Thursday, October 20, 2022

Hope Knocking by Nova Mann - Book Tour

Fiction/Political fiction

Date Published: May 23, 2022

Publisher: Jan-Carol Publishing, Inc.


Hope Knocking tells the story of 2020 from three different perspectives: Amantha, an opinionated retired educator who considers herself to be half hillbilly and half flatlander; Matthew, her soft-spoken mountain husband; and Nancy Mae, Amantha's charismatic elderly mother who has returned to her East Tennessee roots after leaving nearly seventy years ago. The three live in Mavie, a mere speck on a USGS topographical map, on the banks of the Diamond River.




 Week One of Quarantine

 As I trudge up the hill leading to The Nowhere on a warm day in late March, I spot something hiding in the brown leaves on the bank: bloodroot! Its pearly white petals are bathed in the soft mountain sunlight, and it looks like a miracle. Though I always search for this native wildflower, its beauty never fails to surprise and delight me to the core every spring. This year, 2020, in the midst of so much darkness and despair, its innocence makes me want to cry.

I turn right on Mava Road and continue my climb up the empty stretch of road winding beside rocky cliffs, steep banks, and mountainous views that the locals have always called The Nowhere.

I notice our neighbor Frank washing his car, and I try to wave and get his attention so I can inquire about his family. Either he doesn’t see me or he’s pretending not to, so I turn my back and walk on. Ever since Matthew, Mom, and I moved down to the bottom—over fifteen years ago—the neighbors and I have barely spoken. I couldn’t say who’s more to blame, but the good Lord knows I have tried…most of the time. I immediately berate myself: You know, he could be shy, Amantha. Don’t be so quick to judge.

I consider myself to be half hillbilly and half flatlander because Momma grew up here, and Dad’s family is from the Deep South. I grew up in the foothills of Appalachia, in north Georgia, but I found my true home when I started my teaching career in the late eighties and moved up to the ancient mountains on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Even though a few years later I got wanderlust and moved to the Rockies and then South America, Appalachia called me home in 2003, and I found true love with Matthew, who gazed at me with the bluest mountain eyes I’d ever seen. My song “Mountain Heart” explains our meeting:

Many years she had wandered

This world all alone

From Georgia to Spain,

Looked for love in vain


Caroline to Colorado,

A trail of tears

Chile coasts she roamed

Till she drifted back home



In the hills of Tennessee,

My true love waits for me

With blue eyes so clear,

He draws me near

To a mountain heart so dear


Salida, Virginia

In the Appalachian hills

He had never left home,

But he felt lonely still

One Saturday night

At a dance in Tennessee,

Two hearts came together

For eternity

Momma—Nancy Mae—came back here too, after retiring from her teaching job in Georgia. She bought a place on the Diamond River, right in the beloved community of her childhood, Mavie. Matthew and I got married on the banks of the river fifteen years ago and now live next door to my mother.

I admit that I don’t quite understand my mountain half. At times, I feel like the people withhold so much of themselves from outsiders that the outsiders start to wonder if it’s personal or just another queer mountain trait. I guess I’ll always be an outsider with connections, like it or not.

Another neighbor’s little dog is yapping incessantly, and now I see why: a red fox—a big one, too. The graceful creature darts out onto the road, sees me, and then disappears into the woods on the other side of the road. The den must be in the other direction, or maybe she just wants a better look at me because Ms. Fox quickly crosses the road again, this time scampering up the bank and disappearing.

Since my quarantine began last Monday, I’ve seen a different animal every day. First, there was the slinky, graceful mink across the river from the tiny house, my quarantine home for two weeks. Matthew built it for momma to use as a guesthouse, since neither one of our homes can accommodate many people. The mink seemed to tell me to tread carefully and quietly through the waters of life. Next, two deer grazing in the new grass on the Diamond’s banks warned me to blend in and not make waves. Now this fox. I wonder what lesson she is trying to impart.

Someone has left a box of packaged foods on the side of the road, probably picked up from the food pantry down at Little Mann School. I move it closer to the road, hoping that someone who needs it—and I’m sure that someone now needs it—will pick it up before the animals scatter the trash everywhere.

As I continue up The Nowhere, I feel a heaviness envelop me in spite of the pretty day. I feel a need to do something, help someone, connect, or try to ease the trouble that the Coronavirus has brought to the world.

There’s trash on both sides of the road, and I berate myself for forgetting to bring a trash bag again. I cross the road at the curve, trying to avoid the cars that usually come flying down the road. Today, though, there are no cars in sight. I spy an empty mulch sack that’s big enough to do the job, and by the time I get to the old dump site, it’s halfway full already. I peer over the steep sides of the former dump and see that people are continuing to dump trash here despite the rocky barrier that was recently erected. They just stop a few feet away from the barrier and unload their trash. Just three months ago, the newly formed “Keep Elk County Beautiful” group came out one Saturday and worked all day, hauling out cars, refrigerators, stoves, car batteries, tires, and mounds of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper. You name it, they found it.

I try to understand the mentality of people who mindlessly toss their trash out their car window, but I struggle to. I suppose poverty has forced them to view their surroundings in terms of survival, not beauty. What can they extract from the land in order to make some money so that they can eat and pay bills? They only think of how the environment can best serve them, not how they might help the environment. Maybe they cannot appreciate the beauty that has surrounded them their entire lives. Generations have dealt with trash this way—bury it, burn it, or toss it over a cliff. Why pay a dollar a bag to drop it off at the dump?

It all seems so hopeless to me today, but I cross the road and continue to fill the sack as I retrace my steps home. I hear a car approaching behind me, so I step into the ditch, nearly hugging the steep rock face of the cliff.

My third cousin Trula, who is in her bright yellow Jeep, slows down to a crawl and says, “Are you out yet, Amantha? I heard you were in quarantine for a couple of weeks.”

I notice she’s wearing a mask—the first one outside our home that I’ve seen in Mavie—and blue plastic gloves.

“No, I’ve still got one week left. I’m getting my walk in and trying to do something useful,” I say, glancing at my bulging sack. “Are you heading to Billy Joe’s?”

Trula was the home health worker assigned to old man Bill, who lived down the river from us, before Hospice was called in. He was the first to succumb to the virus in Mavie.

“Yeah. The family wants me to clean up the place so they can sell it, I guess. Tell your momma I said hi, and I hope you’uns will all be okay.”

“You, too, Trula. Love you!” I yell as she drives away.

My bag is now filled to the brim, mostly with Dr. Enuf, Mountain Dew, beer bottles, Styrofoam take-out containers, and lots of straws. I barely manage to drag it down the hill to the garden shed, where I leave it until it can either be burned or hauled off. I need to drink something and check on Mom. From a safe distance, of course. I make my way past the garden, walking alongside the Diamond River, and I see her sitting under the shed. I pull a chair out into the sun and sit six feet away.

“I’m glad you’re back. I always worry about you when you walk up there,” she said.

I give her my standard response: “It’s still too early for the drunks and druggies to be up and about. I did see Trula, though, and she said hi.”

She tells me that North Carolina has closed all its borders and that five people have now died from Covid-19 at the Med Center.

“I feel so depressed,” I tell her. “This all feels so surreal.”

Momma smiles reassuringly at me, and her big blue eyes light up. I can tell she has something important to say. She looks out at the tumbling river as she turns her thoughts back in time.

“This virus brings to mind the TB epidemic. We lived right across the road from Aunt Oda and Uncle Oliver and played with our cousins every day. Sometimes we even spent the night there. They had eight children. Four of them got sick, and so did Uncle Oliver. Three of our dear cousins died of that terrible disease, while our family didn’t lose one soul. I’ll never understand that, but I remember how scared I was that my sister Maddie—just a baby then—would get it and die. She would crawl on the floor right where they were spitting their bakker juice into coffee cans. I’d carry her into the bedroom away from the filth, but she’d start a wailing and momma would fuss at me to bring her back.”

Momma stops talking and the only sound is the Diamond River making its way downstream. I think she’s done and I start to get up, but her intense blue eyes look up at me then, and she says, “We survived those hard times and we’ll get through these, too.”

I smile gratefully at her and we enjoy the sunshine and each other’s company without conversation for a while, and then she tells me it’s time for one of her judge shows and she leaves. As I watch her slowly ascend the bank up to her house, I think about the new Coronavirus as I take in the sunshine and the gurgling river.

Personally, I think this is nature’s way of getting things back in balance. There are too many humans on the Earth, and we greedily use up all the resources while ruining the planet with our pollution, causing mass animal and plant extinctions and runaway climate change. Now, during this Covid-19 outbreak, which started in China in 2019, people are buying up everything for themselves. I couldn’t believe the empty shelves I saw when I returned to the mainland. They were bare of bread, rice, meat, bleach, sanitizer wipes and gel, beans, and the most hoarded item—toilet paper. I figure we can use the newspapers we’ve been saving for the garden if it comes down to that…if there’s no Charmin to be found.

I walk back to the garden shed to get the strawberry plants I bought from Cerro City the other day, and notice the bee balm coming up. I like to harvest the fragrant leaves and flowers to make a wonderful herbal tea that’s good for inflammation. I mix it with lemon balm, which I have growing in a tub up at the Treehouse, my name for our house that sits at the top of the property and looks out over a canopy of hemlocks, white oaks, sassafras and dogwoods.

Matthew and I hadn’t planned on doing a garden this year at all, but this crisis changed our minds. I bought enough seed, along with a few plants, in Cerro City to cover the recently plowed soil and hoped the seedlings we normally bought—tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and basil—would later be available. I was glad I found red potato seed, as all potato seed has been hard to find. Matthew was told by two different places in Betsyville that the government was buying up all the seed, which was why they didn’t have it. Who knows if there’s any truth to this or not? There are so many rumors these days.

While I was in town, nobody but me was wearing a mask. I thought one man was going to confront me about scaring his young son, but he kept his mouth shut. No one was abiding by the six-foot rule, either, but I suppose that very few of them had just flown in a plane or been in a crowded airport like Dallas Fort Worth. I had, which is why I’m doing a two-week quarantine away from everyone in the tiny house, that I’ve named Bear Necessities, because of all its black bear décor. I do not want to infect my eighty-six-year-old mother or sixty-year-old husband, so quarantine I must.

I plant four rows of strawberries next to the perennial patch of asparagus and rhubarb. Yesterday evening, Matthew and I planted cabbage, onions, and peas. Peas are one of my favorite vegetables from the garden, although we’ve never had any luck with them. I keep trying each year. Maybe the good Lord will provide us with tasty peas to go with the new potatoes this year. Maybe He’ll take pity on us considering the mess we’re in. Maybe not, though.

God may have decided to teach all of us a lesson about being good stewards of the Earth. He wants us to stop being selfish and greedy and to learn to be thankful. I’ve been pondering the purpose of the pandemic. I believe everything has a purpose. We just need to slow down enough to learn the lessons that are available to us every day. He did say, “No more water, but fire next time.” Did He mean the fire of fever? As the song says, “Oh, Mary, don’t you weep no more.”



About the Author

This is Nova Mann’s first novel, but she is already working on a sequel to Hope Knocking, which will hopefully be released sometime in 2023. Ms. Mann is a former high school teacher who began her career in North Carolina and retired in Tennessee. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and her graduate degree from Appalachian State University. As a lifelong learner, she continues to explore the world through hiking, sustainable gardening, writing, and playing old-time mountain music. One of her life’s biggest accomplishments was spent as a Fulbright scholar in South America, teaching English at a public high school. She later led many American students on trips throughout Latin America and Europe, believing that travel is the best way to uproot intolerance and replace it with respect for all cultures. She lives with her husband in the mountains of Tennessee, embraced by the Cherokee Forest. 

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