Ray Hicks, the patriarch of traditional Appalachian storytelling tells a “Jack Tale” on his front porch in Beech Mountain, NC. Sticks nailed to the wall forecast the weather. The hex sign painted on the porch is to keep ghosts away which Ray’s wife Rosa says, “Works most of the time.”
He and his wife, Rosa, continued to live the old-time way, raising their own food, collecting and selling ginseng and herbs, cooking and heating with wood in the same house where Ray was born. “Cut your own wood and it warms you twicet.”
He was a 19th century man in a 20th century world.
He knew more about the old timey ways than anyone I have ever met. Last time I saw him he was telling me how they used to put dirt in a wound or cut to heal it…but he said you can’t do that anymore…no dirt in the world is clean enough now.
He was what we call an all day talker. He would start talking the minute you got there…start right in on a story. He had the most amazing accent, kinda talked way back in his throat. He’d say, “Jack seen a man comin down out of the woods with a great big head and he was knocking big trees down and hittin big rock boulders and wasn’t even hurtin’ a hair in his own head… he said, ‘Hello there. Who are ye?’ ‘ My name is Hardy Hard Head.’ ‘Well Hardy hard Head you must be…into my ship.’ ”
By the end of the day he’d still be talking, telling you the story. You’d get up and say, “Ray, it’s gettin late, gotta go.” He’d follow you all the way up to the car standing in the road still telling the tale. You’d just have to put down the window, wave and say, “Ray, I’ll see you..love you” and drive off with him still standing there still telling the story in the middle of the dirt road.
Near the end of his life he was in a coma in the hospital. He hadn’t spoken for days and the family had all been called in because the hospice workers could all tell he was about to leave this world. Everyone was standing around the bed and Tom Bennett, one of the hospice workers who had befriended Ray because they both loved the harmonica, said he just wanted to play this one last tune he knew Ray loved. He took out his harmonica and leaned down and soulfully played Amazing Grace into Ray’s ear. At the end of the tune Ray sat up, arms raised, eyes wide open and said, “That’s spirit!” and lived another 3 months, talking the whole time.
He told the story of the the time he hitch hiked to Boone and couldn’t get a ride back home, no cars would stop or as he called them: V-whickles. All he had in his pockets was a nickel and a crust of bread. So he went into a nearby hard ware store and bought a nickels worth of tacks, put them out in the road and went about 100 feet down the road. The first car that came along punctured a tire. Ray ran down to meet the car and changed the tire for the man who was so grateful he took Ray all the way to his house in Beech Mountain.
It was a true blessing just to know Ray Hicks.