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for someone like

Their cabin in Penland is not far from the Penland School of Crafts (appropriately) near Bakersville, built around an original log structure from the nineteenth century. John and I once went down into the dirt cellar of the cabin at Penland in search of wine that he himself had bottled years before while studying the winemaking process. We found several, dusty bottles that had turned to something like vinegar and laughed till we cried just at the smell, neither of us brave enough to taste it. The author of The Cheeses and Wines of England and France, with Notes on Irish Whisky, was a fine cook in the spontaneous, cast iron style of nothing fancy but everything mouthwatering.5 One of the best meals I ate in my life was a steak dinner that John prepared for several of us, the meat roasted on a charcoal grill, with potatoes, greens, and wine, of course. In a way, these two homes – along with apartments in New York and London – represented at least some of the facets of John’s nature. He was equally at home on the rough backroads of Mitchell County, North Carolina, and the streets of Manhattan or London. During the last few years, he did grow less physically sure of himself and less comfortable in New York – where he and Rosie could be close to Jennifer, their daughter – and longed to be home in North Carolina. But even so, John could and would talk to almost anyone about most anything. He knew volumes about landscape, plants, animals, farming, building, food, alcohol, country life, city existence, war and peace, politics, and education. Witness the expertise that he poured into The Cheeses and Wines of England and France, with Notes on Irish Whiskey and Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation.6 His novels are startling in the depth of their sensory detail on subjects far and wide, both near and removed in time. He was an offhand and unassuming polymath. As I got to know John and read more deeply into all his novels – not just the mountain novels but also Move Over, Mountain; Kingstree Island, The Changing of the Guard, and The Widow’s Trial – I was also surprised to find more evidence of his passion for education.7 I had known by reputation about his role as a “one-man think-tank” in Governor Terry Sanford’s administration along with his design of and advocacy for the North Carolina Governor’s School. But new projects that he was involved in kept emerging: his role in founding the North Carolina School of the Arts and the North Carolina School of Science and Math. His role in driving the Awards Committee for Education provided summer enrichment activities for poor Black, Latino, and Native Appalachian teenagers from across North Carolina. What became apparent over time was that his adult life had been devoted to creating opportunities for talented young people stuck in the many cultural backwaters of the state to experience a wider, more encouraging and accepting world. He spent so much of his life opening doors for others.

John,

it’s never just about your own

work but also the

opportunities others.”

COURTESY OF PRESS 53

you provide for

5

John Ehle and Linda Taylor, The Cheeses and Wines of England and France, with Notes on Irish Whisky (Harper & Row, 1972).

6

John Ehle, Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation (Doubleday, 1988).

7

John Ehle, Move Over, Mountain (Morrow, 1957); Kingstree Island (Morrow, 1959); The Changing Of The Guard (Random House, 1974); The Widow’s Trial (Harper & Row, 1989).

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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