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Lynchburg by Joe Clark


by Joe Clark

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When I want to go home, when I want to see the landscape, the ommunity, the small towns near where I grew up, just for a few minutes, I pick up Joe Clark’s Lynchburg (Tennessee Squire Association, c1971). Oh, I grew up, not in Lynchburg, but on a farm in the hills of Tennessee near there. Lynchburg is the county seat of Moore County, the smallest county in the state. It is best known, of course, as the place where Jack Daniels is made, but Moore County is dry, so they make Jack Daniels whiskey there, but you can’t buy it there. If you tour their distillery, at the end they serve you lemonade—and not the Lynchburg lemonade recipe I cherish! That’s my home country all right.

Joe Clark was a photographer for Life magazine. You would recognize many of his photographs; for instance, the one of a young accordionist weeping as the train bearing the body of Frankin Delano Roosevelt passed by. Joe Clark calls himself the Hillbilly snap shooter (or hbss, for short). He didn’t grow up in Lynchburg either, but in rural Tennessee. He became acquainted with Lynchburg when he began doing advertising photographs for Jack Daniels. On his first visit he shared poke sallet at Mrs. Bobo’s boarding house (we still visit Mrs. Bobo’s every chance we get). He fell in love with the town. “It is not so much of a town,” he says, “as a philosophy, a way of life.” He writes verse about it, and about the legend of the Wyooter, the good-natured local “creature,” but it’s his black-and-white photographs and the sayings he’s picked up from hearing local folk talk that make the book what it is—that take me home again.

There’s the courthouse and the square, the backyard garden, the whittler, the pot-bellied stove with men sittin’ around it, the old time houses and the roads leading up to them, the weathered wood of the barns, the possum up a tree, the woodshed and the pool hall, the millstream and the bridge over Mulberry Creek, the swimmin’ hole and the quiltin’ party, and streets with benches on ’em for folks to sit and visit. There are the people: children and young folks, the guitarist with creased overalls on, “‘boys will be boys’ if there’s girls around,” bikers, the elderly, grandparents with their grandchildren, the teenagers, and the bewhiskered. And there are the sayings:

“Lynchburg is smoked country hams . . . and clear spring water.”

“Life is a wide front porch and . . . a well filled woodshed.”

“Everybody owes everybody something / But nobody owes anybody everything.”

“Some hills are higher than others / Because they have more dirt in them.”

“Good natured people live / In a good natured world.”

“Lynchburg is what life is all about.”

And there are hbss’s little verses:

“Lynchburg is a growin town
Getting bigger by the minit,
Yet, there’s more people out of it
Than there are people in it.”


“He sat on a nail keg
In a corner of the store
Whittling and whittling
Shavings on the floor

And all the small talk
It seemed he never heard
For he whittled and whittled
And never said a word . . . .”

When I pick up Joe Clark’s Lynchburg and look at his photographs, I see my grandmother’s house with all the filigree around the front porch, I see the wooded hills in the distance, I see what’s left of an old picket fence, I see a pump house, and boys wadin’ in a creek, I see hay baling and leaves falling in the fall. And I recall how “the light of the soul / shines through the eyes.” And once again I see the mist about to cover it all.

I’m home again—and lonesome.
  bfrank | Aug 12, 2007 |
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