BECOMING MORE LIKE HOME: CHRISTY MISSION HOMECOMING, 2012 by Jay Hofer

After enjoying the view atop Rocky Top, I planned continuing on down to Bridgeport. But the road ahead became a lake. I took a fork I’d never before noticed, hoping to find space to turn around. It was a muddy gauntlet flanked by barbwire fence. Signage increased: “Keep Out,” “Violators Prosecuted!” The road took me to an open cattle gate, sporting a sign with a drawing of a magnum pointed at the viewer, and the words, “WE DON’T DIAL 9-1-1!” Well, there was the owner and his woman in the drive of their mountain home. I rolled down the window and hollered, “Sorry! Took a wrong turn off Rocky Top!”

“That’s a young preacher and his wife,” Larry later explained. I presume that’s why I live to tell this tale, and why they’d just smiled and waved as I did a NASCAR winner’s donut and exited.

What a time for Larry’s water system to fail. Sediment was evidently blocking things somewhere between the spring ‘way up at Chestnut Ridge and down to the house. We’re talking a good half-mile of buried PVC piping. Resident Wayne Jones, who’d managed to get in plenty of mowing Friday before the storms, spent most of Saturday working on the water problem. We took a giant air compressor up to the spring and worked feverishly for a spell. When little was resolved, Larry sent us down to Roy Dan’s and up to Charles Smith’s with a truck-load of five-gallon containers to bum water for the weekend. Glad I’ve been working out. Back at the house, water boiled constantly on the stove, for cooking, cleaning, and hygiene, reminiscent of old times back in Miss Opal’s cabin.

The Friday storms took the heat and humidity with them. That was fortunate, given our physical labor Saturday. While Wayne and I carried on outside, Larry was busy baking up his myriad of desserts, including his nanner pudding with nilla wafers. But his pineapple cake was my personal favorite. Others dropped by to visit and help. I lost count of the finished dessert trays. That evening, Larry served us all up a baked spaghetti casserole. Cody arrived, and brought along his young lady-friend. There was plenty for all, and man, was it good.

When I awoke before dawn Sunday and headed out the door on a hike up to the O’Teale cabin site, I took L. Conn’s advice and kept an eye peeled for the raccoon who’s been filching the cat food on the porch. Maybe it was too chilly for that critter to be out, since the temp must’ve been under 50. By the time I returned, my car gauge read 56. A beautiful morning in the cove, reminiscent of late October. Only the rains had greened everything up, and certainly brought the kudzu back to life.

Despite the water handicap, Homecoming went off just fine. Sadly neither Philip―Ellison Patriarch & grand old storyteller―or the incomparable Mitchell Messer (“Mitch”) made it this year. Philip still resides with his sister in Newport. His memory comes and goes, but he always knows to pester about feeding his dogs every time Larry visits. Mitch has been blessed of late. Just when things looked their bleakest, an old flame reentered his life. He now has a loving, caring woman and a place to call home in Newport.

Without regular cooks Mitch or Philip, Larry handled the huge grill and put me in charge of the boiler. s all the meats (except dogs and sausage) are boiled before getting tossed on the BBQ. And so much meat! Chicken, chops, steaks. And a ton of wieners! We started cooking at 8 AM and didn’t finish til around 12:30. Chicken first, then the red meat. Would you believe, someone even brought kielbasa. Had to be a cove first! But just as God convinced Peter (Acts 10), no one apparently found this strange meat to be unfit for consumption. It vanished as fast as anything. The hot food was especially appreciated on this unusually comfy August day. As usual, folks brought home-made casseroles (bean salads, okra, mac & cheese, et al) and desserts which filled the tables alongside L. Conn’s fixin’s. The autumnal atmosphere kept the insects at a minimum.

While the crowd of more than a hundred―perhaps two hundred since folks are always coming and going―was entertained by the praise band from the Open Door ministry of Newport, we were all greatly surprised and blessed by the appearance of The Moonshiner’s Daughter, Lucy Teague Mullinax― architectural heritage artist and illustrator of Swine in the Smokies. Highlight-of-the-day was when Lucy surprised Larry with yet another stunning painting. Perhaps you regulars recognize the main subject.

Left-overs were rounded up and, as always, prepared for delivery to the needy and shut-ins around the area. Miss Zola (Turner) didn’t make it, either. I’m sure she was Larry’s first stop. She’s grieving the recent passing of both of her old dogs. L. Conn is hunting replacements.

Whatever I missed or overlooked, I’ll share next time. But I must say, for me, it was the most spiritually rewarding Homecoming I have ever attended at the old Christy Mission. I know it did Lucy a world of good to attend. It was a pleasure for me to help Wayne with the water Saturday (though I know I was mostly all-thumbs), and a joy to man the boiler and constantly lug that full, steaming & scalding pot up to the grill Sunday. Although I was a gritty, greasy, tired mess when done, I’d gladly do it all again tomorrow―and next Christy Mission Homecoming, Lord Willing. While no one should ever equate me with Philip or Mitch on duty―they are of the Old 15th ―this outsider was made to feel a bit more a part of the cove by all the wonderful residents and regulars than ever before. As Preacher David Grantland learned, it helps to make yourself useful.

A number of folks were drawn to Lucy, since the book gained a mention & photo in the Newport paper the previous week or so. They were eager to share tales prompted by the SITS Opal Corn Myers cabin print, as well as her gift to Larry. Floyd Pack, a descendant of Tom Pack―one of the men from which Catherine Marshall crafted Bird’s-Eye Taylor―was one. Floyd is related to Larry on the Corn side. Lots of cross-ties between clans down there, which led Lucy to speculate that even she and I could be somehow related, given that my Mom was Scots-Irish. And a red-head in her youth.

Oh yes, Charles Smith of the Del Rio Culture & Preservation Society was on hand, and says “hey” to all you CF visitors. He includes a heartfelt thank-you for your subsequent donations for the Heritage Center construction. He wasn’t home when we took his water, but didn’t seem perturbed. Hah.

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2 Responses to BECOMING MORE LIKE HOME: CHRISTY MISSION HOMECOMING, 2012 by Jay Hofer

  1. alan42013 says:

    Philip Ellison has, of course, passed on since this was posted. I certainly plan on visiting his grave this spring. I’m sure, in spirit, he’ll forever be whispering in L. Conn’s ear, “Feedin’ my dogs?” 😉

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