Well, that was one of the fullest weekends I’ve had in a while, even though every weekend has been feeling too short lately. On Saturday, we had the pleasure of driving poet George Scarbrough down to Polk County so he could catch up with some memories and old friends. David and I met him at a Knoxville Writers’ Guild Gala, at which he was being honored, this past spring. When he found out that David’s family is from Polk County, his home place, he took an instant liking to us and suggested that we should all drive down there sometime. Well, this weekend was “sometime.” We got together with David’s dad and drove over to Oak Ridge to pick up Mr. Scarbrough. (He prefers George, I think, but I haven’t gotten used to it yet.) Then, we headed south on the interstate.
We visited his parents’ grave, rode past some of his home places (his family were sharecroppers, so he had many home places), visited with David’s Pap-paw and Mam-maw, with whom he grew up, and then drove over to see the daughter of one of the three Ruths to whom the first edition of Tellico Blue was dedicated. Then, David’s parents took Mr. Scarbrough to the Polk County High School Alumni Banquet, while David and I stayed for a visit with Mam-maw and Pap-paw.
I plan on writing more about Mr. Scarbrough, but I can’t just yet. Maybe I’ll find time tonight. I will say quickly, however, that he made a grand impression on me. He took delight in everything, from the scenery, to the memories, to the people, old and new. He made me appreciate my in-laws and their land of origin (their Mesopotamia*) even more than I already do. My family moved around from state to state, so I’ve never felt a strong connection to one place, one community. And while I’m grateful to have experienced several places, I sometimes miss that connection. Mr. Scarbrough seems to have felt alienated in Polk County as a youth, as I imagine anyone with poetic leanings would feel in southern, rural farming country. But, he still loves it, and the awe and eloquence with which he greeted every view of mountain, field, and river, and every person, whether an old friend or a stranger, made me feel at home too.
I started reading Tellico Blue (which is the main collection of poems about his young life in Polk County) a few days before our trip, and I was surprised at the undertone in which these poems bathe Polk County—a darkness and a richness in which I have never been fully immersed, being an outsider, and of course, not being an alienated sharecropper. I wanted to talk with Mr. Scarbrough about writing, but I didn’t have much of a chance. I’m rather shy about my writing and others in the car were more talkative. Besides, this trip was about going home. He asked us to come and visit him, so perhaps I will get my chance then.
*Mr. Scarbrough wrote about his personal Mesopotamia in one of his poems, referring to the land between the Hiwassee and Ocoee rivers in Polk County.
I discovered this while surfing for some other info on George. It is great!! I enjoyed reading it very much.