Sunday, December 9, 2012


   Back during WWII, I used to walk/run out of Rhodes Cove each morning to catch the bus to the Sylva Elementary School.  I was one of a dozen kids that stood under the Old Cherry Tree over on #107 near the space now occupied by the big “Super Shell” and the new Dairy Queen.  In my memory, the tree was a great hulking shell with only a few feeble branches of greenery near the top.  Over the years, it had become a popular place to board the school bus (# 18) or to “flag a ride” to Cullowhee or Sylva.  I often heard my friends say, “Pick me up at the Cherry Tree” when they were planning a trip to the Ritz Theater or a ball game at the Sylva High School.

   Each morning, rain, snow or shine, the kids would start arriving at the Cherry Tree a few minutes before the bus arrived.  I think all of us became experts in judging the time it would take to get there, and many  of the kids in Rhodes Cove would linger on the front porch or yard until the last possible moment.  Then, we would come swooping out of the Cove, always a little anxious that the bus might just leave without us.  It never did.

   I especially remember running down the dirt trail from my grandparent’s farm house, past Granny Painter’s garden on one side and a huge lot full of  hysterical guineas on the other - guineas that cackled terror and destruction as I sped past.  If I arrived early at the Cherry Tree, we usually indulged in horse play and games until the bus came. There would be marbles, or some spirited “tag” with boys and girls running through the kudzu-covered hillsides around the bus stop. I vaguely remember a game called “Red Rover,” and another one called “Pretty Girl Station.”

   I don’t remember when the Cherry Tree vanished.  I guess it was some time in the late 40’s when suddenly, there was a vacant space where it used to be, and we were riding a bus up Rhodes Cove (soon to become Cherry Street). My world began to change and a dozen houses disappeared. Suddenly, Wimpy Hyatt’s house was gone, as was Fred Cope’s and the place where Ronnie Stewman lived (he had more comic books than anybody in the Cove). There was a little cabin called the “Watson place”  that was suddenly... gone.

   The land was changing, too. Pavement was spreading through the Cove and street lights began to appear. The rough, unruly woodland along the road was being curried, trimmed, and whittled away. I guess you could say it was tamed or subdued. Blackberry  and laurel thickets vanished along with flocks of grouse and pheasant.  George Wilkes’ “communal pasture” where people went each afternoon to milk their cows, was gone.  (I still remember people walking past the house carrying buckets of milk home.) People who kept cows and pigs were becoming rare.

   When I sit on my porch in the evening now, I am profoundly aware of a constant clatter and screech from the distant highway and the place where the Cherry Tree once stood. The noise that rolls up Cherry Street from #107 is often deafening and always unpleasant. Sirens, stripped gears, motorcycles, shouts, whistles all wrapped in a blanket of smells, burned meat, rubber and fermented milk. Even though I am hearing impaired, the thundrous sounds usually drive me indoors.  I am amazed that I once sat on this same porch some sixty years ago and heard nothing but rain crows and wind ....all bathed in the soft light of moon and stars.

   I am told that progress is good and that I should rejoice that my home is in easy reach of milkshakes, hamburgers and gasoline. Perhaps so.  I have definitely come to feel that I am a “vanishing breed,” and the new world moving up Cherry Street is the wave of the future and it is alien to me.  I can’t help but wonder if we are losing something precious and vital...something that lived in pastures, cornfields and Mamie Painter’s garden.  I guess we have made a “swap”....We swapped the rain crows, the peace and the moonlight for gasoline, hamburgers and raucous goodtimes at the Dairy Queen.

There are nights now where I dream of the Cherry Tree, and those cackling guineas and the lowing of cows with tinkling bells that used to curiously regard me as I raced for the school bus. Did we not, for a brief time, live in harmony with the natural world? Has something been leached away by the sirens, shouts and barking dogs in the night?  Time to move into the house close the door. Maybe play a little classical music....something old-fashioned and corny like Tchikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” or Willie Nelson’s “The Red-headed Stranger.”


  1. Thank you. Wonderful that you can take us there, and make us appreciate the memory, in so few words.

  2. Greetings Gary,
    I used to post with you on Alice's Wintersong blog about the story of Nance Dude. I recently re-read the book
    and looked in there to find comments and see that thread pretty much blew up some time ago. She still bothers me. But reading your cherry tree comments brings back so many memories of my childhood across the mountain in Tennessee. We are likely of the same generation of Appalachian cosmic possums as somebody called it...I think it was Sharyn McCrumb. Just as many odd and 'quare' individuals in my little country upbringing as yours, and I thank you for sharing yours! They are wonderfully well served in your words.
    Regards, and happy holidays,
    anne wagner

  3. Thank you, Anne.
    I kind of feel that the same thing that happened to the Popcorn Sutton cult also happened to the Nance Dude blog.
    All of those posters posting reverent messages to honor a kinship that never existed. Folks have a marvelous capacity to mold the past into something that pleases them, I guess. I know Maurice Stanley is as bewildered by those posters as I am. But, hey, on we go! The dance goes on.

  4. I'm glad you are out there listening, Gary, and read somewhere you had a cocklear implant so hopefully you are hearing the applause much better now! That must give you a lot of joy!! I just had to get a hearing aid myself and am thrilled to know that my floors squeak--something I never heard before!! Honestly, I loved Maurice's book and your play; but there is just so much we don't know about what really happened, and things we perhaps do not want to know. The picture you posted certainly looks like Nance, and the guy standing next to her looks the same so he may well be her son by her marriage to Kerley. So, even though she was strange and reclusive, somebody talked her into being in a picture that day. Maybe it was a happy day for her, asssuming most of her life was bleak and lonely. I like the 'harpies' version very well, she had a home with her son and wife, Minty, and Lizzy and Will called often. Does it make sense she would tolerate Will who is the root of all evil as far as getting shed of Roberta? I doubt it, but they don't want to think about one room shacks with dirt floors, so goes it. Dance Away!!

  5. There is a local story....which probably means that it isn't true....that Nance's son came and took her out of the little shack and put her in her own room in his house....but Nance was senile and would get up in the night and leave. The son would find her wandering the road. He finally took her back to her shack where she seemed to be perfectly happy. That is local folklore. I don't want to start another Nance Dude blog and I haven't heard from Maurice in years which leads me to believe that he has had enough, too. Maurice has gone on and written other books and I have written other plays. I intend to spend Christmas at either the Waffle House or the Huddle House.

    1. Thanks, Gary, I hope it's true because it would mean a tiny bit of caring was extended towards this poor woman. And do write about what Christmas at either Waffle House or Huddle House was like, I am sure there would be some interesting people partaking of the feast there. Or at least I hope so!

    2. No, the Waffle House turned out to be a bad experience. They were training a new waitress and we got off to a bad start when she refused to give me a menu, so I collected my books and my book rack (I had meant to read for a couple of hours and maybe eat breakfast twice) and went to the Huddle House which was a couple of miles away. That worked. I read 30 pages of Cleopatra (the biography), ate a huge breakfast and watched a family from Georgia read road maps. When they turned on the juke box and started playing christmas carols, I took my implant, descended into blessed silence and read until closing time. It was a nice Christmas.

    3. It's actually fascinating that people would be reading a paper, tangible road map on Christmas Day of 2012, or any day really. I thought everyone had those gadgets that tell you where to turn.
      Obviously, I don't or I'd know its name.
      And yep, every doggone time I go into a diner and the waitress refuses to give me a menu, it's all downhill after that! Very funny!! Here we had the proprietor of a fish house downtown serve a couple of women, who ate, paid their check, left a nice tip and proceeded to the door, followed by the owner who passed them a note. It chided their "choice of lifestyle" and quoted a bunch of scripture. They were very offended (wouldn't anybody be?) and took themselves and the note to the press. The owner has declined any further comment since his poor choices made the TODAY show.
      But it didn't happen on Christmas day at least, altho it was a Sunday - he doesn't do the day of rest thing, I reckon, just the judging stuff.

  6. Oh, yeah. I saw that on the news. Had interviews with both the waitress and the minister. Neither one of them handled theirselves very well, but the minister came off as pompous and judgmental. When I see these things on TV, it makes me realize why people are reluctant to "get involved." Not only will your words come back to haunt you, but you get to listen to a lot of self-righteous commentary.