This article was written by Anna Wess. Anna is an Appalachian native, raised in Southwest Virginia, a stone’s throw from Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. She has been a writer for the better part of thirty years. She periodically posts various writings on her blog, Appalachian Ink.
I remember you. And I remember much more than just your name. And you could say the same of me, if you’d choose. We share the same memories, you and I, of places and names and faces and feelings that we can recall with a few old lyrics or a local stranger’s recollection. We both grew up here in this nowhere town, this speck of geography that only God knows well, a place too small for any nobody who is anybody to know of completely. Not like we do, at least.
It doesn’t matter who else knows us. Not at all. We are big fish in a little pond. The best of ponds, and the best of fish. We know hardship and loss and tragedy. We have, together, shared them all. There wasn’t a dry eye in town the day the sweet Harman girl was summoned away, to be forever seventeen. Or when Brad was lost to Heaven that night in the fog on the mountain, to be young and beautiful for eternity, as we know it. We all knew about them within the stretch of a few morning hours, if not less.
We know the same tragedies, of course. But few know the nights, the nights when we were young and full of guts and gumption, the nights we spent mingling our lives together while claiming Richlands and making it ours, when anybody who was anybody was there. And we were there, too. Once upon a sometime, we knew and loved each other just because we knew nothing else to do. We were bound together by commonplace and Garth Brooks songs and our aforementioned tragedies. We knew her. We knew him. We knew Garth. We danced beneath the stars together in fields we were forbidden to dance in and talked about our friends in low places and looked forward to the tomorrows that we knew, despite our years, would all too soon, be yesterdays.
And at this moment, yesterday is now, and our lost friends have been dead much longer than they ever lived, and yet we remember them still. Beyond them, we remember those of us that are still here to tell of those good times, when we were untouched by formal education and ponds bigger than ours, untainted by places other than Honaker and Grundy and our own dear Richlands. When Jewell Ridge was a trip all by itself, and we didn’t worry about cell service; we didn’t know a cell phone from the boogey man or electric bills or the cost of baby formula. We were our own babies then, though we would have never admitted it to each other.
And beyond ourselves, we picture the stories that our mamas told, of how that Combs boy went full crazy with youth and moxie and streaked, just like that Ray Stevens account, across Ernie Hicks field after graduation, and up into the woods behind the water tank, naked as a jaybird, and that only a stadium full of Richlands folk would have cheered and praised the Lord for forgiveness at the same blessed time. Oh, what a sight it must have been.
But those days are long passed, and so are the we that we remember. But some things are everlasting, and you and I are a few of those things. Unlike our long gone friends—the Harman girl, sweet Brad, Sam and Heather, and Shawn and Curtis, the Cole and Harrison boys and the other big fish in this little pond that have already been caught, God rest their young souls—we remain. Whether we are still at home or have ventured into the wild yonder, we are still here. And it has been half our lives since those Southwest Virginia Saturday nights. And yet we can close our eyes for only a moment, and recollect your innocent face, conjure up the remnants of an old song or two, and we are right back where it began. Where we began.
We wake up some nights even now, after our children have gone on to dream, and lament the vapors of our old selves that have drifted into some blue yonder, to only be known in spirit and memory. And we will miss each other. And it is there that I will know you, in that some azure somewhere. And love you, my friend, in that low place.
We are twice as old as we were then. If not a few years more.
Some things change. Some things don’t. The same could be said for people. For us, too. But you know so much more than my name, and I could say the same for you. We are the best of big fish, in the best of little ponds.
And the best of the best ain’t been caught yet.
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