“When We Could See But Did Not Know” is based on my debut novel, MARANATHA ROAD, which releases September 1 from Vandalia Press, the creative imprint of West Virginia University Press. Set in the fictional town of Garnet, North Carolina, the novel tells the story of two women—Sadie Caswell, whose son dies shortly before his wedding and Tinley Greene, the young stranger who shows up claiming she’s pregnant with his child.
Although Garnet is not a real town in western North Carolina, it bears some similarity to Hendersonville, where I was born and raised, and nearby places where I’ve visited grandparents and other relatives: the town of East Flat Rock; and, closer to the South Carolina border, the communities of Zirconia and Tuxedo along Green River. I don’t know of a road in the area named Maranatha, but the name, which roughly means “our Lord comes,” seems to fit the character of the place.
Our house in Hendersonville was on Kanuga Road. Follow the road in one direction and you soon reach a charming downtown filled with antique shops and host to North Carolina’s Apple Festival. Or take it the other way to arrive at summer camps with rock walls and long dirt driveways, not too different from the camp called Emerald Cove, which appears in the novel.
Growing up, our dad took me and my sister to the annual Henderson County Gem and Mineral Show, where we learned about the area’s history of gem mining—especially rubies and emeralds—and the more modest garnet, which seems right for Sadie and Clive.
Years later, this story came to me first as the image of a girl, sheltered from the rain in a dark shed, waiting for her parents to return—an image which now makes up the first chapter.
Like Tinley, my childhood was marked with a memorable time of anxious waiting. When my sister and I were in high school, we waited for our mother to return home from Winston-Salem where she was undergoing treatment for leukemia. And like Tinley, what we hoped for didn’t happen—our mother died.
Now that I’m a mother, I’m often struck by the fierce desire to shield our son from harm and unhappiness, especially knowing how arbitrary life can be. The character of Sadie first appeared to me as an older woman who sees that her adult son is headed for disaster, but she is powerless to stop it. I love Sadie because of her limitations and her conviction that she is bound to make mistakes, whether it’s by speaking up or staying silent. There might be a little something of her in all of us. Or maybe it’s just introverts. Or maybe it’s just me.
In any event, I knew these two women would have good reason to be angry at each other, but that in the end they would need to make their way to one another.
The bridge in the story is inspired by—although different from—the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge. At 225-feet high, it is the highest bridge in North Carolina, spanning the Green River Gorge, where there might be countless gems buried underground. According to family gossip, my parents on one of their first dates toured the site while the bridge was being built. Now, when I drive across the bridge with my husband and our son, that’s one of the stories I like to imagine. The other is a story about two strong, Southern women who find a way to bridge the gap between them.