colby caldwell

Sebastian Matthews - Day Seven

colby caldwell
Sebastian Matthews - Day Seven
7 Topo Map.jpg

Topo Map

Saturday 11am to 1pm

Asheville Airport


I first spy him in front of the huge regional topographic map. He is focusing intently, arms at his sides, at the mountains somewhere west of Asheville.

And then I run into him boarding the plane. He’s older, lean, with white, close-cropped hair, dressed in the garb of an old-time farmer—plaid shirt, baggy khaki pants held up by suspenders. His teeth are chewing-tobacco brown. He greets me with eyes wide open. 

Which he does again when he sits down beside me on the plane. I wait until he settles to ask: “Where were you on the map?” It takes him a moment to figure my meaning. 

“Haywood County.” 

He pulls out a small ice pack inside a Ziploc bag, and places it down the back of his shirt. 

“When I walk Main Street, downtown Waynesville, I feel like I am on vacation. Boy, I’ve seen that town change.”

He worked as a tool-and-dye man for thirty-eight years. Has lived on the mountain farm all his life. He says it used to be farmland but now it’s just pasture and woodland. “All I do is garden and mow.”

He lives with his mom, age 89. She used to come with him on these trips, but this year she stayed behind. “The television went out last night,” he said, visibly upset. “It worries me.” 

I change the subject.

“Where you headed?” 

He turns in his seat. “Mayo Clinic. Rochester, Minnesota.” 

Before I can ask, he tells me: “Had a liver transplant twenty years ago. Gone back every year.”

He sees the same people every year, he says, including the drivers who shuttle him from hotel to clinic. 

Our flight is almost over. I ask about the transplant. “They fixed that problem. Now I have others.”