Please welcome guest blogger Beth Kephart. Kephart is an award-winning author of what is now ten books—memoir,poetry,corporate, fable, history, and literary novels for young adults—who is currently at work on a novel for adults.
He must have been short, my brother tells me. I saw a portrait of his face, full on, he says, for the first time. It was astonishing to see the photographs of his funeral—to see how many traveled so far to say a final goodbye.
We are, my brother and I, forever looking for glimpses of our great-grandfather, Horace Kephart. Kephart has been glorified; he has been vilified. He did public good (his librarianship, his camp craft, his anthropological Our Southern Highlanders, his passion for preserving the Great Smoky Mountains). He did private harm (leaving a wife and their six children behind to live the life he knew would save him). He is mythical in some minds. He lived and breathed, actual and real, within my family’s memory.
I am a writer like he was; so is my son. I need the outdoor air, the rivers, the mountains to survive—hawks and hummingbirds, yellow finches, the bloom of transplanted irises. His blood runs through me—his melancholy, his joy. But all I have of him is the books he left behind, the photographs that others took, the rumors, the research, the artifacts tucked safely within the acclaimed space of George Ellison’s library. All I have is what my friend Ann McDermott says: I have a Bryson City friend who has something she wants to show you.
What do we ever have of those we never knew, who nonetheless have shaped us, and will shape those who live beyond us?
I haven’t climbed Mount Kephart, not yet. It’s a place I’ll someday take my son.