Saturday, September 22, 2001

Highland Hopes: The Blue Ridge Legacy

Highland Hopes, first in the Blue Ridge Legacy series, begins a story told by 100-year-old Abigail Porter of her early years. Written by Gary E. Parker (published by Bethany House), this historical fiction novel tells an intriguing story about the highlanders, those who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the early 1900s. It is a hard life, and those who live it are well acquainted with death, poverty, alcohol, crime and family feuding.

The Porter family faces tragedy in the spring of 1900, when Rose dies in childbirth. Solomon Porter can never get over the loss of his wife, nor come to terms with his only daughter born in the midst of that loss. Abby Porter grows up feeling alienated from her father and yearns to leave her mountain past behind. Yet despite her urge to tear away from the past, she finds she can never truly escape her highlander heritage.

Spanning nearly thirty years, from 1900 to 1929, Highland Hopes follows the experiences of the Porter family as they move from place to place and then later go their own ways, losing touch with family members. Solomon soon remarries, but Elsa Clack seems to be the only decent member of the Clack family. Meanwhile, Laban, the oldest Porter son, struggles with alcohol and gambling. Luke is slow in the head but gifted musically. His skill as a guitar player more than compensates for his stutter and mental deficiencies. Youngest son Daniel (eight years older than Abby), proves to be a diligent worker and moves up in the world as a hard-working bricklayer in Asheville, North Carolina. Abby determines to get an education early on, and through her harsh upbringing she quickly grows up, reasoning with adult thoughts as early as age ten.

Blue Springs, North Carolina is a small town that only slowly and unwillingly moves into the twentieth century. Progress does not completely escape the holler, and the first World War and the 1918 flu take their toll, but the town and its people continue along, finding faith in God, family, and small-town life. The town’s two churches, a Primitive Baptist at one end of town and the Jesus Holiness Church at the other, meet alternating Sundays each month, and church meetings that last several days are important social events.

The religion of the Blue Springs community tends to the charismatic side, with emphasis on unusual physical manifestations ("touch of the Spirit’s breath") that accompany a person’s salvation experience. Young Abby observes that everyone else in the family has experienced the Spirit’s call and has given testimony at the front of the church. It seems to be expected of all family members as a rite of passage. Solomon Porter calls himself a "Jesus Man" and enjoys hearing the Bible read to him (he can’t read). Abby likewise knows the right and proper Christian way to behave and think, often chiding herself for her wicked thoughts, knowing that "a true Christian person" would not think such things.

Abby’s mother, as she lay dying, wrote a short letter to her newborn daughter, to be given to Abby when she is older. Yet as the family moves from place to place, the letter is misplaced, resurfacing from time to time, but finally seeming to disappear. This letter, and the mystery of what it says, acts as a bridge between Abby and her past. What is in the letter? Does the letter even exist anymore, and will it help Abby?

Highland Hopes tells a touching story about ordinary people and their relationships through the years, against the historical backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains highlanders. Abby in particular must come to terms with her distant father and try to reconcile with him. The story brings finality and closure to some problems while leaving several other issues unresolved, presumably to be explored in subsequent books in the Blue Ridge Legacy series.

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