"Hey c'mere ... you live roun' here?" asked the man in a plaid jacket and blue cap as he threw bags of garbage from the back of his old red pickup truck into the large, banged up trash bin at the Chatham County Reclamation center in Goldston. He looked to be in his 60s, and struggled a little with the heavy load.
It was a cold Saturday morning and I was in a hurry to complete my weekly garbage run. Bob, the facility attendant, was standing next to the man as I approached, dragging a heavy trash can from the back of my truck.
I couldn't guess why the stranger would be asking me that - Bob, who saw me every week, knew that I lived in the area and that I was a legitimate user of the county facilities, so I wasn't expecting a challenge or anything.
"Yeah" I said, "near Bear Creek."
"Lived here long?" plaid jacket asked, between bags.
I wasn't quite sure what the man was looking for. The question just seemed a little out of context - I mean I hadn't ever seen the guy before or anything, and he was asking questions that usually followed an introduction of some sort. Not that this wasn't a commonly asked question here in Chatham county, in fact locals often ask this question as an ice breaker after they encounter someone they don't recognize - Chatham County has old roots that go back a long way, and people here respect the history of the families that played a role in developing this county.
My experience has been that when a person asks this question they usually followed up with a proclamation that their family has been in the area since time began and some Great, Great, Great Ancestor of theirs had practically invented Chatham county back in the 1700's.
Now, my wife's family has roots here that go back to the Revolutionary War days, but I was a relatively recent arrival. And being a New York Italian, I knew I would always be perceived as an outsider, and I sometimes did my best to de-emphasize that difference. When presented with Chatham County pedigrees that go back hundreds of years, I occasionally overstate my own credentials. So even though I had lived here for about 8 years I felt compelled to stretch it a bit.
"About 10 years", I replied, with a tongue-in-cheek smugness.
When I got up to where they stood, Plaid Jacket stuck out his hand and said, "I'm Forester, glad to meet ya."
When another man introduces himself to me I usually respond in kind. For example, if he says "I'm John" I say "Hi, I'm Francis" and if he says "I'm Smith", I'll say "My Name is DiNardo." In this case, I responded with the latter, assuming that Forrester was his last name. I learned a few minutes later that Forester was actually his middle name - although knowing that at the time wouldn't have made a difference in my response, I can't recall ever saying to anyone, "Hi, I'm Emile." I rarely disclose my middle name to anyone, mostly because even though its pronounced "Em-meal", most people read it as "Emily", and when you first name is Francis you just can't afford a feminine sounding middle name.
Forester seemed friendly, so I continued, "I live up the road here in Harts Creek."
"Hart's Creek?", he said, "idn't that where Don Stone lives?"
"Yeah," I said, "Don's my next door neighbor."
"And Tim Tron," he said, "Don't Tim live up there too?"
"Yeah", I said, "Tim and Sherrill live down at the end of our gravel road."
The conversation was nothing unusual to this point, but soon Forrester said something that really surprised me.
"Yeah, Tim", he said, "I know Tim. Why, just last night I was at Reno Sharpe's house and he showed me this picture card with Tim on it. The picture was from a painting of Tim and a bunch of other pickers playin' their fiddles an' such in front of Reno's old store."
That caught me off guard, because Forester went on to describe in great detail an oil painting that my sister Cindy Thrall, a Randolf County artist, had recently completed and had presented to me just 2 weeks before as a Christmas gift (more on this later). I mean, I've never seen this guy before, and out of the blue he calls me over and starts describing, in detail, this very personal gift from my sister to me. And no one other than my immediate family had ever seen it!
Forester continued on with his description of the "picture card". "Yeah, it was a real good likeness. You could see Tim playin' his fiddle, and you could see old Mike Clark sittin' on the bench by the front door and big ol' Charlie Loy standin' on the stoop." (or was it Charlie Clark and Mike Loy? - I can't remember now).
But, let me stop here for a moment and tell you a little bit about this 'picture card' and the painting it depicts.
On the 3rd Saturday morning of each month an informal "Pickin' Session" happens at the old Reno Sharpe's Store on Pittsboro-Goldston Rd. The store is closed now, but once a month local neighborhood 'pickers' gather at the store for a jam session. A small number of local people usually meet there to sit outside in front of the old store to listen to the music and to talk. I occasionally stop by to listen to the music, and one week in June I had my camera with me so I decided to take some pictures of the event. Nothing fancy, just a few snapshots of the pickers, including Tim, and the listeners. The old store had been a gathering place for locals residents for years, and every Saturday morning you could find a small group of old timers sitting on the benches that line the porch, idling away the hours with gossip and old stories.
A few years back, when I first moved to Chatham, Virginia and I used to ride our bicycles past the store during our Saturday training ride and we'd often stop at the store to buy a Coke and to talk with the old timers. We were researching the history of her family in Chatham County, the Tysor family, and the old timers, including Reno Sharpe, were able to provide us with some interesting and useful information. I was struck by the amount of Chatham County history that resided in the heads of these old guys - a lot of stuff that no one had ever taken the time to write down. I felt a sadness at the closing of the store because it signified the end of an important repository of interesting Chatham County history.
So ... back to the painting. My sister Cindy moved to Ashboro from Tucson a short time ago, and she recently resumed her hobby of painting and other artistic pursuits. She had developed an interest in doing paintings of old scenic houses, so I showed her my pictures of Reno Sharpe's store and the Pickin I had captured. I suggested that it might make an interesting subject for one of her projects, and we agreed to visit the store some time soon.
But Christmas was coming up fast and we both had preparations to make for the arrival of our mother and siblings from 'out west' who were spending the holidays here with us in North Carolina. So we didn't get a chance to visit the store before Christmas. But on Christmas morning, when I opened my present from Cindy, I found that she had gone ahead and made a painting from one of the pictures of the Pickin - complete with store in the background (she had made a point to include the 'No Bumping' sign that hung over the porch chairs - a sign I had always found endlessly amusing).
The painting was perfect! Is was beautiful, and actually made the original photograph look flat and lifeless in comparison. I couldn't have been more pleased. In addition, Cindy had taken the time to have a set of folded cards printed up which displayed the painting on the front and the text "Reno Sharpe's Store - Painting by Cindy Thrall" printed on the back. She gave me a set of those cards in addition to the original painting.
Anyway - let's resume the story about Forester.
Forester continued with his description of the picture card, and he said "I tried to git Reno to give me one o' those picture cards, but he wouldn't have no part of it - said he wanted to hold onto those cards for himself."
"Reno said that he got those cards in the mail from the lady that painted that picture," Forester added, "I think he said her name began with a 'T' or somethin', and he said that he really liked 'em."
I then spoke. "Thrall, ... Cindy Thrall." I said, "She painted that picture. She's my sister and lives in Ashboro."
I went on to explain the story of the picture to Forester, and he and I both marveled at the coincidence of his telling me about the previous night at Reno's house. "I guess you just looked like someone who needed to hear about that picture card!" he said, and we both laughed. We talked for a short time, and I got his full name, and before I left I promised him that I would get a copy of one of those cards to him.
In a way, this story is not really about my encounter with Forester, its about the quality of the painting. Forester (and, presumably, Reno) were able to identify those characters from a small reproduction of this painting, which is a testament to the quality of the painting itself.
Cindy doesn't realize how good her art really is. When we first saw the painting and I told her how great it was, she responded with typical modesty, "Oh, I don't know. I can't even draw a straight line".
Cindy doesn't realize it, but that's only true because there's really no such thing as a 'straight line'. Strait lines exist only in theory, not in practice, and art is not about theory, no matter what anyone may tell you. And if you can't draw a straight line its only because you can't draw something that doesn't exist.
So Sis, forget about straight lines, just keep doing what you're doing ... and thanks for the painting.