The Other Side of the Mountain
Martha K. Hale
Growing up on a large family farm in a special place called Grassy Cove in Cumberland County Tennessee, I got to know many farm hands who came and went over the years. However, one family was always there, a constant presence in my life--the Hayes family, who worked on the John Kemmer farm for over four generations.
Our farm hands were called tenant farmers. My family provided the tenant families with a house, including the electricity, most appliances, a wood stove, a garden spot, an open well, and an outhouse--a very basic way of living. Most times they worked daylight to dark, six days a week, unless they had livestock to feed or a cow to milk; then they had jobs to do all seven days a week. In the Spring, my granddaddy, and then my daddy, would let the men go home early on Saturday to plow and plant their own gardens, using our equipment, mules, and seeds.
Within this setting, I want to tell about one special man who worked on our farm. The dearest tenant farmer to me was Bob Hayes. He touched my life in a profound way from my early childhood until I was a grown, married woman. His real name was Earnest Hayes, but I imagine he was always called Bob. He was often described as a true mountain man, plus he was part Cherokee--long, tall and lean with tan, leathery skin, dark eyes, and high cheekbones.
He knew the woods on the surrounding mountains like the back of his hand, especially the one right behind his house, Brady Mountain. With his natural outdoors wisdom, he knew the names of the trees and was a cracker-jack hunter and fisherman. He had the talent to find and dig ginseng then replant the seeds for another day.
On our farm, he knew what needed to be done to take care of the livestock; he shod the mules, plowed the gardens with the mules, knew when to plant, and when to harvest. On hog-killing days he oversaw the entire process from beginning to end, which is another story all by itself. He was also smart enough to take of care of the fences and the farm machinery and to do carpentry repairs on the barns and tool shed.
I never saw him without his wide-brimmed hat with its dark, mottled band of sweat all around, and wearing well-worn Liberty brand bib overalls, which he bought at our general store, J. C. Kemmer & Son, situated on TN Hwy 68 at the mouth of the cove. To complete this visual description of Bob meant that he usually had one of his hand-rolled cigarettes protruding from the corner of his mouth. Otherwise he was quick with a grin or a full-faced smile.
I loved this wise man of my childhood. I was a dedicated tomboy, who would find any reason to get outside instead of helping my hard-working, farm-wife mother in the house or in the garden. If Bob was not driving a tractor or working livestock, I was usually right under his feet. He never made me feel like a bother, although I am sure I was.
Once he taught me how to use the grease gun on my bicycle while he was working on the hay baler. When he saw that I had grease all over me, he uttered one of his favorite sayings, "That's good for you. It'll make ya grow," and gave me one of his big smiles.
Bob and my dad took care of the farm together along with some of Bob's sons and other workers. Daddy depended on Bob's abilities as a man-of-the-land to know when and how things needed to be done. The two of them were more like brothers than worker and boss. I look back now at how much our whole family looked to Bob to make the farm run smoothly from season to season.
Bob Hayes never crossed the doorway of the little one-room church in Grassy Cove, nor any other church as far as I knew. That plagued my mind all my life because church and faith were at the center of my growing up. Over the 40 years that I lived around Bob in Grassy Cove, I asked him on occasion to come to church with me.
Once he quoted a scripture in his explanation as to why he was not part of a church community. I remember the Proverb he cited: "As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly." He also added, "I ain't done nobody bad, but I ain't done nobody good either, I guess." Regardless of his views, he had done plenty of good in my book.
In my early 20's, after I rededicated my life to the Lord, I talked to Bob again about the status of his soul and told him I was concerned about what would happen to him when he died.
He smiled and replied, "Dying ain't no big deal. It's just going to the other side of the mountain." With that, we dropped the conversation about his eternal life.
In 1983 my husband and I built our house close to Bob's at the foot of Brady Mountain. We treasured living nearby to this man whom we both loved and admired so much, for Bob had touched my husband, too, with his wisdom and his friendly ways.
I never knew Bob to have many health problems, except once when his appendix ruptured while he was on the tractor out plowing a field. I remember that it wasn't long before this tough mountain man was back at work after he healed from the surgery.
On September 28th, 1991, the day before my dad's birthday, Bob drove to our general store, parked his blue jeep in its usual spot, but never got out. Daddy, suspicious that something might be wrong, came out of the store and found him slumped over the steering wheel. Bob was gone.
He was buried in the Hayes family plot which is next to that little Grassy Cove church. I hardly remember the funeral, but I do know Bob was buried in a new pair of overalls. That evening, after the funeral, I went outside to the front west corner of my house and looked over toward Bob's place. In my heart I said, "Bob, I am going to miss you so much."
At just that moment, when the thought passed through my mind, a shooting star came across the twilight sky, went right over Bob's house, then continued to glow until it disappeared over Brady Mountain. I was stunned by what I saw, and I was encouraged.
I remembered Bob's words about death which he declared to me years before, "Dying ain't no big deal. It's just going to the other side of the mountain."