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.