He and the Lord got together every morning for a conversation. The Traveler’s Story.

More chapters from Other Voices, Other Towns

A VG Serial: Other Voices, Other Towns

Chapter 25

The Scene: Spruce Pine nestles within the timbered ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains that cut through the heart of North Carolina’s Appalachian country. The Blue Ridge contains the highest mountains in eastern North America with a hundred and twenty-five peaks climbing taller than five thousand feet.

The Sights: The highest in North Carolina is Mount Mitchell, reaching up for 6,684 feet, and the region can be viewed with a leisurely drive along the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, often regarded as America’s favorite highway. The road winds along the rooftop of the region, easing past mountain meadows with split rail fences surrounding old farmsteads and weaving together two national parks: Shenandoah in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains, which links Tennessee to North Carolina.

The Setting: Gillespie Gap, hidden away in the distant shadows of the Blue Ridge, nestles among such communities as Bald Creek, Rabbit Hop, and Hoot Owl Hollow. It is a land rich with artisans, its ridge lines settled in another century by a rare breed of independent, practical, and stubborn people who never asked for anything more than the Good Lord had given them. From corn shucks they wove dolls, rugs, scrub mops, and braided harnesses for mules. From river cane and split oak came baskets. And leather was used to make their own shoes, vests, hats, rawhide chair bottoms, and even hinges for wooden doors. The creative mind of the artisan remains.

The Story: Perhaps for the first time this afternoon, Bea Hensley’s anvil was quiet, and there was total silence in Gillespie Gap.

Even the winds had died away.

Not even the winds dared interrupt when Bea Hensley had a new song to play.

But then, not everyone could play a melody on an anvil.

Bea Hensley could.

Not in the dark, however.

Never in the dark.

He walked out into the hollow and saw that night had not yet escaped the valley, nor was it in any hurry to leave. Nothing unusual about that.

The stars, if they had lit the sky at all, were on the back side of the trees, and only fragmented splinters of moonlight ever fell past the branches far enough to touch his shoulder.

Bea Hensley had not looked at the clock when he left the chilled innards of his home. He didn’t need to. This was the time he awoke every morning.

It was three o’clock. He was not alone in the darkness.

“Morning, God,” he said.

No answer. He did not expect one, not spoken in an audible voice anyway.

“It’s me again.”

He knew God would recognize his voice, but all he heard was the suffocating silence of the night.

“Same as usual,” he said, getting straight to the point. “I need for you to give me a new idea.”

Bea Hensley had never been stricken with ambition. All he had ever wanted to do was earn a decent living, and in the remote backwoods of Appalachia, he set up his shop and slowly gained recognition as one of the country’s most talented blacksmiths.

He did not shoe horses, no matter what the sign said. Bea Hensley fashioned ornate chandeliers, andirons, and candle stands from molten metal.

He was an artist working in a different medium. That was all.

He had a vision all his own.

The narrow road that ran in front of his shop brought the multitudes to Gillespie Gap. People from both sides of the mountain came to gaze at his work and marvel at the inspiration and genius behind his creations.

“Where did you get the idea to do something like that?” someone, sooner or later, always asked him.

Bea Hensley would only smile in a backwoods and humble sort of way.

He never answered them directly.

He could.

But he didn’t.

Only he knew the truth.

The truth came from somewhere in the darkness, and there he was, back in the woods, carrying on a one-man conversation, as he always did, at three o’clock in the morning.

Every morning it was always the same.

He was standing cloaked in the darkness and asking the Good Lord to send him a new idea. It did not even have to be a big one as long as it was a good one.

“Three o’clock’s a good time to talk to the Lord,” he told me.

“Why is that?”

“Neither me nor him is busy that time of night.”

Bea Hensley had a direct line, a clear and uninterrupted line, and he doubted if the Good Lord was sleeping anyway.

The Lord never had to wait for his call.

Bea Hensley was always right on time.

He closed his eyes and waited for a dose of inspiration. He never had to wait for very long.

Chapters of Other Voices, Other Towns: The Traveler’s Story, are published daily.

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