As you may already know, Tulee begins with the words “It was an exceptionally pleasant day in this gentle land . . .”
In Upper East Tennessee (the upper right hand section as you look at the map, ‘Northeast Tennessee’ if you’re more ‘modern’, that mountainous chunk of the Volunteer State that butts up against both North Carolina and Virginia, equally) can be found a truly gentle land.
Not flat or lazily rolling or easy to navigate but gentle. Gentle both in its climate and in the ways of its people. ‘Gentle’ shouldn’t be confused with lack of toughness, shortened endurance or anything approaching ‘wimpy’. This is a steeply mountainous area filled with people equal in spirit to the terrain in which they live.
This gentleness springs instead from the wordless handshake at the ‘viewing’ as the neighbors file slowly between the casket and the grieving family; or from the cow, horse, pet, what-have-you, that’s cared for as long as it takes – whether ‘the folks’ have to go over to the next county or hundreds of miles to the distant home of a distressed family member.
It springs from the almost-muttered “y’alright t’day?” shared as both neighbors and strangers pass by. The funny thing is that it really is a question, not just a ‘social statement.’ Nearly always, if there’s something amiss, you can mention it and the inquirer will actually listen. Won’t be able to do anything about it, but will listen. A lot of times that’s all we really need. Chronic whining won’t meet with a whole lot of enthusiasm but won’t be cut harshly short, either. After all, it may later provide a little entertainment as the listener shares the newest whine with another. (‘Confidences’ are one thing – and will be honored. ‘Whining’ is a different row entirely).
It springs from a hundred little mannerisms shared by the descendants of settlers from the late 1700′s and early 1800′s who still remember the ways of their forefathers in traditions, customs and glorious music.
This gentleness is often modest, self-effacing, quiet, and not well understood by people ‘from away’. That’s too bad. Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to have seen an awful lot of confident, up-scale, socially attuned, consciously ‘relevant’ people ‘from away’ who’ve passed through here with ever-so-slightly upturned noses who could have benefited from looking around a little harder – and seeing a little more – while they were here.
Maybe I’ll expand on that thought someday, but not now. After all, the subject is gentleness, isn’t it?
(This post is intended to complement the narrative and views expressed in “The Passing of Tulee Main”. To learn more about the book, press the ‘Main Site Home Page’ link at the top of this post. (Beyond the on-site material there, the Nook, Kindle and Amazon links have sample chapters available to view.)