The holiday season is a time when the thoughts turn toward home.
In these mountains, home is a powerful, powerful word. It often means roots that run so deep they become lost in the soils of time.
As such, the home of these mountains has a powerful pull, one that continues to issue a tug even to families who moved long ago.
As far as I can tell, aside from the upheaval of World War II, the most significant migrations from this area occurred when logging jobs ran dry here, and when Detroit ran hot in the post-war era.
Droves of mountain folk headed out to where the big timber still stood, the forests of Oregon and Washington, and many are still there. One of my closest friends from college, a Vietnam-era two-tour Marine sniper who was taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, lives in Sedro-Woolley, Washington.
He observes that the area resembles these mountains, and that it’s covered up with Jackson County names. As I recall, he counted at least three Buchanan Road/Lane/whatever locations within a few miles of where he lives.
I still have cousins out there, and they still remember home.
Detroit’s a different story.
After his stint in the U.S. Navy during WWII at a flight training base in Florida, Daddy came home and married Mother, Brittie Mae Deitz, and moved around a bit. He did work at the naval base at Norfolk, Virginia and on projects around Washington, D.C.
At one point he took a job in Detroit, lured as many here did by the jobs offered by American manufacturing at its apex.
The city of that era was filled with people seeking jobs, to the point there were nooks and crannies of communities filled with folks from small towns like Sylva, North Carolina.
Daddy didn’t care much for Detroit and didn’t have a lot of stories about his time there.
I do recall two, though.
Daddy was a bit rough around the edges, as was common with mountain folk of the day, and on occasion would drop by a Detroit saloon that catered to such men.
One night a fight broke out and an acquaintance of Daddy’s who shall remain nameless got into a mix with another gentleman.
The two did not exchange words. I’m not sure they even exchanged punches. This particular product of Jackson County decided to dispense with showy moves and got straight to the point, chucking his opponent through the establishment’s plate glass window in a scene that surely would have been at home in a 1950’s Western.
Daddy was mixed up in this event in some form or fashion and was a bit concerned there might be consequences but got tied up in the pressing business at hand, i.e. making sure there wasn’t another combatant, given that plate glass windows were all over the place in Detroit in those days.
Before they were able to clear out, a couple of constables did indeed show up. The patron of the establishment pointed out Daddy and his friend and proceeded to give a rousing observation of the relative worth of southern mountain hillbillies vs. the rest of humanity.
Turns out he came down on the rest of humanity’s side.
Also turns out the two cops were from a little village called Sylva, North Carolina.
As a result it turns out two other people from Sylva walked away that night without so much as a fine, or even a firm “please do not throw customers through windows” talking-to.
The other story is quite brief. Daddy had a 16-gauge shotgun he used literally all the way up to his death, a single-shot beast with a kick and a report that would bruise and deafen a person.
He found it in a garbage dump outside Detroit. Figured it was probably a murder weapon, but hey, it worked. Over the years it sent quite a few squirrels to the squirrel maker in the sky.
It’s still in the family. Here at home.
Jim Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.