I can thank my Aunt Latane and cousin Marie for introducing me to "Christy." I was in my teens, and it was life-altering to read the intensely powerful journey of another young woman, inhabiting the same mountains. Little did I know how close the story really was to home. As chance would have it, I began attending a local church with a high school sweet-heart, and was amazed to learn that Catherine Marshall, author of Christy, had been born while her parents were pastoring the very same church. Why, that would make her parents...that would make her mother the inspiration for....
"I retreated into the room to the dresser and began taking the hairpins out of my hair, staring at my reflection. Eyes too big for the rest of my face, a little too serious, even a bit frightened, stared back at me. A face too thin, the hollows beneath the cheekbones shadowed by the lamplight...As the last hairpin was withdrawn, my long hair came tumbling down."
Her real name was Leonora Whitaker. And she had taught at a mission just down the road from my home. El Pano is the town of Del Rio, TN. I made a sojourn there, to all the places so marvelously described in the novel, and I will let them speak for themselves. The inspiration for Catherine had come when she returned to the gap with her mother.
"It was at that moment, standing there in the O'Teale cabin and thinking of Alice Henderson that I got my first clear glimpse of the book I had always wanted to write about the mountains. As if reading my thoughts, mother said shyly, 'The story aches to be told Catherine.' And suddenly, I understood the story should be told through my mother's eyes."
|The Click House - the O'Teale Cabin|
"The train began to slow down and the engineer blew a long warning whistle. Conductor MacDonald announced that we were coming into El Pano and began lighting all the railroad lanterns...Old Buncombe's wheels ground to a stop. Already my eyes were searching the dusk. There wasn't much to see ~ just a tiny station building and four or five houses....'Could you tell me ~ is there anywhere in El Pano where I could spend the night?'
|Inspiration for Mrs. Tatum's boarding house.|
'Well, lets, see. Maybe Miz Tatum's...' A Victorian frame house loomed out of the darkness. The peak of the roof trimmed with wooden cutouts was silhouetted against the dusky sky."
|"United States Mail!"|
"Mr. Pentland, I need help. I've come to teach school in Cutter Gap. I thought someone would meet me at the station yesterday, but nobody did. So I'm trying to find a way to get out to the cove. Mrs. Tatum said you could help me since you carry mail out there."
|The inspirations for Miss Alice, Fairlight, Jeb, and children. Fairlight's given name was Flora Corn.|
Fairlight ~ "I could scarcely take my eyes off her, for she was beautiful in a plain, artless way. Still a young woman, in her early thirties, but with all these children...she was wearing only a calico dress and was barefoot...Her features were delicate: nose turned up at the end every so slightly, which gave her a piquant look. Delicately shaped lips. Hair parted in the middle, drawn back into a bun...but...what was it about her eyes? Wistful, that was it...The oldest girl looked like her mother except that she was a bit round shouldered..."
Jeb ~ "His beard was red blonde. His eyes were blue, set deep in their sockets...there was something debonair about him."
Children ~ "The children's bright eyes were still watching me. The littlest girl, the one named Lulu, had the high rounded forehead and the fat-cheeked cherub look of a bisque doll. All of them were tow-headed."
|The Mission House|
|All that remains of the Mission House today.|
|John Ambrose Wood, the inspiration for David Grantland.|
"I saw a tall young man with black hair, warm brown eyes, a wide smile...[and I] heard a deep voice...Mr. Grantland had black hair, carefully groomed, fine white even teeth, friendly brown eyes set wide apart...[and] the booming voice never stopped."
|The "church that David built."|
|Ebenezer - the church has been moved to a different location.|
|The haunting strains of the song used in the book.|