When I was 38, I moved to Knockemstiff, Tennessee. Knockemstiff was a small, quiet little town, neatly nestled into the Blue Ridge mountains, boasting cool clean air and glorious vistas.
After getting settled in, I ventured into town to meet a few of the locals. Showing true Southern hospitality, they were delightfully friendly and welcoming. They were also more than willing to share tales of legends, lore, lust and weren’t at all shy about indulging in local gossip.
I was amused when Luke, the frail little man who sat in a rocking chair in front of his shabby room at “The Whole Year Inn” motel, told me how the name “Knockemstiff” came to be.
“As I recollect,” he said, “a lady in the congregation asked the preacher how to keep her husband from cheating on her and he said, ‘knock him stiff’.”
He laughed and said, “now our town motto here is; ‘IF you share, share and share alike’.” I didn’t know if he was having me on about anything he said, and I didn’t really care. I found him to be entertaining.
He was a funny little fellow and I liked him, despite the fact that he looked and smelled like he had never seen a bar of soap, or a tube of toothpaste.
I seemed to gravitate toward him. Maybe it was because he was so amusing, or maybe there was an element of pity. I had never seen anyone else talk to him and his eyes told me that he was lonely.
As weeks went by, there were the usual tales of strange lights in the sky, monsters in the lakes and phantom werewolves howling at the moon, but the one that captured my interest was “The Legend of Mother.”
Luke “introduced” her to me as a celebrated, almost romanticized figure. A bronze statue of her likeness stood in front of City Hall, surrounded by perennial flowers that once a year, came to life just as her story did. Every year, there was a parade, called simply “The Mother Parade.”
A museum dedicated to her, occupied a small room in the back of a run down building at the end of the street, but it was off limits to the public for some unknown reason.
I admit that it wasn’t beyond the scope of my moral principles to indulge in gossip, although I did draw the line if said gossip was blatantly hurtful, or completely unfounded.
Luke and I met every Friday afternoon. Sometimes I would pick up a bottle of cheap whiskey, not because he was what I would consider a heavy drinker, but to just to see his tired, lonely eyes temporarily light up. He never failed to take the brown paper bag that held the bottle, but he never took a swig in front of me.
He never offered any personal information about himself, and I never pried although I was curious about this slight man who seemed to have absolutely no purpose in life, other than guarding the door to his room.
In return, he never asked me why or how I had come to the sleepy little town of Knockemstiff. I didn’t know if he was just not interested or if he respected my personal space.
My story wasn’t what I would call particularly interesting. I was just an average man, trudging through life, like we all do, but I did enjoy hearing stories about other people. I guess, in a way, I was living vicariously through them, but not because I found no meaning in my life. I just found some people to be fascinating.
One Friday I asked Luke to tell me the story about Mother.
He looked at me and said, “well, alright, but you have to understand that her story is much like one of those movies you see.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He said, “You know, those movies you’re watching, thinking, ‘this is much ado about nothing’, and then when you get to the end, you think, ‘weeping Jesus on the cross’!”
I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Luke who, for all intents and purposes, was just some man who spent all of his time sitting around, “doing nothing,” is now quoting Shakespeare.
I had picked up quite a few Southern-isms and my first reaction was “holy hairy donkey balls!”
To be continued____________