By Ray Knapp
Once upon a time words of what I understood to be wisdom came from an older brother who was so smart the school system, consisting of one teacher who taught children in a one room school house from the first through the sixth grade, promoted him directly from near the end of the second grade directly to the fourth grade.
That giant leap in the educational field left his other six siblings feeling like dummies. Being 10 years older than me, he was grown and working away from home most of the time, but when he came home my homework grades would dramatically improve. His nickname was Jiggs; named after a comic strip character whose sprigs of hair stuck out on both sides – as did his when he was little. The nickname he was stuck with for life.
He always had tidbits of wisdom to pass on. I recall quitting smoking after being addicted to it for about 15 years (a habit he abhorred). Anyway, I visited him during that time, and he took note of it. About a year later I visited again, smoking as heavily as before. “Don’t go back to something you’ve freed yourself from,” he scolded me. I did finally quit, but it took another 15 years.
That was one of the smartest things he ever said. I’ve thought about that a lot when I run in to former alcoholics, or drug addicts who managed to pull themselves out of the mire – then see them a couple of years later doing drugs or drinking as heavily as ever, I would recall his words, “Don’t go back to something you’ve freed yourself from.”
Jiggs was a gentleman and a man of integrity too. He believed it didn’t matter your status in life whether you were rich, or poor, how old or young you were, if you had compassion and respect for others and acted like someone with good sense, you were a fine person in his books. In later years, (he died at 80) he was highly respected on the town council for those very traits … also; he had been a technical writer for many years and could write new ordinances that would pass a lawyer’s scrutiny.
I can think of some … well I can think of many from Unicoi County that are people of integrity, and the ones that come to mind first, are the people who go about it quietly, not asking for approval or a pat on the back. A couple that I recall are Randy Ledford who, with the help of Aunt Polly, count and earmark donations to the church and its several charitable programs like the school backpack program etc. before turning it over to the treasurer, among other self-imposed church duties. Or Jack Metcalf, who is not only there to cook breakfast for “Fed by Grace UMC’s,” third Saturday breakfast, but will call and remind or invite people to come and enjoy it!
Or, J.W. Rice who has passed on, but is still well remembered on the south end of the county. He liked to stop by the store in Flag Pond just to visit and shoot the breeze with other customers that came in for the same reason. The difference between J. W. and most others, when the conversation turned to someone in the neighborhood and any faults they had, he would not take part in it. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. Not that he was completely serious; J. W. would laugh at tall tales like everyone else, but when he told something about his past, funny, or not, it was true.
Erwin has a real life hero who would pass that muster too. George Hatcher, who most in Erwin know as one of the last two or three of the “Erwin Nine.” He tells his story of captivity in WW2 with the other eight soldiers from Erwin that wound up in the same German prison camp without embellishments of courage or having the “right stuff” to endure the prison’s mistreatment. He is just George; a Deacon in his church and a good neighbor who often mowed his disabled neighbor’s yard.