Above is a photo from Waters’ college project in Lafollette, Tennessee.

By CAMEO WATERS

When I ask someone to tell me their story, I never truly receive a straight answer — or really an answer at all.

On the other hand, when I ask “What’s the root of your story? What makes you tick? What tragedies have you endured?” That’s when I get responses.

The tiniest tilt of how you approach a situation can sometimes unveil everything you’re searching for.

This whole idea of pulling out the deepest parts of a stranger’s stories began before I was tasked to write feature stories and blogs about the locals of Jonesborough.

It all began with a photojournalism project in college at the University of Tennessee.

My tight-knit, advanced photojournalism class traveled to LaFollette, Tennessee where we were to capture the story of locals and then share our findings in that week’s edition of the LaFollette Press. There, I met a farmer who had the gift of snapping his fingers and his 500 pound pig would roll over, a teenage fisherman with big aspirations, and an antique shop owner who may or may not sell a local favorite of peach-infused moonshine. I discovered sunrise views of the Smoky Mountains from LaFollette backroads, I captured smiling faces that will stick with me forever and I was taught what it means to have pride in the place you call home.

When I began my position as the Tourism and Marketing Director in Jonesborough, I started writing a series of feature stories on artists at the McKinney Center. The purpose was to expose their intellectual art backgrounds, rich experiences and provide a way for the reader to connect with the instructors before signing up for their class. But to connect with these local artists, I drew from my experience in the tiny town of La Follette and looked for the story within the story — or rather the story within the person I was interviewing.

Chasidy Hathron shares her art.

I had the opportunity to write a story about Chasidy Hathron, a well-known artist in the region. I still deem that as one of the most intentional and truest conversations I’ve had with a complete stranger. She gave me a tour of her art gallery-like home, allowed me to peer inside her studio that housed the most unique antique British table, and told me the tales of trinkets on her shelf she deems as memories. She taught me that keeping little treasures like harmonicas and old coke bottles can be objects that encompass memories of people we’ve lost. She taught me the value of encouraging confidence in a child by showing them that they are special to someone. And the importance of simply sitting down with someone to have an authentic conversation. I left that day feeling like I knew just a little bit more about life.

Through the time spent interviewing and photographing these people, I found friends, I laughed and cried. I hurt with them. I hurt because I could understand their pain and sometimes because I couldn’t understand their pain. And I met people who were just like me and people who were just opposite of me.

No matter the person or the story, I always walk away with more than responses to my questions, “What’s the root of your story? What makes you tick? What tragedies have you endured?”. I walk away with answers to life’s questions.

This column will be the space where I answer a few of those questions for myself. It’ll be the place I can showcase the stories I encounter through Jonesborough’s community members. And most importantly, it’ll be the puzzle of answers to life’s questions that, one by one, Jonesborough’s locals are piecing together.