Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Christy ~ The Quest for Cutter Gap

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 A face too thin, the hollows beneath the cheekbones shadowed by the lamplight...As the last hairpin was withdrawn, my long hair came tumbling down."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.
Miss Alice  ~ "...was wearing a straight blue woolen skirt and an immaculate white linen shirtwaist. Mr. Pentland had said, 'braided hair wound round and round her head like a crown.' He was right. There was something queenlike about her. But by far Miss Henderson's most unusual feature was her eyes ~ fathomless deep gray in which there were traces of fatigue."

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

"The [mission] house was a white frame three-story building with a screened porch on each side. Directly behind it loomed a mountain...its base within a few feet of the back door. The house itself had been built on the top of the rising ground at the rear of a very large yard fenced across the front. This together with the church-schoolhouse, a lattice covered spring-house, a double outhouse, and Miss Henderson's cabin comprised the mission buildings..."

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.
Fairlight's cabin


  1. Oh my, Kenna.... I never knew when I suggested you read 'Christy' what an impact it might have on you. I fairly got the chills just reading your post today and I am honored to have been mentioned at all. I know one thing.... it's been years since I read 'Christy' but I must read it again and very soon.

    I have always loved the mountains, they have such an emotional pull for me and I believe that some of my ancestors rose up out of those hills and their blood still beats in me.

  2. What a moving response. You should come and I'll take you there. "Fairlight's" grandson met us there and was the one who shared many of the vintage pictures with me!

    1. I just finished rereading Christy. I read it years ago when it first came out. So I just reordered the book again. Yes, loved it and enjoyed your wonderful post. A while ago I watched a movie on TV about the mother and daughter visiting Gutter Cap (that area) They had visits with decedent of various old residents in the book. I don't remember what channel it was on. I only seen it once. I would like to be able to get a copy of movie. Do you know anything about this. I don't know if it was Catherine Marshall and her daughter...or Catherine's granddaughter with Catherine's daughter. Gayle

  3. Kenna, Mom told me you had made another post, and I was looking forward to it! Wow....what can I say? This brought tears to my eyes. I'm trying to decide exactly why. I think part of it is because I miss the mountains so much; part of it is because I miss family so much, including you, dear one; and part of it is because the book reminds me of all the books we shared over the years--years when I was actually a younger person than I am now, and I guess I kind've miss the young me, as well. I remember being so moved by Christy, and later being so excited that you had gotten to Del Rio and had met one of Fairlight's grandsons. It's a beautiful story. Yep, gonna read it again, just like Mom says.

    Love you! This was a great post! Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Hi Kenna,
    I came over from Marie's blog. I well remember reading "Christy" many years ago and I remember the impact it had on me for months. I loved this book dearly and I must go back to the library, check it out and read it again!! This is a wonderful post about it!
    I believe the same author wrote "Something More" which I read much later in life and it had a lasting effect on me. What I remember was that it was about forgiveness and and it helped me to let go of a hurt that I had carried way too long.
    I confess, I don't read now as much as I used to. Maybe "Christy" will make me get started reading again.
    Though blogging, I have "met" Latane and Marie and feel that I know and love them by reading their blogs.
    I invite you to come over and visit my blog Counting My Blessings anytime.

  5. This was wonderful!! Like Dorothy, I read Christy many years ago... I might just have to read it again now~ this brought back so many memories! :)

  6. I'm so pleased this post touched so many hearts! "Christy" definitely deserves to be revisited.

  7. I absolutely loved reading "Christy" a few years ago when I found it among the throng of used books at the library book sale in town. I adored the book. I, of course, love the series and am so glad I read the book as well. I have also visited the sites. Very cool.

  8. My mother gave me the book "Christy" when I was a teenager and it had a profound effect on me. Although it took many years before I had the maturity to do it, Catherine Marshall's prologue inspired me to write "The Sharecroppers," the story of my great-grandmother. Isn't it amazing how "Christy" and the life of her mother continue to impact people in so many ways!

    Thank you for posting all of these photos. What a rich gift you are giving everyone! I teach American literature at a homeschool co-op and will share them with my students. Many books are called classics for the purpose of marketing but I teach my students that a true classic can be read again and again with new insight about life each time it is read and that a classic continues to transcend the generations and touch new hearts. The comments of all of you here have so proved Christy's value as an American classic.
    Kenna, thank you again for making our reading of the book even so much richer. Denisa Nickell Hanania

  9. Thanks for posting this! I've been a Christy fan for years. Our family made scrapbooks about Christy and our journey to the old Mission property, attending one day of Christyfest, meeting Larry Myers, walking around on the movie set in Townsend when my children were young, etc. Where did the quote come from at the beginning?

  10. Kenna, thank you for this post. I brought my daughter, a teacher, to the last ChristyFest in 2015. If I've read that book once, I've read it 50 times, and was so excited to see the sites and learn more about Del Rio, meeting Larry, etc. LOVE this blog and the photos ... Must figure out a way to screen capture them into my journal from that week. Blessings to you!