Monday, September 13, 2004

Thoreau Had It Right !

After all, Thoreau was right.

My strawberry blonde dynamo, Betty Taylor took me home to Hiawassee in the mountains where she and my surviving sons had a reunion to attend.

It was not amiss that the reunion of hundreds of high school students from the decade between 1960 and 1970 would choose 9 / 11 to gather.

Hiawassee is probably the safest place on earth–in a valley graced by 6,000 acre Lake Chatuge, and guarded by mountain gaps all around.

When we lived there during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we all just planned to blow up the gaps and hunker down if the Russians invaded.

I bought three cases of .22 long hollowpoint cartridges so we could live off of squirrels, varmints and songbirds if necessary.

But my youngest son, Victor shot them all up target-practicing while I watched JFK on television. Vic became a dead shot at age 11.....And we would have been hungry and out of luck if Kruschev hadn’t backed down.

I was reminded of this as my two surviving sons, Betty and I visited my oldest, very bestest friend in the mountains—indeed, in the whole world–Vaughan McConnell.

Keith and I found him and Betty and Mike came along soon after from the reunion.

He has always been known as "Hoover", except by his late wife Gerry, who never called him anything but "Vaughan".

Hoover is 87-going-on-27.

He is a cabinetmaker, restorer of violins, mandolins, banjos and builder of grandfather clocks. He can do marquetry and parquetry and inlay as flawlessly as any Italian master.
He also built the Dream Home, "Lairdcliffe" that Betts and I and our sons occupied for more than 20 years between Hiawassee and Young Harris.

And, Hoover is still working in his shop, where he has the very latest model woodworking equipment as well as a wondrous treasure trove of antique wood shaping tools.

"Y’ know, Bill," Hoover began the long rambling conversation, "I fell and hurt my shoulder real bad up on your favorite Ramey Mountain cove..."

"Hell", I laughed, "that was in 1965, and you broke the lantern! Does it still hurt?"

"Listen to me!", Hoover said, "I mean just las’ week!"

"You jus’ tryin’ to hurt a pore ol’ bline man’s feelins, " I barked. "Next thing, you’ll tell me you still drive!!!"

"Nearly every day", Hoover laughed.

"Look, Bill", he said after we had argued everything from where we saw the panther on Tray mountain to the genesis of Mayan and Easter Island sculptures and structures, "only thing I look at on television is Braves baseball. I have this cove all to myself, my garden, my little pure branch singing along, my pure gravity water supply from up on the mountain there–no chlorine, fluorine or additives, just an occasional spring lizard in the pipe.

"And I’ve got my work...and this screen porch and I don’t smoke and I don’t eat all that much, and I got so much to think about...And nothing to get mad about as long as I just look at baseball.

"What would anybody want more than that? There are still things to make....If I want to.... And some days I want to."

I sat there, and he sounded like he did in 1956. Exactly. He was sitting almost in exactly the same place, moving his mouth and ice blue eyes earnestly, honestly, without guile or mischief.
I was transported back to the 'coons we had treed, rocks we had hauled, the concrete we had poured, the buildings he had built to fill the very soul of my family, and the music we had shared, and all the stringed instruments he had fixed and made, the clocks and furniture repairs, for which he believed it would be unforgivingly base to accept pay.

It was almost a physical shock to realize that this man, my own Hoover McConnell, was probably the only man that I had ever known who would not....could not...lie or dissemble.

And it is a function of the place where he lives and the way he has lived his life since he came home from Australia, Buna, New Georgia, married Gerry and built his universe in McConnell Cove on the shoulder of the Ramey.

I wish I had never left there. It was a visit to paradise to be at Hoover’s again.

1 comment:


We never really left there.