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Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

COURTESY OF PRESS 53 COURTESY OF KEVIN MORGAN WATSON

of Press 53 of Winston-Salem at Books and Beans in LIttle Switzerland, NC, 2018 (See Press 53’s new editions of Ehle’s books throughout this layout and on the publisher’s website.)

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heard as a boy. In the same way, when I found my own way back in time through the Robbins and Freeman families, it was through stories that I heard my father and grandmother tell. And in each case, we found regional events – the construction of construction of the railroad up the Appalachian escarpment in his novel The Road and the internment of over two thousand German nationals in my A Short Time to Stay Here – as containers for far-flung family history.4 Another experience that John and I shared in our separate childhoods was the profound influence of that old-time religion. John’s mother was a fundamentalist Christian, who had little use for any book but the King James Bible, although, she did write poetry, most of which was devotional in nature. I have a copy of her one collection of verse on my bookshelf. My own mother, like my father, was a voracious reader, but she was also, like John’s mother, a devout Christian, and she took us early and often to the First Baptist Church in Weaverville. As a result, both John and I were steeped in hellfire preaching from an early age and knew the Bible as only Baptist children come to know it. In each of these ways, our boyhoods were surprisingly similar, so that when we met as men, we knew each other well from the start, despite the difference in our ages. We spoke the same language, both literally and figuratively, as language bespeaks experience. And as we both grew older, the difference in our ages grew less important because we were both interested in so many of the same things: books, places, people, and our family lives, past and present. Furthermore, we were both obsessed with education and opportunity as evidenced by John’s role in founding the Governor’s School (which I attended), the North Carolina School of the Arts (now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts), and the Committee for Education – juxtaposed against my own lifelong struggles to create rigor and access through the National Paideia Center. We had ever so many quiet but passionate conversations about how to open the doors of opportunity and training to talented young people who otherwise would wither on the vine. Over the years, as I continued to visit with John both in Penland and in Winston-Salem, both those houses became a part of my own inner landscape. It would be a mistake, however, to loosely name either of John and Rosemary’s residences here in North Carolina “houses.” Their home in Winston-Salem is an impossibly large and rambling villa with rooms beyond rooms spread over three floors, all filled with wonders. For years, I dreamed of that house from time to time, of visiting there or even living there, until I began to realize that those dreams were a kind of touchstone, a returning home not to a place but to a core of being like a family. Often, I would think of that house – filled with John and Rosie’s voices – or dream of that house during times of crisis in my own life, not because I had lived there, but because what John and I had in common was so closely intertwined with the man I meant to be – the man I hoped to be.

COURTESY OF KEVIN MORGAN WATSON

ABOVE Rosemary Harris with Kevin Watson, editor and owner

N C L R ONLINE

4

John Ehle, The Land Breakers (Harper & Row, 1964); The Road (Harper & Row, 1967); Terry Roberts, A Short Time to Stay Here (Ingalls, 2012).

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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