Days 33-34/ Mar 31st-Apr 1st – Kingsport, TN to Rogersville, TN: Election fever

We felt a little bit like we were leaving Kingsport too soon.  By setting out today, we’ll be missing the Bikini Contest at the nearby Hog Wild Saloon on Thursday, a gun show over the weekend and, perhaps most regrettably of all, a musical version of The Passion of the Christ called Friend of Sinners, to be performed over Easter.  We spent the first few miles out of Kingsport trying to imagine some possible song lyrics for it, but the results were too blasphemous to include in a family blog like this one.

We spent two days walking through one of the oldest parts of Tennessee, book-ended by the Netherland Inn in Kingsport and the Hale Springs Inn in Rogersville – two coaching inns, both owned by the same man, Richard Netherland, which were major landmarks on the road to Kentucky and the rest of Tennessee in the early 19th century.  Near the Netherland Inn we saw what might be the best religious sign yet outside Barton’s Chapel Church: ‘Get Off Facebook and Get Into My Book – God’.  Although other signs have been wittier, this is the first one we’ve seen that was written by an actual deity.

God and Facebook

A message from God

We left Kingsport through a park along the Holston River, about as wide as the Thames in west London and swollen up to the grass of its banks by the same rain that soaked me to the skin a couple of days ago.  On the opposite bank was a millionaire’s row of mansions on an epic scale, dating from a local coal boom during the First World War, with sweeping lawns running down to the river’s edge.  It was the loveliest start imaginable to a day’s walk – birdsong and woodsmoke in the air, daffodils and honeysuckle in flower along the verge, the river running fast beside us and plenty of history to ponder.  We felt glad to be alive, at leisure and walking across America.

It’s local election season in Appalachia.  The roadsides were festooned with signs promoting candidates for government positions in Hawkins County – mayor, commissioner, county clerk and even constable, road superintendent and coroner.  Incredibly, some of these candidates were only competing in Republican primaries before the actual local elections in May.  Dennis James Lowe’s posters trumpeted ‘20+ Years in Road Maintenance’, while his rival, Scott Helton, could only muster fifteen.  The incumbent Lowell Bean’s posters merely stated that ‘your vote and support will be greatly appreciated’.  Sally and I considered the candidates and concluded that Bean was resting on his laurels and that, while Helton’s time would surely come, we would be throwing our support behind Lowe this time around.

Election signs in Church Hill, Tennessee

Local democracy in action in Hawkins County

We stopped for lunch on Thursday in Surgoinsville (‘Sir-goynes-ville’), a pretty town of old brick houses with rockers on the porch, overlooking a sweeping bend of the Holston.  We ate at Deb’s, an archetypal Southern diner frequented by burly farmers with ZZ Top beards, feed store caps and bellies straining against their dungarees.  They pulled up outside in their pick-ups, plopped down on a stool at the counter and leafed through Baptist newsletters while they waited to order.

“Gimme a plate a eggs an’ ham with a biscuit.  Gimme somma yer coleslaw.”

An elderly couple were lunching together in the corner.  He was ancient, wizened and slouched low in his chair, wearing a loose trucker’s cap several sizes too big for him.  His wife limped over to the counter to settle the bill.  He slowly hauled himself out of his chair and to his feet, a painstaking process that took the better part of a minute.  When he had finally pulled himself fully erect, he celebrated with a damp, squeaky, wolf-whistling, air-horn of a fart that silenced the room.  His wife whirled around.

“Horace!  That’s just embarrassin’!  You get outta here, neow!”  And he shuffled sheepishly out.

Just as we’d decided that reports of Southern manners and politeness were greatly exaggerated, we were joined by Deb, the owner, a smiling woman in her fifties.  We told her what an excellent lunch we’d had.

“Oh, it wasn’t anythin’.  I’m sorry, but I had to take tomatoes off of the menu.  Fifty cents a pound, can you imagine?”

We went to the counter to pay.  “Nope,” Deb said, “it’s on the house.  And I made up a flask of lemonade for y’all to take.”  We protested, but she waved us away.

                “Uh-uh.  Sorry.  That’s how we are around here.”

We felt a lot better about missing the bikini contest.

Deb's Diner in Surgoinsville

Sally with Katrina and Deb in Surgoinsville

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2 Responses to “Days 33-34/ Mar 31st-Apr 1st – Kingsport, TN to Rogersville, TN: Election fever”

  1. Jack Says:

    What? They gave you a free meal for nothing? You mean, for being foreigners? Those accents must be pretty classy!

  2. Nigel Says:

    Just checking you’ve not been abducted by long distance hiker eating 18-wheeler truck drivers.

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