John Gottlied started his first column by introducing himself and telling about his background. It occurs to me that I never did that, I just jumped right in with the arguing part back in February 2021. I think I was assuming that a lot of people knew me already - but this is a bigger town that it used to be, so I probably shouldn’t make such assumptions. I’ll remedy that now.
First, though, I want to say a couple of words about John. I’ve known him since the sixth grade. In fact, that sixth grade class at Findlay also included (among many others) our current state senator Paul Bailey and his future wife, Amy. Now, I disagree with both John and Paul politically a good 75 percent of the time. Okay, with Paul, maybe it’s more like 85 percent. But I still respect them both enormously, think the world of them, and consider them to be good friends. I can say that about a lot of people in this town, and I think many among us have lost sight of that attitude. That said, I thought John was an ideal person to counterbalance my opinion on here… because he will not take it easy on me. He will give me heck and do so in a way that forces me to think. And that will go both ways, to the ultimate benefit of us both (whether we eventually agree or not). And we probably won’t even call each other names or threaten to shoot each other. That’s what America is and what it should be.
All right, then, here’s my story.
I was born in Sparta in 1968. My mom was born here, too; my dad moved here from Overton County when he was eight. My grandparents were all from Jackson or Overton County, where their families had all lived for 100 years or more. My dad’s dad, Doyle Smith Sr., worked as a farmer for decades for Sam Breeding and his son, Bob. Before that, he had been in prison twice, once for making moonshine and once for selling it. My mom’s paternal grandfather, Andrew Dennis, worked at Hunter Funeral Home when the hearses were horse-drawn.
I graduated from White County High School, in 1986. I went into mission work for the next three years, part of it spent in South Florida and part in New York City, working with Haitian immigrants. I served in French-speaking congregations, building on the three years I studied French at WCHS (one of them informally) with the beloved and lamented Mrs. Sarah Jane Thurman. That time spent working to help immigrants was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Meanwhile, I supported myself (and later my family) by janitorial work for over 20 years. In my 20s, I started to take writing seriously and eventually got published in various magazines and anthologies, then having my novels published. It didn’t go a long way toward paying the bills, though, so, at age 32, I started college at Tennessee Tech as a double-major in English and history. From there, I went to the University of Illinois, where I earned my master’s and Ph.D in history. I was lucky enough to get a job at my alma mater and move back to my hometown.
That’s the abridged version. I am a product of these mountains and hollers, and love them deeply, as I love Sparta and Tennessee. I want only the best for everyone in them. I have a particular passion for the rights and needs of the people who grew up poor like I did. That passion extends to the Natives who were driven from here, to my black friends who also grew up here, to the immigrants (of every shade and religion) who have come here for a better life. To the gay and trans folks. To the recent arrivals.
And it extends to you.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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