A Land More Kind Than Home
January 22, 2013
Adelaide Lyle had brought most of the children of River Road Church of Christ into the world before the hospital was built around Marshall, N.C., area. She had attended the church since she was a girl, at least fifty or sixty years. Snake-handling and poison-drinking regularly occurred as part of services in those years, but the congregation’s character changed when Pastor Carson Chambliss started preaching there in 1975. One member had died before the altar, right before the congregation’s eyes as they danced and sang “Holy Ghost Power,” and Adelaide decided, “I’d seen enough, too much, and it was my time to go.” She prayed, and God told her to leave the church and take the children with her.
A Land More Kind Than Home offers multifaceted perspectives on the events occurring at River Road Church of Christ in the town of Signs Following. Its chapters are narrated from three characters’ points of view: Adelaide Lyle, Jess Hall, and Clem Barefield. Jess Hall’s older brother Christopher, nicknamed “Stump” is brought to the altar in an attempt to heal an undiagnosed affliction that rendered him mute from birth. However, the healing goes awry, and Sheriff Clem Barefeld, an import from Henderson County, responds to the 9-1-1 call. Barefeld has dealt with Pastor Chambliss before—when an exorcism resulted in a barn burning.
Cash details the rich emotional landscape of a halcyon Appalachian boyhood including exploring woods, playing in creeks, catching salamanders, and spying in windows while reminding readers of the helplessness children feel in altering a chain of events once set in motion. While Jess’s closeness to events reveals a deep secret, Adelaide and Clem’s perspectives ground the story within the larger community, rooting it with complex history and interpersonal dynamics that provide an intriguing backstory. The story culminates in a startling end of righting wrongs and correcting a multitude of injustices, thus restoring a community’s balance.
When a mining company sets up without getting the proper permits from the federal government, Ollie Cox and Ashley Cook turn to Jay Leutze, a non-practicing attorney cum writer living nearby in Avery County, N.C. The mining company had cleared about four acres of trees and erected a behemoth operation with a plan to eventually remove 46.82 acres of the mountain for gravel. Stand Up That Mountain chronicles Leutze’s involvement with the Cook and Cox families, as well as other families, individuals and agencies who fought to remove Clark Stone Company from Belview Mountain (see feature story, page 40).
Truly an underdog story, Luetze and the group of residents want their objections to the mining company’s presence and operation recognized. The permit to build the gravel/mining business was rushed through the process without notifying nearby property owners and allowing for public hearings. Once the powers that be come to understand that the Clark Stone Company is within two miles of a national park, the Appalachian Trail, and that its operations were visible from the trail and would impact hikers’ experience of the trail and that state officials failed to protect it, more advocates join in to bring the issue to the legislature’s attention.
Luetze’s passion for helping his community, preserving a national resource and national park, and righting this wrong oozes from each page. He zig-zags across the Tar Heel state from the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to the Nature Conservancy, from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to the Southern Environmental Law Center and onward to multiple state and federal agencies. His eloquent writing makes otherwise dry topics like the N.C. Mining Act of 1971, D.O.T. Driveway Connecting Permits, land surveying, and public hearings both palatable and appealing. Leutze’s graceful representation of local color dialogue provides the essence of Avery dialect while not diminishing their charm or relying on pejorative identities.