A Mountain Man and His Wife

Last week, I decided to simplify my teenager’s life by replacing a large bedroom chest of eighteen drawers with an antique piece that offered only three. He’s no neat freak, and the multiplicity of drawers only compounded the problem. I emptied the chest, shoved it into a hallway, and listed it on Facebook’s “Marketplace”.

When I listed the chest, which we bought during our first year of marriage, it drew little interest, despite its fine, dovetailed construction and classic looks. One guy showed a lot of interest but couldn’t figure out how he would move it. Another shopper was turned off by the dimensions. One mother couldn’t convince her daughter to buy my “dark furniture.” The monster chest sat stubbornly unmoved—and increasingly, unloved—as it blockaded our hallway.

The dark-brown chest was part of our 1997 master bedroom “suite” but was later moved to our boys’ room, where its many drawers would accommodate everything our boys owned—clothes, contraband candy, lego parts, dirty socks, signed baseballs, and church-league basketball medals. The oldest boy got the top six drawers, and the two younger boys divided up the remaining drawers within reach.

Yesterday, however, my dark furniture found a buyer. In the morning, “Kenny” let me know that he was on the way down from a small town in North Carolina to buy it—music to my ears, since it had been blocking traffic for over a week. I asked if he had movers and a truck, and he said he did; I figured he must be outfitting a handsome second home, maybe even giving the simple chest a makeover.

The mountain man buyer showed up on time. I walked out to a smiling and unexpectedly earthy couple—probably around seventy years old—standing in weathered jeans beside a Ford truck. Noting their age, slight stature, and the wrinkled looks of Marlboro years, I assumed they must be waiting for the actual “movers” to pull up behind them. They were probably just checking out the piece before the real muscle arrived.

I was wrong; they were the movers. Kenny and his smiling wife were there to take care of business themselves. They’d brought along a sweet yellow lab, who sat in the passenger cab the entire time, smiling calmly as her head leaned out the window.

We all hear about how strong mountain folk are; they thrive in the solitude of the Appalachians, where steep roads and few jobs keep city critters at a comfortable distance. They don’t pine after prestige or glamour, and thus they’re also marked by a kind of earthy sincerity not found among the pampered private-school crowds. Most of us might not want to trade places with them, but we recognize their superior mettle.

Today, I spent about 45 minutes in the presence of such mettle. I was initially amused by their folksy confidence, but soon enough I was downright amazed. Their mountain magic apparently lent itself to impressive feats of strength.

Kenny and his charming wife quickly sized up the task, never even hinting for my help in hauling the bulky chest. I worried about a fall, a heart attack, and various other dangers as the two debated who would carry which end of the giant piece of furniture. I’m a runner who lifts weights regularly—didn’t I look like an obvious part of the solution? I offered my help, but neither smiling septuagenarian took me up on it.

Instead, I could help remove drawers, which I gladly did. As we removed them and stacked them on my sons’ rug, we spotted three or four greeting cards that had spent years trapped in time behind the drawers. My new mountain friends and I shared the excitement of discovering one stuffed with $150, a gift from a grandparent years ago. Another card was for my husband; inside, a note full of praises from me, a young wife who knew only the world of one man and a newlywed townhome. Suspended behind another drawer was my first-born’s birthday card for “daddy,” which I bought and signed for her when she was a baby. Somehow, the back wall of the chest also accommodated a letter-sized 2004 “Advent Devotional” booklet from my in-laws’ tiny Presbyterian church.

A few other prizes were recovered—an empty Skittles bag, boys’ underwear, and a penny. With each discovery, the mountain duo laughed with me and offered the kind of commentary one expects from old friends. None of their interest in my joy was hurried or affected; they were two real people whose long drive to Atlanta did not keep them from enjoying an additional—and unexpected—trip down my memory lane.

Of course, we still had to get the chest out to the truck, and that’s when Kenny informed me that he may move slower since he only had “one and a half lungs,” which I silently attributed to a devotion to tobacco. Lung issues or not, Kenny picked up one end, his pretty wife lifted the other, and without hesitating began their perilous, blue-jean journey to the pickup truck.

Every so often, Kenny would stop to refill his downsized lungs—a brief pause to recover strength before pressing on. They carried it down two flights of front porch stone, trusting their feet to find the next blind step, and with no stumbles or expletives. His wife only joked warmly at Kenny’s oxygen stops; neither of them seemed even remotely bothered by these brief interruptions. It was all part of the day’s work, and a soon enough, we arrived at their open tailgate.

“You just wanna go fishing, instead?” Kenny’s wife summoned her humor when she spotted their two fishing poles, on the ready, laying in the open truck bed. That comment led us into a little fishing discussion, in which I learned they don’t ever keep anything they catch. It’s all for fun; so I imagined them pulling over by a wide stream, two old lovebirds dropping a line somewhere off a winding Nantahala road, dog curled up nearby.

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