Bryson City Tales — Monuments (Part 2)

This is from the eighteenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.

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MONUMENTS (PART 2)

As the stands and the fence line emptied of spectators, Coach Dietz and I were alone on the field.

“Doc, mind taking a walk?” He turned toward the cemetery and I followed. We walked up the stadium steps, through a gate in the chain-link fence, and into the field of headstones. He would stop, only briefly, to look at the larger stones and monuments.

As we came up to the peak of the cemetery, the view of the town and the Smokies was both impressive and magnificent—lit up in the setting sun, ablaze with fall colors. I paused to gaze, amazed again at the beauty of the hills. He continued on as though on a mission. He paused at a huge granite rock, and I walked up beside him. Embedded in the stone was a bronze plaque:

HORACE KEPHART
1862 – 1931
SCHOLAR, AUTHOR, OUTDOORSMAN
HE LOVED HIS NEIGHBORS
AND PICTURED THEM IN
“OUR SOUTHERN HIGHLANDERS.”
HIS VISION HELPED CREATE
THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK.

“You know who this is?” he asked, his eyes glued to the tombstone.

“Can’t say that I do.”

“Maybe the most famous fella that ever lived in these parts. Educated fella. They say he studied at five universities before battling alcoholism and a mental breakdown. They say he looked at maps and books to discover what he called ‘His Back Beyond.’

He wanted to find the remotest part of the country. He considered the Rockies and the rain forests of the Northwest. He thought about the deep swamps of Georgia or Florida. He finally come out here at the turn of the century—1904 if memory serves me right—and settled on Sugar Fork. That was a branch off Hazel Creek, deep in the woods west of here.”

My admiration for this man was growing. I knew he knew football; I didn’t know he knew the local history, especially having been born and bred in Sylva. He went on. “He recovered from his demons in these woods. And he wrote and wrote—lots of books and outdoors articles. I’ve read his Camping and Woodcraft, Sporting Firearms, and Camp Cooking. But the one I like the best, and the one that brought him so much fame, was Our Southern Highlanders.

“He’d often leave the woods and come up here to Bryson. In fact, he kept a room at what was called the Cooper House, a long-gone boardinghouse. Locals came to call it Kephart Tavern. They say that it was from this place that he took up the battle to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

The coach looked up and gazed across ridge after ridge of mountains—all the way to the horizon. “Kephart hated the huge timber companies he saw as destroying the land around him. ‘Why must the virgin forests be doomed for their profit?’ he wrote.” The coach’s voice picked up in tone and intensity. “‘Stop the carnage,’ he’d preach to any politician who’d listen. ‘I want to preserve this pristine and shrinking wilderness,’ he said, ‘so that others can come here and recover, as I have.’

“Let me show you another,” the coach said. He took off walking and I followed. Just a bit over the ridge and to the west of the Kephart grave site, he stopped at another tombstone:

KELLY E. BENNETT
1890 – 1974
THE APOSTLE OF THE SMOKIES
THIS STONE FROM DEEP WITHIN THE SMOKIES ALONG WITH MT. BENNETT IN THE DISTANCE ARE LASTING TRIBUTES TO A MAN WHOSE EFFORTS AND LOVE FOR THESE MOUNTAINS HELPED IN THE CREATION OF THE GREAT SMOKY MTNS. NATIONAL PARK

He pointed to another small tombstone that just read,

DR. AURELIUS BENNETT 1861 – 1941

“A. M. Bennett. He was a country doctor—just like you, Doc. His son, Kelly, became the town’s pharmacist and unoffi- cial photographer—for decades. Kelly even served as a state leg- islator. Even though he was almost thirty years younger than Kephart, they became best friends. Together they led the efforts to form the national park.”

Coach Dietz smiled, almost to himself, then continued, “Doc, these men had a passion and a mission. It gave them meaning. It gave them life. It gave us this beautiful place.” He paused to look out over the town toward the national park. “Kephart became the first living American to have a mountain named in his honor while he was still alive. Can’t see Mount Kephart from here. It’s deep in the park out thar. A monument to his passion—to his life’s work. Bennett also had one named after him—after he died.”

The coach paused. “Doc, my monument’s them kids.” He turned to look at me. “For most of them, this team’s the highlight of their lives. This here’s their glory days. These become the lifelong memories they’ll relive the rest of their lives. When they’re working in one of the mills around here, or lumbering, or working in the furniture factory, they’ll look back on these days and they’ll talk about ’em. Their memories are my legacy. I just don’t want to let them down. I love what I do, and I love the kids I do it for.”

He took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly as his eyes turned from mine to gaze down at the gravestone. “Kephart died in an automobile accident. April 2, 1931. Died not too far from here. He was 69. Bennett lived into his 80s. Their work didn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded. In 1940 ol’ President Roosevelt came out here to dedicate the park. Bennett was there in the flesh, Kephart in the spirit.

“So Mr. Kephart and Mr. Bennett are both buried here, looking out over the park they helped create. But their monu- ments aren’t really here—they’re out thar.” The coach swept his arm over the expanse in front of us.

“I hope that a hundred years from now, there’ll be folks who’ll see in my kids’ kids’ kids, some of me. That’ll be my monument, Doc. That’s what gets me up in the morning. That’s what stirs my cocoa. That’s my legacy.” He smiled and said in a near-whisper, “My legacy’s not property, it’s people. When I’m gone, I’m gonna leave behind relationships. I’m gonna leave behind kids that’s better than they would have been. That sound crazy to you, Doc?”

“No, sir,” I responded. “Not crazy at all.”

“Better be going. Don’t want to keep you from your family.” We turned to leave. We walked quietly down the hillside, through the monuments to people now departed from this earth—perhaps with their legacy buried here with them. The idea of investing in others and not in oneself was amazingly appealing to me. I thought there’d be no better place to start than with my family. After all, I thought, what if I get to the end of my career with a great practice and a big estate but with a marriage in ruins and kids with no integrity or character? What will I have gained? What use were all the riches I could earn if I ended my life with regret about what I gave—to my family and to others around me?

I wasn’t sure whether Coach Dietz was a religious man, but his sermon that day resulted in my praying a simple prayer of commitment as I sat on my bench that night, looking out over Kephart’s and Bennett’s monuments. Lord, help me know you better. Help me make you known, first to my family and then to my patients. Lord, help me be the best husband, the best daddy, and the best doctor possible. I want my legacy to be my family.

To this day the Lord is at work answering that prayer.

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)

PAST STORIES

  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)

© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.