Tuesday, September 8, 2015


                                                                 PART THREE

If by mentioning my mother at such length in my two prior posts I have left the impression that she was the dominant parent during my childhood, such was not my intention.  My father, the Methodist minister, was at least an equally powerful influence, if not the most powerful.  While Mother was indeed a strong force for discipline, correct demeanor and the strict observance of social norms, my father was a beacon of moral and ethical behavior.  But where Mother was forceful and didactic, Daddy---my revealing name for him even in my adulthood---led by soft-spoken example.  He forever showed an almost tender tolerance; and he seemed to have an aversion to judging others, a rare trait in a preacher, though if presented with churlish or unkind behavior he had a remarkable capacity for rebuking it, not in confrontation but with gentle, sorrowing but unmistakably reproving words.  I have never since met a kinder man.

I have said that Mother was the disciplinarian.  That is true.  But when I had committed a really serious trespass, the rules of our home dictated that the correspondingly severe punishment must be administered by Daddy.  Mother would say something like, "You've done a really bad thing, Charles.  And when he gets home, your Father will have to deal with you."  This was a dire moment indeed, and not for me only, for Daddy made no secret of the fact that he hated to punish his children.  Of course these were the days of rampant corporal punishment, but even in that harsher time it was clear that to inflict pain on another, especially his own, was deeply repugnant to him.  I don't think he ever said, "This is going to hurt me more than it is you," but it was obvious that such was the case.  I don't think I have ever seen so much distress on a human face as when he bent to this distasteful duty.  And of course I in turn suffered immeasurable grief and guilt for having forced this ordeal on him by whatever thoughtless acts I had committed.  The emotional agony I felt, my pity for him, hurt worse than any spanking.

He was a mild-mannered man.  But when he rose to the pulpit to preach, he exuded an astonishing authority.  Mostly his sermons were delivered in a tone of sadness, understanding and consolation, not as if, as a minister, he condemned human frailty and back-sliding but as if he knew from his own experience the everyday temptations and sorrows that afflicted mankind and, far from condemning them or reprimanding his flock for indulging them, urged instead a resort to faith, forbearance and spiritual strength.  I still have some audio tapes of some of his sermons and when I hear them I am struck to my heart by the sorrow in his voice.  He sounds as if the troubles of humankind were so painfully acute to him that he could barely force himself to face them.

But on other occasions he could unleash thunders from the pulpit that were, I think, born of his
gentle soul's abhorrence of deliberate evil.  In this way I believe he showed how deeply the hatreds of his world---the hatreds every morning's newspaper announced, the evils that were tormenting Europe and the Pacific and the Far East---disturbed him.  I think he understood those evils in a way my optimistic mother could not allow herself to do.  He understood them and he was saddened almost to despair by their prevalence and force.  I wonder too if he didn't struggle within himself over the question why the benevolent God he served could permit such horrors.

Nor were his passions limited to events overseas.  He once served a church many of whose members were avowed members of the Ku Klux Kan.  This was at the time of the Civil Rights Movement.  He spoke forthrightly and passionately from the pulpit about the importance in Christian teaching of racial tolerance and redressing the grievances of black Americans, and none in the congregation dared resist his message.  Somewhat later in that same period, in a different church, a black man appeared on the steps of the sanctuary and an usher raced to Daddy's study where he was preparing his sermon.  "Preacher," he cried, "there's a nigger trying to come into the church."  And Daddy said, "Well, show him in and give him a seat."  If he could hurl thunders, he could also speak softly.  And in both voices there was moral authority.  There was power.

Both he and Mother have been gone now for many years.  I myself am closing in on my seventy-seventh birthday.  Already I have lived three years longer than my older sister and my maternal grandmother.  I can sense the nearness of my own passing.  More and more I find myself taking a retrospective view of my life.  And as I do so I feel gratitude for my parents, for my relentlessly, sometimes tiresomely optimistic and demanding Mother and for Daddy, with his warmth, gentleness and abundant love.

                                                        TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, September 7, 2015


                                                                PART TWO

In the preceding essay I referred to my mother as Mom, a term which I now realize may be somewhat misleading because it conjures up an image of warmth, affection, nurturing and compassion.  This is not to say that my mother was in any way lacking in these fine traits.  But in addition to an abiding maternal love she also had certain qualities that a hard upbringing had instilled.  Her father, a railroad worker, had died in the 1919 influenza epidemic when she was very young.  Her widowed mother had been forced to fend for herself and two children as best she could, a daunting prospect for a largely uneducated female single parent making her way in a rough railroad settlement in an isolated section of the Western North Carolina mountains.  My grandmother's troubles were worsened when, soon after the death of her husband, her house caught fire and burned to the ground, nearly causing the death of her son, my uncle, who, by necessity, she had left unattended while out shopping for groceries.  She made her way by working as a maid in a hotel, as a domestic and washerwoman, and as a cook in the kitchen of an Episcopal missionary school for the children of needy mountaineers.

Nor was this all.  That part of Southern Appalachia, because of its remoteness, had traditionally been populated by feudists, moonshiners and bushwhackers; and early in the twentieth century it not only still harbored dangerous men but, by virtue of its rugged terrain, was often subject to extremely violent weather and severe flooding.  This combination of threats had its impact on my grandmother; to the end of her life she feared thunderstorms and the prospect of lawlessness, indeed any sort of perceived danger, in a way that I, a child growing up in a tamer time and place, thought morbid and senseless.  But over the years I have come to understand that, to her, such dangers had once been very real and deserving of her fear; time had not erased them, and could not.

Oddly, though, my mother had emerged from this same fraught background with what seemed to me a relentlessly sunny disposition that posed a sharp contrast with my grandmother's dreads and fears.  Looking back on her optimism I have often called her a Pollyanna.  She seemed to have believed from her earliest years that the world was a bright and promising place and that its dangers were few and could be defeated simply by smiling and believing always in the best outcomes.  To this day I cannot understand how she developed and clung to this philosophy, so at variance with her own experience and that of my grandmother.  But she did.  And a concomitant of that belief was a sort of brusque confidence that if one made up one's mind to accomplish a thing, one was bound to succeed at it. That attitude, coupled with hard work and determination, would always result in good outcomes.

Though this philosophy was a confident and inspiring one, there was also a hard edge to it.  My sister, when she was a college student majoring in piano, was preparing for a graduation recital she mentioned that she intended to use sheet music to play the most difficult pieces she had chosen.  My mother responded, "No daughter of mine is going to perform a recital reading sheet music"--a  baleful declaration, it seems to me now.  Likewise, we children were always instructed to behave like small angels both in church and in the community, lest we reflect badly on our father, the minister.  Thus it seemed that the survival of his ministry, and of our well-being as a family, depended on the excellence of our behavior.  And on our talents.  My sister being a pianist in whom my mother could take pride, I was appointed to take voice lessons so that I might stand gloriously in the choir stall and sing solos.  I still cringe at the thought of those poor parishioners forced to listen, Sunday after Sunday, to my tremulous screeching.

Still today it is difficult for me to admit, even to myself, that my mother might have been so nakedly ambitious.  When I search for the reasons for her ambition, I can't help going back in thought to the poverty and humiliation that must have attended her childhood, and to the shame she may have felt growing up in so constricted and demeaning an environment, without a father, and with a mother who was, in effect, a servant.  How much more wonderful to have become the wife of a minister of the Gospel and the mother of two dutiful, talented, college-educated children?  People who came to know her always remarked what a great lady she was.  She knew everything about etiquette, art, interior decoration, decorum, fashion, all the finer things of life.  How had she learned all these things, coming up as she had, in such constricted circumstances?  I don't know.  I'll never know.  But I'm eternally grateful.  If not for her, I would never have become a writer.  She loved books and caused me to love them and want to write them.

Still, I did not, and do not today, call my mother Mom, though for some reason I used that term in the first installment of this post.  I called her Mother.  I still do.  And that is a term of respect.  But it also, I think, sets a certain distance between us.  There is a mystery here too, that I have never solved.  How could this determinedly positive, ambitious, accomplished and confident woman have emerged from such a deprived and difficult life experience?  How could she, during World War Two, have balanced her buoyant optimism against the horrors we contemplated every morning over the newspaper's headlines?  How could she insist that good would always triumph over evil?  And how then did I become the person I am, infatuated with military affairs and with wars, violence and perversity, writing not about the Prince of Peace but about the worst of human behavior so often overcoming the best?

                                                   TO BE CONTINUED

Sunday, September 6, 2015


Last Wednesday, September 2, was the seventieth anniversary of what used to be called V-J Day, the day World War Two came to an end with the official surrender of Imperial Japan.  I suppose only folks my age and older still take note of that distant event, and when I think about it I'm surprised that I recall it so well, since I was only a fortnight or so away from my sixth birthday.  But the memory is vivid nonetheless.  I am with my dad on Pack Square in Asheville, North Carolina.  A formation of B-25 Mitchell medium bombers is flying over us at low level, a treat for me, then a rabid worshipper of military aviation.  I admire the clean lines of the planes, which in my memory wear war paint of olive drab above and sky-blue beneath, though in actuality they must have been aluminum silver--my still-lingering knowledge of the arcana of the United States Army Air Force tells me the changeover from camouflage had occurred sometime early in the previous year.

Memory, of course, is notoriously unreliable where details are concerned and I'm vexed that I can't recall whether the B-25s were camouflaged or silver; but whatever their colors, I recall how the sight of them transfixed me with admiration and excitement. Nor can I say for sure whether I'm right in thinking that as they passed over the square they dumped loads of confetti on us.  I hope I'm right about that.  It would have been fitting after the long ordeal we had just passed through.  For I couldn't then remember a time when we hadn't been at war.

I had been born the year Hitler's German army marched into Austria and launched the struggle in Europe, and when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, I was two months past my third birthday.  So up to the age of six every day of my life began with the morning papers spread on the breakfast table and my mom and dad soberly discussing the latest war bulletins.  Two of my uncles were in the service--one in the 101st Airborne and the other in the Signal Corps, both assigned to Europe.  My dad, a Methodist minister, was exempt.  I was glad of that, because all of us knew someone who had lost a relative to the war.  I loved my uncles and could not bear the thought of either of them in mortal danger.

Today it is nearly unimaginable that whole nations--millions and millions of people--could declare war on one another and fight until one side or the other suffered total, calamitous defeat.  And it is wholly unimaginable that one such war could have been won by the use of atomic weapons killing tens of thousands at a stroke.  Of course in more recent years the United States has fought wars in Korea, Vietnam and in Iraq and Afghanistan but in various ways all these conflicts were limited by strategic and geographic considerations and were ended mainly by political and diplomatic means.  Today we are more familiar with small, vexing,  ambiguous wars with groups of jihadis and terrorists who seem to have sprung improbably from medieval times into our own.  For nation-states to array against each other with all the resources of the industrial age seems to us a concept lost to history.  But in the twentieth century it happened not once but twice; thus I grew up during the bloodiest time in human history.

Those breakfast-table conversations between mom and dad were about places and events that were meaningless to a small boy--The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the Battle of the Bulge, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Kursk, Stalingrad, Okinawa.  They were about enemies whose ferocity was beyond calculation and against whose well-drilled, fanatical battalions our army of drafted soda jerks, farmers' boys, taxi drivers, salesmen, plumbers and carpenters seemed to have small hope of victory.  The impression I received was that we in America and our allies were engaged in a mortal struggle between civilization and barbarism, between absolute good and absolute evil.  And the evil we confronted was not the sin my dad preached against on Sunday mornings--ordinary, venal, comparatively inconsiderable transgressions born of greed, selfishness or lust--it was a grade of wholesale evil that threatened to consume the world, to obliterate entire populations, to wipe out all of human progress.  Every day at the breakfast table I learned how committed certain kinds of people were to destroying everything we held dear.  I still remember the battle maps displayed on the front pages of those papers, black-and-white patterns of lines and symbols that meant nothing to me but to mom and dad represented the advance or retreat, the success or failure of whole armies.  At night the civil defense authorities would test the air raid sirens and I would awaken in terror to the weird, wobbling howls, thinking the Japanese or the Nazis were invading.  Mom would hurry to my bedroom and hold me, comfort me, as I sobbed.  But she couldn't comfort me; I knew the evil ones were coming

Yet, as I have written in another place, in daylight, on those mornings at the breakfast table, mom always insisted to me--against this background of daily horror--that most people were good at heart, that if we all lived virtuous lives we would be rewarded after death with life everlasting, that all would eventually turn out well.  Her well-intended words, together with my dad's weekly sermons about the primacy of kindness, love and tolerance, urged me to believe that goodness would eventually prevail though every day's news pounded home the message that, instead, pure evil was transcendent in the world. So I became, and have remained, obsessed with evil and strangely attracted to the idea of warfare.

When I began to write fiction I delved into darksome regions.  I wrote a novel about the Texas gunman John Wesley Hardin, not irrelevantly another son of a Methodist minister, who in Reconstruction Texas and elsewhere shot down an estimated forty-six individuals before being assassinated himself.  Hardin in my novel was a figure of sheer evil but absolutely convinced his every act was right and just.  Was this a conflation of my mother's seeming distillation of positive good persisting in, or coexisting with, absolute evil?  I wrote a novel about a medieval knight who slew an archbishop and fornicated and murdered his way across Europe and the Middle East but was also both fascinated and repelled by the hypocrisy of the established church.  Was this some twisted version of my own conflation of faith and doubt, or my sick fantasy about what might have been the spiritual trials my father might have passed through?  I wrote a series of novels about my family's forebears during the American Civil War in Western North Carolina--stories rife with degeneracy, murder, pillage, torture; and another about a maternal ancestor engaged in the sordid conflict of the American Revolution in the South.  Turning then to nonfiction, I wrote an account of three Hispanic serial killers who murdered their way across Colorado Territory in 1863, killing an estimated 32 Anglos.  Even now I'm engaged in writing about a bloody range war in 19th-century Colorado, in which a judge was assassinated in his own courtroom and numbers of men were lynched.

What has this obsession with violence, warfare and death been but an effort, half conscious and half-unconscious, to reconcile the irreconcilable, to somehow come to grips with my mother's message of sweetness and light propounded against a backdrop of the world's bloodiest century?  I have written in an earlier blog how, in my first efforts at storytelling, I created a Western hero named Buck Duck, an improbable figure who resembled Disney's Donald Duck but wore a ten-gallon hat, two guns and spurs on his webbed feet.  Buck never shot the guns out of the bad-guys' hands the way Roy Rogers and Gene Autry did.  He shot them dead just like John Wesley Hardin, and he didn't shoot them just once, he shot them multiple times.  Mom was dismayed by Buck; she urged me to write about Jesus.
But much as I admired the loving image of Jesus, I had to admit He wouldn't have lasted long in Dodge City or Tombstone.

                                                        TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


            Lately the old familiar Biblical quotation has become lodged in my brain, I know not why.  It has been nagging me for days, so this morning I decided  to look it up and determine whether the wording in my head matched the language in Holy Writ.  It does; it comes from the Old Testament, the book of Numbers, Chapter 32, Verse 23. 
            Like everybody else, I am not without sin, and yes, a few of my sins committed in former years have indeed popped up to embarrass me in later times.  But these were all trivial compared to the one that has just confronted me.
            From age eighteen till about my fifty-sixth year I smoked cigarettes with what I look back on now as heedless abandon.  It was not unusual for me to burn my way through two or three packs a day, sometimes four, and for much of that time I was smoking unfiltered Pall Malls.  Later I switched filtered Marlboros, for all the good that did me.  I had the usual reasons for smoking— I thought it looked cool, it helped relieve the stress of my high-stress jobs—but for a good part of that time the real reason was that I wanted to die and hoped my smoking would hasten that event.  I only quit smoking when I found a reason to live.  That reason was Ruth.  It still is.
            But the other day my doctor gave me a preliminary diagnosis—yet to be absolutely confirmed—of emphysema.  Ironic, huh?  I smoked in hopes of killing myself, then found a reason to live, and now face the possibility of dying just when I want most to keep going.  Of course at age 76 I would have been facing a curtailed future in any case, but to have inflicted such a future on myself by smoking strikes me now as well, funny in a grim sort of way.  Except when I think of Ruth, which is all the time.  She may well have to pay the price for my youthful folly, and that is poor return on her decision to marry me.  I am as deeply sorry for that as I am happy that she took me on.

            Of course all this maundering may be no more than melodrama.  The diagnosis remains tentative.  Maybe I’ll still be tottering along at age ninety.  Both my parents were long-lived, and so were most of the members of my dad’s family.  But on a recent trip to Colorado I did experience an alarming bout of shortness of breath—due in part, of course, to the altitude—and that lent some additional credibility to the diagnosis.  But hell, who knows?  The future remains a mystery, and the present still demands that we live in it day by day.  I’m going to write and work and love Ruth for as long as I’ve got.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


            Though I’ve been certifiably old for at least eleven years now—ever since turning 65—I still resist identifying myself as old.  This may be partly because I’ve always thought of myself as a student of life.  My mindset has been that a young person in an enduring state of learning about the mysteries and challenges that life offers.  I’ve always felt I was in a state of preparation for achieving, in some far distant time, a fund of wisdom that would equip me at last to comprehend and deal effectively with life’s ultimate meaning.  Well, that time has long since arrived, but the wisdom I hoped for has not. I’m as bewildered as ever.  And my bewilderment is worsened by the cognitive impairments that inevitably have begun to erode my mental focus.  Recently I was told by an eldercare physician (yes, I have one) that I should no longer be driving a car as I have confidently done since I was 16.  The reason: I could be liable for any damages I may inflict.  So I’m not only old, I’m a public menace.
            All this clashes violently with my deepest sense of myself.  As I’m sure is true of all old people, I feel I’ve retained, and indeed refined, all my intellectual powers, even if my physical skills may have declined a bit.  I continue to read; my curiosity is undiminished; my ambition to write and to excel in my writing rages on; I’m eager to learn; and believe it or not, I still retain a sex drive.  But I can’t deny that, in not only a bodily sense but in a mental one, I feel old.  I tire easily.  My mind sometimes slips and slides; I’m forgetful.  Multitasking was never my strong suit; now it’s nearly impossible.  And, most dire of all, I have begun thinking of myself in the past tense.
            That means, of course, that I’ve been toting up my accomplishments and measuring those against the ambitions I’ve had for myself.  The resulting ratio isn’t an encouraging one, especially when one realizes that very little of the future remains.  The future was always a refuge for the aspirations one had nursed; now that refuge is nearly gone.
            So what does one do when his sense of himself remains hopelessly adolescent yet insufficient time remains for the acquisition of wisdom?  It is an eerie dilemma, one that I never expected to confront.  I wonder if I have misspent my life, dwelling always in the present with little thought for the long term.  It seems a pity to imagine myself dying in a fiery automobile crash due to dementia, perhaps injuring or, heaven forbid, killing someone else (not to mention incurring the dreaded liability), when I might have lived on to an advanced age and perhaps even acquired some honors, if only I had planned better.  Well, the answer is, inevitably, that one has done what one has done, not what one would have liked to have done.  One has not planned sufficiently for the future.  One has lived the life that one has lived, none other.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Recently I was asked by my cousin James Padgett, long a leading architect in nearby Asheville and now enjoying retirement in our beautiful ancestral homeland of Clay County in the southwestern corner of North Carolina, to participate with him in a tribute to Horace Kephart, who in the early years of the twentieth century abandoned his promising career as a library executive in St. Louis, MO to live a rustic life in a remote section of the Great Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina.  Kephart wrote an account of his experiences in what was then still a near-wilderness, as well as a description of that isolated region and of its hardy people, in a book that has since become a classic called Our Southern Highlanders.  That work has become recognized over the years as required reading for anyone wishing to learn about our Southern Appalachian environment and heritage.  When I left Washington, DC to live and write in rural Yancey County, NC, Our Southern Highlanders was one of the first books I read to reacquaint myself with the mountain culture from which I had severed myself twenty years before.

Jim Padgett is a member of the more than century-old Pen and Plate Club, a consciously old-fashioned, formal and endearing organization composed of many of Asheville's most accomplished professional persons, which meets monthly to share dinner and hear essays presented by members dealing with a variety of subjects having to do with the history, traditions, and folkways of our region.  A charming custom of the club is that each paper requires a response by someone chosen by the presenter to comment on his or her offering; this month Jim was the presenter and I was honored to be the respondent.  Jim described Kephart's rise to prominence in his chosen profession of library science and then his surprising decision to retreat into the wilderness, leaving his wife and six children to fend for themselves while he immersed himself in woodcraft, wilderness living and learning about the lives of his rustic neighbors.

Something about that abrupt and, some would say, irresponsible decision of Kephart's to turn his back on family and work responsibilities and immure himself in what was then one of the most remote, isolated and backward parts of the United States in order to study and write, made me reflect that I too had done something similar, certainly less physically challenging but equally contrary to practical considerations.  As I meditated on this similarity, my response to Jim's paper began to take shape.  I was fascinated by the fact that Kephart, by turning away from a conventional life to satisfy what seems to have been an irresistible inner longing, had in one sense answered a profound personal need but in another sense had inflicted unforgivable pain and inconvenience on those who loved and depended on him.  The question loomed large for me, for in fact Kephart, though he reveled in his new, primitive and soul-nourishing life, at the same time became a slave to alcohol and, in the end, died in a car crash that may have been caused by drink.  While I do not think that I am embarked on a similarly destructive course, I do feel that I understand the troubling questions that may have tormented Kephart and led him to his tragic end.  How much is a commitment to art worth?  Why is it so hard to maintain such a commitment?  Should one follow one's heart when the cost to be paid by loved ones is too great?

This story of spiritual triumph won at the cost of personal and family anguish seemed to me worth examining, not only as a subject of an abstract essay about Kephart but as an exploration of my own motives and regrets as well as the motives and regrets of all of us who pursue the arts at severe costs to ourselves and to those who love and depend on us.
Those costs are harder to calculate and justify when, as in my case, one cannot point to some great accomplishment like Our Southern Highlanders, now acknowledged as a classic of regional literature.  One can more easily excuse Kephart for having chosen his passion for the wilderness over his responsibilities as a husband and father because that choice gave birth to a great literary accomplishment.  But absent such an accomplishment, what justifies a commitment to art whose costs others must bear?  What follows is my meditation on that question.

It is a privilege to have been asked by my distinguished cousin Jim Padgett to respond to his fine paper on the inspiring and tragic life of Horace Kephart, who did so much to acquaint the rest of America with the unique culture and environment of our southern mountains. 
         I hope it is not too perversely self-referential to remark that I sense in Kephart’s life and work a contour somewhat similar to my own; and that because of that similarity I tend to feel a certain kinship with him.  I was fascinated by Jim’s detailed and objective account of how Kephart first  succeeded in his chosen, and very traditional, occupation and then abandoned that occupation to pursue a personal passion—a passion which has yielded great benefits over the years to many of us who would never have known of his more traditional professional work.  While I can’t claim to have shared the strenuousness and hardihood of the life and labor Kephart took up in the wilderness, I do think that both of us felt, and acted upon, a fascination with the pioneer past and lifeways as they have tended to survive in our highlands longer than they have in many other places in this country.
         Like Kephart, I spent much of my early life in a professional pursuit in urban centers.  He was a library executive; I was a newspaper reporter and columnist, then an urban planner and finally a management consultant.  He worked in St. Louis; I worked first in Greensboro, NC, then in Birmingham, Alabama; and finally, for twenty years, in Washington, DC.  He grew disillusioned with his professional life and ended by disposing of it and of all its appurtenances, including his responsibilities as a husband and father, to immerse himself in the sort of life that spoke to his soul. 
         I too grew weary of the professional grind and, also in defiance of societal expectations--and at a time in my career when most might have considered themselves established on a path toward accomplishment--removed myself from the hurly-burly of the nation’s capital and a lucrative and demanding profession to assume a quiet life in rural Yancey County, North Carolina, to try my hand at being a writer of regional fiction—wishing, like Kephart, to immerse myself in the traditions and history of the Southern Appalachians.  
         It was in many ways a daunting choice.  I had very little savings, no paying job, and while I had won a contract for a novel with a Chicago publishing house, there was no assurance that anything else I wrote would ever find favor with that, or any other, publisher.  Unlike Kephart, I had no family to support and had no practical skills and no abiding passion for living the past or surviving in the wilderness such as he possessed.  So perhaps my choice was easier to make than his, though I think it may justly be said that my decision looked equally irresponsible, as measured by traditional expectations, and looked probably even more irresponsible because I had no practical skills to fall back on, as he had.
         Naturally I can’t claim to have succeeded in my ambitions on a scale equal to his.  But I do sense a commonality in our passions.  I too had come to be fascinated by the past, by the magic of our ancestral mountains, and by the hardy spirit of our highland forebears.  I too wished to immerse myself in that other world and to turn my back on modernity.  I do not know whether he struggled, as I have, with feelings of guilt for having given in to what seemed selfish preoccupations and to have abandoned one’s practical responsibilities. 
         Jim has mentioned Kephart’s difficulties with alcoholism; perhaps this problem suggests that Kephart did in fact suffer, that he may have sadly reckoned the cost of his choices that others—loved ones—had to pay.  Of course, in the largest sense, the pain and disappointment of his loved ones must be judged against Kephart’s accomplishments after he retreated into the fastnesses—his written works which have inspired so many of us.  And these kinds of judgments must be made when we look at the lives of all great artists and creators, whose accomplishments have come at great costs to a few, but have been of immeasurable value to many.  I imagine that Kephart continually had to balance his satisfaction with his wilderness life and work with his guilt for having abandoned his duties as a husband and father, and that this guilt played a part in his descent into alcoholism.  But my imagining may be wrong; it may be nothing more than my own lingering suspicion that I may have done what I suspect him of having done.
         Since I took up the life of a full-time writer, the day does not pass that I do not wrestle with two competing obligations—either to fulfill my spiritual dedication to the written word or to carry out my responsibilities as a practical human being.  Both are vital; but as soon as I address one, the other assails my conscience with its insistent demands.  How to choose?  It is the abiding challenge of every moment of existence.  Perhaps if I were more famed as a writer, the choice would be easier.  But if one is blessed, and cursed, with the powerful urge to create, success, as the world measures it, does not necessarily augment, or dilute, that urge.  The urge exists, and in some ways it is as vital an urge as the very will to live itself.
         I imagine that Horace Kephart struggled with issues like this.  Surely he knew agony as well as satisfaction.  And we are the beneficiaries of his determination to obey the dictates of his heart, no matter the cost to others or to himself.    And is this not the measure of every creative spirit?  The tension between living one’s daily life responsibly and feeding one’s inmost soul with ferocious determination may be the very force that yields the art that speaks to many.
         I would be remiss in ending this response without giving grateful mention to my good cousin Jim Padgett and to others of my immediate and extended family who have aided me in my search for myself and for my mountain heritage.  Nor would I would so nourish my love for our highland heritage were it not for my late mother Gertrue Ann Greene Price and my late father Edgar Conrad Price, both descendants of long lines of Southern Appalachian forebears, my mother’s clan in what is now Mitchell County and my father’s in Clay County, who imbued me with their fascination with and love for this place and these fine people.
         And in addition to the heritage they passed on to me, when as a late-blooming writer I at last turned to seek out my family’s past, Jim Padgett came forward, and so did my cousin, now retired Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Willis P. Whichard, former Dean of the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University and now a practicing attorney in Durham.  I am honored to have had the friendship and counsel of these distinguished North Carolinians, and to share their heritage.  Together they and other kinfolk helped me trace out my lineage and forge a connection across the years to the same Southern Appalachian past that fascinated Horace Kephart to the end of his life.