'The View from Tom's Stand'

Writer recounts life in Cataloochee
By Jessi Stone Guide editor | Nov 06, 2013

Walking into Jane Alexander’s home in Cataloochee Ranch, one would never guess this mountain woman was actually born a city girl.

She seems right at home inside her old-timey log home overlooking the mountain ranges. It is the home she and her husband Tom Alexander built from the ground up using timber on the property and it is also the foundation for her book, “The View from Tom’s Stand.”

Jane grew up in Utica, New York and graduated from Smith College. She and Tom were both successful journalists for Life magazine in New York and Washington, D.C., but for five summers they returned to his family home at Cataloochee with their two children to work on the cabin.

For Jane, the woodworking Tom completed in their home is a beautiful reminder of his many abilities — the dovetail joints, mud chinking and hand built stairs.

With no roof over her head, no plumbing and no electricity during the construction of the cabin, Jane eventually got into the rhythm of rustic living and the wilderness became part of her soul. She would also learn to cane chairs, weave, paint and photograph the breathtaking scenery surrounding her.

After Tom died in 2005, Jane wanted to honor his writing accomplishments by publishing his prize-winning articles. But Jane said her daughter Amanda talked her out of it and encouraged her to write a book about the amazing lives she and Tom had together during their 44 years of marriage. And that is what she did.

The 310-page book contains individual stories written by Jane, Tom Alexander Sr., Tom Alexander Jr., daughter Amanda Alexander, son Ames Alexander, Tom’s sister Alice Alexander Aumen and others. The book also includes more than 374 black and white photos to illustrate the stories and a cover photo by Bill Harbin.

Jane said one of her favorite stories is one about a family hiking experience and it one she likes to read aloud for book signings and readings.

“It just tells a lot about the kids and Tom and it’s funny,” she said.

Another story she enjoys is the one about Tom going AWOL one snowy December evening in 2003. He had recently been diagnosed with a rare neurological illness that affects movement and he needed a lot of rest. Jane was worried when she returned home to find Tom was gone.

He hadn’t driven a vehicle in a year, yet his truck was gone. She searched the roads for him and called everyone she knew but he was nowhere to be found. It was getting dark and the temperature was dropping.

Through some desperate maneuvering, she convinced the bank to check his credit card transactions. The last transaction was made at 8 p.m. at New Morning Gallery in Asheville. While she had nearly ruined her Christmas surprise, she was glad to know he was alive.

The book chronicles their adventures from the time they met at Life magazine to their retirement years at Cataloochee. Jane describes Tom as forever curious and interested in everything. As readers and writers, they never stopped learning. Jane said being a science writer and editor required Jane to write about complicated subjects, “but Tom always understood it and he taught me. He was interested in everything — we had a good time.”

Jane is quick to tout Tom’s many accomplishments, but she too had her own successful career as an editor for Time Life Books and Science 80-86 during an era when few women held professional jobs outside the home.

Ames and Amanda Alexander’s contributions to the book are perhaps most telling of Tom and Jane’s character — two writers who spent little time divulging their personal stories.

“Mom’s no-nonsense Yankee upbringing would not allow her to indulge in such private reminiscing. And though Dad won awards for his incisive reporting at Fortune magazine, he was reluctant, perhaps embarrassed, to share his more intimate sketches,” the children wrote in the forward. “That is what makes this book such a treat. Finally we come to know a little of their inner life through their own musings.”

Jane has been working on the collection of stories since 2005 and said she enjoyed reminiscing. Susan Rhew, who designed the book, was a big help in getting to the finished product. To purchase a book, visit www.tomsstand.com.

Jane also will be reading and signing copies of her book at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17 at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville.