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: George Etheredge and Kaitlin Williams

George Etheredge . April 22, 2015. Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.

George Etheredge. April 22, 2015. Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.

It wasn’t that the Buick was forgotten. Jimmy had put it there, drove it in the lot with the sort of half-hearted intention of things more wanted than needed.; a project for him and Jerryl when the heat of summer subsided. A September lay-away before the county fair and after the kids were out of their hair, back on the bus to school in Buncombe.

Jesse wouldn’t mind them fooling around the yard then. The days would slow and the leaves would begin to turn on the mountain. But then fall shifted to winter and Mamaw had gotten that cough that just wouldn’t shake and Jerryl found work in town and Jimmy just kept on drinking. The days dwindled into snow and before long the lot was filled with it and it would just be easier to wait for spring than drag it into the garage and pull out the heater.

Well March came and went and Jimmy was just too damn tired what with Jesse in a mood. Besides the cold lingered that year, even in April there were patches of ice in the yard, hemmed in the shadows. But when the lightning bugs emerged in those warm June nights Jimmy couldn’t think much of working. The beer was cold and the radio was just right and Jesse was looking something beautiful in that dress.

And so the seasons did pass and the kids grew tall and one or two left for the city. Jerryl met another gal then another then another. He couldn’t keep a woman, but he could hold down a job. Something Jimmy always envied. Jesse got plump. Jimmy got plumper. The lot turned wild and the confederate daisies cozied up to the rusting chrome bumper. Whenever Jimmy was asked about the old Buick in the yard out front he’d say he was just waiting for the heat of summer to subside.

Kaitlin Williams. Daphne, Alabama.


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: George Etheredge and David Joy

George Etheredge . December 4, 2015. Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.

George Etheredge. December 4, 2015. Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.

When dinner is served, she sees venison tenderloin seared rare in cast iron and sliced into thin medallions. She sees morels cut lengthwise from cap to stem, the mushrooms hollow as caves, cooked tender in butter brought just to the point of smoking. She sees mashed potatoes whipped with heavy cream, asparagus broiled crisp at their crowns with a thin drizzle of olive oil.

When dinner is served, she sees deer cubesteak dipped in egg wash, rolled in yellow corn meal, and fried golden in hot oil. She sees green beans cooked low on the stove all day with onions and streaked meat sharing the pot. She sees the tomato that hung on the vine by the driveway that morning when she left for work, the fruit now picked and cut, sprinkled with salt and pepper. She sees a cake of cornbread wrapped in a checkered dishcloth to keep it just warm enough that it will still melt butter when she cuts her triangle and makes her plate. 

When it’s early spring and the hill behind the house is covered with ramps, she sees meatloaf. In summer, she sees street tacos made simple like the Honduran woman who owns the food truck just down the road makes them—corn tortillas filled with meat, white onion, cilantro, and a spritz of fresh lime. I make ours with meat that I cut from the bone and canned in mason jars and we eat them on the porch in our rocking chairs with Coronas, Modelos, Estrella Jaliscos, the bottles sweating in our hands as the lightning bugs start to blink on the wood line. 

Sometimes the leaves have the mountains afire and sometimes there is snow on the ridgeline and sometimes she walks into the house and is overcome by the smell of what has been simmering since the night before and she pulls the lid off the pot and sees a stew that started with bone stock and mirepoix—carrots, celery, and onion—finished with canned venison and kale, so hearty that it could float a car.

 What she will not see is what came before. She will not see what I cannot stop seeing, what I remember when I take a bite and close my eyes: 

Fifteen feet up a hickory, I watch a tree line at the edge of a clear cut. I hear heavy footsteps and ease around the right side of the tree for a look and there he stands. The buck walks to my left and I slip behind the trunk, shoulder the rifle, and balance the fore end on a tree step I’ve augured into the opposite side for a rest. 

The deer is broadside when I slide the crosshairs onto his shoulder. The clear cut is too rough to track and drag, strewn with downed timber and studded with sawn stubs, so that I do not want to risk a shot for heart and lungs and have the deer run a hundred yards. I want to drop him where he stands. Pin his shoulders together and buckle him. 

Just before the deer strolls behind a cedar sapling I touch the trigger and the .308 shatters the morning. A hundred and fifty grains of copper jacketed lead hit just behind the shoulder and bloodshot the backside to pudding. 

The buck stoops forward and sprints, back legs driving him over tangled ground. He makes it forty yards before he crashes. From my stand, I can just make out the white of his stomach through the brush. I watch his ribs rise with each breath, that breathing slowing, slowing, then gone. 

There is a sadness that only the hunter knows, a moment when lament overshadows any desire for celebration. Life is sustained by death, and though going to the field is an act of taking responsibility for that fact, even though this deer will feed us for the year, the killing is not easy nor should it be. 

As we eat, I remember the killing and I remember the not killing. I remember the first deer that I ever saw in the woods, how I was set up directly on a game trail and how that young doe walked so close that I could’ve reached my hand out and touched her, how I was absolutely amazed that if I was still enough, I could disappear. 

I remember the days when I saw nothing but squirrels and the days that I saw nothing and wished I’d seen squirrels and the days that I saw everything but squirrels—one time a cooper’s hawk that came out of nowhere and snatched a cardinal from a limb, the hawk flying away with a fistful of red as if it carried a poinsettia in its talons. 

I remember the man who first handed me a knife and told me where to cut. I remember every bit of this moment, every last detail, from running the blade around the bottom joint of the deer’s hindlegs to the way the air smelled of pine needles and viscera to the way the sunlight filtered through the trees in bars. I taste this on my tongue as I chew that first bite and swallow. 

My dinner plate is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. I see it as a miracle. It is as if I have uttered the words of a prayer and those words have been answered. This is what I wish I could show her. 

David Joy. Jackson County, 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.