Call and Response

Call and Response: Kelly Culpepper and Meredith McCarroll

 Kelly Culpepper. November 12, 2014. Madison County, North Carolina.

Kelly Culpepper. November 12, 2014. Madison County, North Carolina.

A truck tire parked on the potatoes we left undug.

Our 600-acre tobacco farm auctioned off in parcels when our parents divorced.

I learned that year to fall asleep by mentally retracing the path to the tobacco barn, the trail to the old cabin, the back way to the cattle. I committed every wall and window to memory. 

Twenty-five years later, I’ve never been back. 

Matt, my brother, wanted to find it and couldn’t. He drove around Panther Creek, he tried using Google Maps, he tried to get landmarks from Mom. She had forgotten and we had been too young to learn.  

All these years that Matt was looking, I was closing my eyes tight. The farm for me was in the past, and I did not want it in the present. 

Simple. Over. 

“Isn’t it beautiful?” I say to my son, as we’ve stopped to look at a field of staked tobacco.

“But cigarettes are bad,” he responds.

My Aunt Lena could spit snuff across the room into a copper bowl, making the most satisfying of plinks. My Pa was only 69 when he died from emphysema. Summer was the red glow of cigarettes and hushed voices on my Granny and Pa’s dark front porch. I used to flush my Mom’s cigarettes down the toilet. 

The week after Mom’s funeral, Matt and I found the paperwork from the auction. We could finally trace our way back to the farm. 

New friends ask about where I’m from. I tell them about Max Patch, Cataloochee, Cruso. The skate park, and the breweries where the factories were. My ancestor abandoned on the Trail of Tears. My childhood in woods and creeks and drive in movies. 

“I found the farm,” Matt says, calling me in to look at his computer. He has the documents from the sale spread across the table. 

I wanted the farm to stay a Brigadoon. Preserved. Lost. 

Instead, I lean over his screen. 

What do I fear? Driveways where we kept bees. Carports where we planted the Three Sisters. Mailboxes on roads we made by walking. 

Matt zooms in. The rutted gravel road has been named and paved. A couple of houses seem to have appeared. But mostly, it looks the same. We find our old house. 

Matt seems satisfied. A piece of the puzzled past has been found. A set of our childhood—crafted, directed, and curated by our mom—can now be closed. 

We can’t ask Mom how it felt for her that day at the auction of the farm. I forgot when she stopped smoking, and now she can’t remind me. Will I find the morels this year without her?

“You just hardly ever see this anymore,” I say, still sitting by the field.

“Yeah, because tobacco companies finally got into trouble.”

“I still think it’s pretty,” I say, and pull back onto the road.


Meredith McCarroll. Brunswick, Maine.


Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.

Call and Response: Justin Gellerson and Karen L. Cox

  Justin Gellerson . November 17, 2014. Boomer Christian Academy, Boomer, Fayette County, West Virginia.

Justin Gellerson. November 17, 2014. Boomer Christian Academy, Boomer, Fayette County, West Virginia.

Until I was six years old, the Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Huntington, West Virginia, was where I cut my teeth on old time religion. 

My clearest memories, though, are not of lessons learned, but of the ritual and performance I witnessed on a weekly basis. The women who shouted in the spirit of Jesus caused me to jump, even when I knew it was coming. The men who broke down in tears mesmerized me, and my eyes followed them as they walked down the aisle toward the sanctuary where the preacher beckoned them to give themselves to the Lord, while the choir sang “Just as I Am.” 

The attendance board reminds me of that church, as it measures the ebb and flow of the church flock. 

When my parents divorced there was nervous chatter about having a single woman as pretty as my mother still in attendance. So we left. Mom, my brother, and me. And in my little girl imagination, I saw that the following week’s attendance board registered three less souls. 

Karen L. Cox. Charlotte, North Carolina.


Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.

Call and Response: Lauren Pond and Emilee Hackney

  Lauren Pond . May 27, 2014. A winding road leads to the doorway of the Mountaintop Church of Jesus Our Lord, Savior, and Christ in Richlands, Tazewell County, Virginia.

Lauren Pond. May 27, 2014. A winding road leads to the doorway of the Mountaintop Church of Jesus Our Lord, Savior, and Christ in Richlands, Tazewell County, Virginia.

Tongues

We began to whisper the name, quiet and mournful, pleading, like a chant. Something about the air felt heavier as the sound swelled and filled the room. 

Jesus heard us calling, and he came. 

Come forward, the pastor said. All at once, all around me, people rose from their seats and moved slowly to the front of the church. Jesus kept falling out of our mouths, louder now. I was moving too – legs and lips – but I didn’t feel either. Everything was numb but my heart, burning like a bonfire in my chest. I couldn’t feel my head. I couldn’t think.

The sound was growing. It was frantic shouting and long, painful wails. It was trembling arms raised in the air, quivering knees. It was bodies wracked with sobs, face-first on the carpet. It was spinning and dancing and rolling and falling, surrounding me, me standing eyes closed and frozen in a circle of noise and movement and Jesus. 

He was sucking the air from my lungs, and that’s when I knew something was about to happen. The heaviness was unbearable.

A man’s hand closed down on my forehead, hard. “Speak,” said a voice I didn’t recognize. 

I did.

At first it was mostly vowels, pouring out of my mouth louder than I knew I was capable of. My tongue started twisting and forming words, holy words. Sounds spewed out, sounds I’d never heard, and I couldn’t comprehend them. It was as if they came from deep inside me and not my mouth. It was like a vomit. My chest was painfully full of it, and I couldn’t stop.

“The Holy Spirit hears you!” cried another voice near me. The chaos continued to swirl. I tried to open my eyes but my mouth, or the words falling out of my mouth, wouldn’t let me. There was a soft thud beside me where someone, wailing for Jesus, fell to the ground.

The hand was back on my forehead again. I was speaking – shouting – so loud and hard that a trickle of sweat ran down the center of my lower back, and I’d started feeling lightheaded. But the words kept me upright, rooted to the floor as firmly as a tree trunk, even as the voices got louder and the air got heavier and the hand gripped harder against my head. 

The man’s tongues joined in with mine, and then I became aware of more all around me. None were alike, not even similar, but they complemented each other, rose and filled the room together like intertwining strands. For the briefest moment, the heaviness cleared, and I felt a strange sort of lightness and clarity, like none of this was really real.

But then I felt the hand again, and then, nothing.

I was falling backwards forever onto the dark plush carpet. 

I never felt myself land.

Emilee Hackney. Tazewell County, Virginia.


Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.