When a policy that would prohibit the display of the Confederate flag in a tiny mountain mill town’s municipal parades was first proposed, it was immediately identified as both a sensitive cultural issue and a thorny Constitutional question that cast the Western North Carolina municipality as a microcosm of the complex national debate over the role of Confederate imagery in society today.

A number of Mark Helprin’s works — Winter’s Tale, Memoir From Antproof Case, and more — have appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List. Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War, his story of an Italian army officer and his struggles for survival during the First World War, is a thick novel which I have read twice and to which I return on a regular basis, rereading favorite scenes, always astonished by the beauty of writing and touched again and again by certain passages. His Freddy and Fredericka, a story whose characters are loosely modeled on Prince Charles and Princess Diana, stands alongside John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans novel, A Confederacy Of Dunces, as perhaps the two funniest novels I have ever read.

From Thanksgiving dinners to football games, from the floors of Congress to Joe’s Bar & Grill, from universities to kindergartens, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Americans find themselves locked into political and cultural debates, shooting out tweets, screaming at rallies, shouting down speakers, and smearing their opponents. Civility and a sense of humor have been banished, replaced by identify politics pitting tribes of people against their neighbors whose skin color, religion, party, and gender preferences differ from their own. The abuse of language, reason, and argumentation, and the failure to define terms or to make clear what is said, only make more brutish this mix of hysteria and malevolence.

Because Dr. Hood was only one of five professors in Guilford College’s history department, and because history was my major, I took several of his classes. Dr. Hood was more than a bit crazy. He once told our class that every afternoon he returned home, played his harpsichord, and pushed himself back in time to sixteenth century Europe. He seemed serious about these travels. Still, he was a marvelous lecturer with a fascinating mind.

For the ancient Cherokees and other southeastern Indian tribes, the greatest causes of illness were the spirits of vengeful animals. They were so angered at the killing of their brethren by hunters they convened a great council and devised human illnesses as payback.

Jim Geary has been collecting toys since he was a boy in 1950. The fascination and hobby that has stuck with him throughout his life all started with a 1911 Rolls Royce model car kit.

The Cherokee of Jerry Wolfe’s early memory is a different place than the Qualla Boundary of today.

Wolfe, 93, remembers hills covered in farmland rather than forest, cleared by hand to keep the trees from encroaching on slopes families coaxed to yield the corn, beans and potatoes that fueled them. The weedy edges of fields yielded blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. The woods yielded fuel for winter heat in the log cabins and, when the family ran out of kerosene, knots of pine sap that could ignite to keep the lights on.

Those who read this column regularly are aware of my interest in the early descriptive literature of Western North Carolina. Whenever possible, I like to collect copies — first editions or reprints — of these often rare books. And I like to share some of the descriptions via this column from time to time.

On Nov. 5, 2001, not quite two months after the 9/11 attacks, Lech Walesa spoke at Western Carolina University. Walesa was famed for his resistance to communism in Poland and the Soviet Union, and was the founder of Solidarity, a trade union seeking an expansion of its negotiating power and the establishment of fundamental human rights within Polish communism. Along with Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and Mikhail Gorbachev, Walesa was a key player in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union.

As the sun rises over Papertown one bright morning in 1958, a 30-year-old African-American by the name of Nathaniel Lowery wakes up and, like hundreds of others, heads for the mill.

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