that my grandmother's people moved to Kansas from East Kentucky, Pulaski County, not a long ways from Cumberland Gap. It's in the Cumberland Plateau the same as her husband's people who moved to Perry from Tennessee lived in back home. It was then I understood why so much was familiar here. I will believe to my last day that God blew my parachute here because he knew before I did that this place is the home of my soul.


  1. I guess you learned quickly what a locust post was for huh? great story!

  2. Makes great firewood.