It was one of these soft summer nights, and my five-year-old and I tiptoed into one of our town parks to try out its little climbing wall.
The park was closed for the night, so let’s be clear: it was her idea.
It was one of these soft summer nights, and my five-year-old and I tiptoed into one of our town parks to try out its little climbing wall.
The park was closed for the night, so let’s be clear: it was her idea.
I didn’t know it at the time, just as I’m pretty certain the same holds true for today’s youngsters growing up in the bosom of the Great Smokies, but my childhood was a blessed one. Experiences elsewhere have only reinforced that perspective.
Paris Mountain is just a few miles from our Main Street (6.9 miles via Rutherford Rd. to be exact), and makes for the ideal backdrop for your summertime plans.
While the park is now home to cool hiking trails and stunning real estate, it has quite a significant stake in South Carolina’s history.
1770: The most common story we’ve heard says that the area’s namesake, Richard Pearis, was allegedly living with a Native American chief’s daughter on a plantation along the banks of the Reedy River (in what is now downtown Greenville). During the Revolutionary War, Pearis supported the Tories and their Cherokee allies – which led to some issues from a Patriot troop, who raided his plantation, burned his mill + home, and jailed him in Charleston. Upon his release, he fled to the Bahamas.
Native Americans – specifically, members of the Cherokee tribe – called Paris Mountain (yes, spelled without the ‘e’) home until the land was forfeited to South Carolina in 1777 following the end of the Revolutionary War.
1889 – 1898: The Altamont Hotel was constructed on Paris Mountain’s summit as a summer retreat for wealthy Charleston residents who preferred mountain air + less mosquitoes to humid air + sandy beaches. The journey from downtown Greenville to the hotel took 2 hours due to terrain. It also lacked running water and eventually went out of business in 1898 and burned down in 1920.
1889 – 1918: The Paris Mountain Water Company created lakes and dams on the mountain, which provided Greenville with its first water system. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Camp Buckhorn was added to Paris Mountain and it was established as a national park.
Summer of 1917: A 1,900-acre training camp, called Camp Sevier, was built near the base of Paris Mountain for the newly-created 30th Infantry Division during World War I. This is about the same time that Eugenia Duke (who created Duke’s Mayonnaise Co.) started handing out sandwiches to soldiers at the camp.
Paris Mountain earned a place on the National Register in 1998 and has become quite the wedding hot spot with venues like Camp Buckhorn, View Point at Buckhorn Creek and the Hollow at Paris Mountain.
Guest Post written by Garland Davis for Blind Pig and the Acorn
There was the incident of the Billy goat. The doctor had prescribed goat’s milk for my grandmother and my dad came home one Saturday morning with three or four nanny goats and a Billy. Look up worthless in the dictionary and you will see a picture of a Billy goat. I can tell you, they really get mad if you cut their beards off. A whippin’ for that one. But that isn’t the story I am trying to tell here.
I had seen a TV show where the hero roped a wild bull and saved the damsel. I had a rope which I fashioned into a lasso. I was roping anything I could. My brothers went along for a while. They would run and I would chase them swinging my loop and try to rope them. Finally, one of them said, “Why don’t you try to catch the Billy goat.”
Now this seemed like a good idea to me. I chased after the goat trying to swing the loop. He would either outrun me or turn and chase me. I came up with a brilliant plan. I would tie the rope to a fence post and my brothers could chase ole Billy past me and I would rope him. Fantastic plan!
They got ole Billy up to a dead run and as he approached I swung the loop and floated it out toward his head. Now I tell you, neither Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, nor Hopalong Cassidy ever threw a more perfect loop. Right over ole Billy’s head. He hit the end of that rope at a dead run; his feet flew out from under him; bam he hit the ground and didn’t move. Stone cold dead.
We knew we were dead too when daddy found out. I gathered the rope and hid it in the barn. We ran off and volunteered to hoe mama’s garden, trying to build up as much good will as possible before the storm hit.
Right on time daddy came home from work. We had a routine, as soon as he got home we would go to the barn, milk the cow and goats, clean the stalls and feed them and the pigs. We dreaded going to the barn. Dad was in a hurry as usual and rushed us toward our doom. As we turned the corner of the barn, we saw ole Billy standing out there eating grass. I was suddenly convinced that prayers were answered and vowed to be more attentive in Sunday School.
-BLIND PIG AND THE ACORN, JUNE 10
Folks in my area have just completed their first cutting of hay. They usually get two cuttings of hay during the summer, and if the weather shines down upon their fields in a good way they might even get three cuttings.
Putting up hay has changed a lot since I was a girl. I remember Whitmire cutting hay on his large cattle farm that borders Wilson Holler. He’d hire local boys to help him and you could see them hot, sweaty, and I’m sure itchy as they threw the square bales onto the back of a slow moving truck. These days its all the large round bales that have to be moved with a tractor.
Jump farther back in time and you can see an even more drastic change in hay cutting time.
When Pap was a boy they cut hay by hand. He told me they only cut hay once a summer in those days. As time went by and things advanced in the mountains of western NC Pap’s family used a cutting machine that was pulled by a team of horses to cut hay. Pap said when that happened they thought they had hit the big time. Cutting hay with a machine and horses was easier and it was so much faster than cutting by hand.
A rake behind a horse or mule was used to pile the hay and pitchforks were used to throw it on the back of a wagon. If you were lucky enough to have a big barn, Pap said you stored the hay in the loft.
Folks that didn’t have a barn or needed more hay than the barn would hold, would cut a small tree, four or five inches thick, and cut the limbs down to where they were short and stubby. The tree was placed in the ground and the hay was thrown around it into a pile of sorts. Pap said the hay actually lasted pretty good with the tree method, not as good as inside a barn, but good enough to provide for the animals.
Over the weekend I had the good fortune of talking to one of Pap’s old friends Bass Hyatt. Bass grew up in Brasstown and went to school with Pap at the old Odgen School. His family has been in the cattle business for generations.
Bass told me when he was just a boy the hay had to be replanted each year. The type of spreading creeping grass we have today hadn’t been introduced in this area so the fields had to be harred and the seed put in the ground each spring. That was an extra burden placed on top of the whole cut it by hand part. Bass said “My daddy taught me to pile the hay in a tall stack and I did it enough that I got pretty good at doing it.”
by Bill Graham, Asst. Editor GraciousRoots
I’m pretty sure I lingered too long on object permanence during childhood development – almost certainly at the expense of several other necessities – and it has haunted me to this day.
As a little guy, I was preoccupied with that famous flag the astronauts left on the moon, perched there in the eternal dust, unaware of the chaotic planet swirling down below. (I was also sure that I’d be able to see it with the tabletop telescope Santa owed me, and I was left bitterly disappointed on that).
Another example: in high school, I’d step to the free throw line, and, to block out crowd noise, I’d close my eyes and picture the granite alongside my favorite swimming hole, in the starlight, still warm from the sun, there for the millennia and with no plans to go anywhere and completely indifferent to my plight in a small, sweaty gym in Sylva. Then I’d open my eyes and calmly brick the foul shot.
More recently I sat in a third-floor window of a restaurant in Charleston, looking down on King Street, and I noticed an iron flagpole bracket outside the glass, affixed to the wall a couple of centuries back, and long since forgotten. How many parades had it seen? What flags had it held? Could it see Sumter from its vantage point? So many questions.
Anyway, here’s a window handle tucked away in Sylva, NC corroded shut long ago. During every single triumph or tragedy of your life, no matter how much pain or pleasure you felt, this window handle looked more or less exactly like this.
Kentucky’s Stoney Fork isn’t supposed to run an otherworldly shade of translucent red, but that’s what Matt Hepler found in late March last year. Hepler, a water scientist, says the color was due to an upstream storage tank leaking potassium permanganate, a chemical used in treating acid mine drainage. Hepler’s photos of the discolored creek went viral on social media.
The spill wasn’t an isolated case for Appalachian rivers. As many as 10,000 gallons of chemicals leaked into West Virginia’s Elk River in 2014, leaving a quarter million people without potable water. Just six years earlier, millions of cubic yards of coal ash flooded the mouth of the Emory River in Kingston, Tenn.
Those incidents all pose fundamental questions about the health of our waterways, but diving deeper into their answers often means descending into a maddening blend of jargon and legalese. Terms like 303(d) impairment and Section 319 funding all complicate an easy understanding of issues that have impacts on each of us. What’s really happening to our rivers, and how do those issues affect the millions of people across the Blue Ridge who rely on them for drinking water and as places to swim, paddle, or fish?
Kentucky’s Stoney Fork was discolored in early 2017 by a leak of Potassium Permanganate, a chemical used in treating Acid Mine drainage.
We Are What We Drink
“Every aspect of what we do in our daily lives affects our water quality,” says Stephanie Kreps, a water manager with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The host of threats to water quality is so pervasive that it’s virtually impossible to find a major watershed anywhere across the Blue Ridge that doesn’t have at least some of its streams suffering from water quality impairments.
Headline-grabbing incidents like the 2014 Elk River spill justifiably dominate our public dialogue about water quality, but less-visible issues like sediment and bacteria are often even more dangerous. These types of pollution often stem from “non-point” sources, a regulatory term meaning that they cannot be traced to a single location like a pipe or the site of an accidental spill. Instead, any number of sources dispersed across thousands of square miles of land can all contribute pollutants to the same waterway.
In Southern Appalachia, disturbed lands for development, logging, and surface mines expose large amounts of sediment that can eventually make its way into nearby rivers. It’s more than just runoff; the increased sediment load causes higher concentrations of salt and selenium downstream of mining activities. A 2017 Duke University study showed that several streams impacted by mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia now run consistently saltier for up to 80 percent of the year.
While elevated sediment and salinity levels may sound like a minor issue, they can spell huge problems for the overall stability of the stream ecosystem. Those impacts often show up first in animals like aquatic insects that thrive along the stream bottom, creating ripple effects throughout the stream’s food web, all the way up to fish populations.
In other cases, excess levels of contaminants like selenium can cause different problems altogether. A 2010 study of West Virginia’s Mud River watershed found physical deformities in a number of fish species—including game fish like bluegill and largemouth bass—as a result of selenium toxicity.
Then the hard work of addressing those sources of pollutants begins. “How are we going to fix this?” Kreps asks. That question is answered through the development of an implementation plan, where Kreps says state and federal agencies work with nonprofits, community members, and other stakeholders to draft a blueprint for reversing a stream’s pollution issues. It’s a process that may take years, but it’s a key step in securing the financial resources needed to help communities address polluted streams.
Upper Tennessee River Roundtable Executive Director Carol Doss has spent much of her time in recent years grappling with another nonpoint source pollutant: bacteria. The cause of bacterial problems in most streams is fecal coliform contamination, the scientific term for bacteria that originate in the large intestines of warm-blooded animals. The proverbial bear shitting in the woods can be a source of fecal coliform issues, but problems really begin when human waste enters the picture.
Doss mentions that unmaintained septic systems and pet or livestock waste are major sources of fecal coliform bacteria in regional streams. “I think it’s something people don’t think a lot about,” Doss says, but without appropriate control measures, “it’s going to get into the water somewhere.”
Among the cocktail of pathogens commonly found in fecal coliform contamination is E. coli, which can cause gastrointestinal illness in swimmers, boaters, and other users that might accidentally ingest untreated water. In other cases, viral pathogens like those causing hepatitis can even hitchhike with the bacteria found in untreated sewage, further enhancing public health threats.
Many areas have programs that help landowners repair failing septic systems or remediate erosion issues, but those projects can be time-consuming and expensive to complete, especially for low-income residents. Plus, nonpoint source issues can present communication hurdles since they are often not as visible as something like a pipe discharging wastewater into a stream. “With nonpoint sources coming from all over,” Doss says, “you don’t immediately know where (pollutants) are coming from if you see them in a stream.”
By contrast, identifying and regulating those known locations—called point sources—is much more straightforward. That’s thanks in part to the Clean Water Act, a landmark environmental law that governs how both point and nonpoint sources are regulated.
While the law doesn’t prevent the release of contaminants into waterways outright, it does establish a licensing system that controls the amount of pollutants—everything from treated sewage to chemical waste to even water artificially warmed by industrial processes—that a facility can release into a waterbody. The resulting permits obtained by those facilities allow for regulators to track wastewater discharges and ensure that pollutant levels remain within the safe confines of regulatory standards.
Today, the number of permitted discharge facilities spread across the Blue Ridge numbers in the thousands, ranging from large facilities like the region’s power plants to mining outfalls and even the small wastewater treatment plants serving the region’s subdivisions and ski resorts.
The value of permitting point sources is that regulators can keep track of individual facilities and issue penalties for violations, but that doesn’t mean that those regulations are without controversy. As one example, communities across the Blue Ridge are currently embroiled in a long-term battle over the storage of coal ash—a chemical-laden residue that results from burning coal—in constructed ponds near waterways. Lawsuits and public outcry over coal ash disposal have raged in recent years, especially at coal ash ponds along the French Broad River, James River, and Potomac River.
These often-unlined storage leak toxic pollutants into waterways, aquifers, and drinking water sources. The Southern Environmental Law Center has been engaging in legal action related to coal ash across multiple Southeastern states, including filing a 2017 lawsuit against Duke Energy over its coal ash storage at a power plant near Charlotte, citing elevated levels of arsenic, mercury, and other toxic pollutants in waterways near the site.
Solving the region’s water quality challenges ultimately comes down to one thing: awareness. Doss’s organization, Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, works across the thousands of square miles to enhance public understanding of water quality threats. Doss says that people “just light up” once the acronyms and jargon surrounding water quality topics are broken down into real-world terms. “They want to help do something good for the environment,” she says.
Anglers and paddlers are especially important in providing input. A recent project led by recreational groups to develop a new put-in along one Virginia stream discovered a location where a nearby building was straight-piping untreated sewage directly into the waterway. “You can’t beat the local context of somebody who lives on the ground,” Kreps says.
And what about monitoring wastewater discharges or catching accidental spills like the one that discolored Kentucky’s Stoney Fork? Public awareness has a critical role to play there, too. Savage and Hepler both say that citizen involvement is a crucial step in identifying and addressing water quality violations. In fact, Hepler says that he originally became aware of problems with Stoney Fork while traveling to investigate a citizen complaint at a nearby stream.
Join a water monitoring group, or submit reports to your state’s environmental agency if you’re out on the river and see something that doesn’t look right. Even the small step of vocally supporting healthy rivers can empower others to action, says Erin Savage, program manager at Appalachian Voices. “Get the word out within your community that you are aware of water quality issues and you value clean, public water.”
The Potomac was named the nation’s most endangered river in 2012 by nonprofit American Rivers due to pollution from agricultural and urban land uses. Ongoing issues with coal ash disposal are causing further concern within the Potomac watershed.
Increasing water demand and pollution from expanding suburban populations in the Atlanta area are putting a strain on wildlife and human populations downstream, triggering a decades-long legal battle among stakeholders.
A February 2014 leak of an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash entered the Dan River from a Duke Energy steam facility in Eden, North Carolina, causing concern about potential contamination from metals and other pollutants for miles downstream.
A 2014 chemical leak into the Elk River left several hundred thousand residents without drinking water and raised national awareness about the health of Appalachian streams.
A ruptured dike at a waste containment area near the confluence of the Emory and Clinch Rivers resulted in the largest release of coal ash in U.S. history in 2008.
The Saluda, which cascades off of the Blue Ridge into the South Carolina Piedmont, has been plagued by bacterial contamination in recent years. Several guides, outfitters, and other businesses filed a 2017 lawsuit against a regional utility provider, alleging a loss of business due to pollution in the river.
What stream does runoff from your community end up in? Is it safe to swim, fish, or float a nearby river? The USEPA’s How’s My Waterway? tool allows you to enter a zip code or town and receive info on the status of streams that are found nearby. https://watersgeo.epa.gov/mywaterway
Concerned about what might be getting discharged into your favorite river? Most states keep searchable, online lists of permitted point sources. North Carolina has even assembled its permitted point sources into a map showing the location of each. https://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/water-resources
Most major watersheds across the Blue Ridge have nonprofit organizations dedicated to preserving and improving the condition of nearby streams. Find and join your nearest watershed advocacy group to keep track of events in your area. Most organizations host regular public events such as stream cleanups or events to train citizens in water quality monitoring.
Do you wave at folks you pass on the road? Around here some folks wave at every person they meet while other’s don’t wave at anybody-even if they know them.
Several years ago a sweet lady named Lise wrote a guest post for me about what she called the car wave hello. At the time, Lise hadn’t been living in the mountains very long and was surprised and pleased when she noticed other drivers waving at her as she drove about her way.
Lise really studied the various car waves she encountered on her travels through the mountains. You can read her post about the car wave hello below.
The Car Wave Hello written by Lise
One of the things I love about being in the mountains is how friendly everyone is. Almost every single solitary person you encounter says hello, is smiling at you, and is willing to carry on a conversation with you about any topic you bring up. Mostly, it seems to me people are content in these Southern Appalachian mountains.
An interesting custom my husband and I have now acquired is the “Car Wave Hello”. This is the manner in which drivers in cars passing by each other on the steep and winding mountain road indicate a friendly hello.
First please imagine that the driver of the car has their hand(s) on the steering wheel, this could be one hand or both, that is visible to the approaching driver. With that said, there are many manner of car waves:
When I am the driver, I usually have both hands on the wheel. Mostly because the road is steep and very curvy with blind approaches and very narrow lanes. I feel much more in control when I have both hands on the wheel, enabling me to execute the wave without fear of falling down into a ravine. There are times when I am relaxed and forget my both hands rule and subsequently am not thinking about the possibility of the need to execute the wave until I observe an approaching traveler from the opposite direction, unfortunately usually immediately following one of the blind curves, and I must muster the courage to produce some sort of wave, even if it is difficult for the approaching traveler to interpret or understand.
My usual is The 4 Finger Wave, with both hands on the wheel. Every now and then, I give The Opposite Hand Wave or the Flappy/Full Wave specifically for the reasons described above. No matter what, I wave by golly, because I love these winding steep mountain roads and the people I pass on them. But you bet your sweet bippie, I notice the approaching driver’s wave too 🙂
I will continue to observe the car hello wave and it’s variations, and let you know if I discover anything new. But I have to say, driving up and down the mountain is the friendliest driving experience I have ever had in my life!
I’m a car waver. I use the finger wave Lise mentioned when I’m waving at someone I don’t know and I use the opposite hand wave for folks I do know. And I think sometimes I use the four finger over the wheel wave too. I guess you can say I’m trying to continue the general sense of friendliness Lise found when she moved to the mountains of Western NC.
JANUARY 17, 2018
We all know adventure is the spice of life but the reality is most of us are too busy working a 9-5 to be able to sprinkling in too much adventure. Having any job, let alone a full time job, can make it difficult to find the time to add adventure into your life. So when you work 40+ hours a week, we really have to rethink what adventure really means.
Adventure doesn’t mean selling all of your things, converting to van-life and traveling to far off places. Although let’s be honest, that would be amazing! It just means adding things into your life that fulfill you. Things that get you moving while inspiring you. Many times these “micro-adventures” don’t have to be far away but can be in your own backyard wherever you life.
Here are some ways that you can work full time and still take advantage of whatever free time you may have to get out there and explore.
A WEEKEND CAMPING TRIP
One of my favorite things to do is to head out after work on Friday evenings and drive to the nearest state park for a weekend camping trip. If camping isn’t your thing, then drive up on Saturday and spend it hiking or in a hammock. Crack open some marshmallows and make smores. You don’t have to go far but these simple resets help me when I’m back at work on Monday through Friday.
TRAVEL WHEN YOU CAN. HOW YOU CAN.
Maybe it’s a trip overseas. Maybe it’s a day trip to the mountains. But plan to go with an emphasis on plan. If you don’t plan for it, you’ll never save the money and you’ll never schedule the time. It’s not easy and may stretch your finances, even if you just go for a day trip. But nothing helps us reset more than travel. So go to a place you have never been. If there is a town close by that you have been wanting to visit or a park you have really been wanting to go to, wake up early, fill the car with gas and get going!
GO FOR A HIKE
I love starting my Saturday or Sunday out by going to a local trail and hiking. This is a great option for those on a budget. Pack a lunch, bring some water and head out. Throw up a hammock and read a book while the wind blows in the trees above you.
VISIT A LOCAL BREWERY
One of my favorite things to do is visit the local breweries. Go on a brewery tour with some friends. Beer is always delicious and supporting local businesses is an added bonus. Get a group of people together and spend the day trying different beers, you may even find your new favorite!
LEARN A NEW SKILL
Take a class at a local studio or business. It only takes an hour a week to learn a new skill and cultivate your passions.
GO TO LOCAL EVENTS
There are always events happening on weekends. Go to the farmer’s market, a festival, a concert, an art showing, trivia night, etc. Check your communities website, Facebook or local papers.
JUST TRY IT
Go see a new exhibit at your local museum. Try a new restaurant. Go see that movie that you’ve been wanting to see! Buy that book you have had your eye on. Whatever you do, just do it. What’s the worst that could happen?
Weekends are easy. Well, easy-ish. But it can be a bit harder on weekdays to scratch that adventure itch especially if you have to go anywhere near Atlanta traffic which can add a couple hours to your workday just by commuting. It’s hard enough to wake up before the sun rises and to be at work all day, so how do we squeeze adventure into week days when 8-12 hours are at our desk or in the car? There are several ways to do this and none of them will work for everyone. We just have to choose what fits our interests and time the best and then when we find what works, we have to make intentional decisions that help us maximize those decisions.
Go for a morning hike/run/walk at your favorite local trail (yes this involves waking up earlier . . . I know).
Watch the sunrise while sipping on your favorite coffee. This is a win/win as you get your morning caffeine and the magic from re-centering your perspective as you watch the world wake up around you.
Take the back roads to work. If you’re in the city, this may create more stress depending on what side roads you’re on. But sometimes the simplest thing of changing your surroundings is a great way to switch up your daily routine.
Eat your lunch outside and enjoy the day!
Take a walk during your lunch break. This is a great way to get outdoors, let go of whatever stresses that have already accumulated in the morning and get refreshed before the back half of the day.
Take an evening hike. Find a trail nearby and enjoy the sunset.
Go to your local gym for a class or activity. Try rock climbing, yoga, pilates, kickboxing or running.
Get involved with a local group or club. There are tons of groups to be a part of – trail running, mountain biking, book club, ultimate Frisbee, knitting, etcetera.
These are just a few ways that we can begin to add more adventure into your busy work week.
I used to believe that “adventure” meant that I had to live in a place that was overwhelmed beauty like the desert in Utah or the mountains in Colorado. I thought I had to have the best photos and gear to get the most out of my “adventure”. I thought I couldn’t do it because of my job and the very real physical and emotional constraints that put on my days. However, once I realized what adventure meant to me, it changed everything. I was able to reframe it from “somewhere over there” to “somewhere right here”. My mini adventure may not as pretty as a mountain waterfall but my adventure is now what I make it. It is about getting outside, trying new things and doing what I love. It’s carving out the time to do things that make my soul feel full. And that is the best kind of adventure of all.
January 30, 2018
This has been the coldest winter we’ve had in several years which you all know I love. The part I don’t love is the mud that comes along with the cold. When the temperature stays right at or below freezing for several consecutive days the moisture in the soil freezes. The dirt expands as it freezes. As the temperature begins to rise the ‘expanded’ dirt turns into the muddiest soupiest mess you ever saw.
It’s been quite a few years since our driveway has been in the shape it is now. Mind you it’s never that great, but it’s really bad now. The girls and I have been parking at Granny’s and walking for the last week. They can’t believe how bad it is. Their last ride off had them both saying they weren’t going back up in their car till Spring. I told them they’d just forgotten how bad the mud could be. I remember more than one early morning ride down it when they were in high school with both of them screaming I was going to kill them. Apparently, they’ve forgotten those episodes of hysteria.
The UPS driver made a delivery to Granny’s right when we were getting ready to head up to our house the other day. He said he’d just come from our place. Chitter said, “You didn’t try to get up it did you?” He said, “Naa I parked at the bottom.” Chitter told him she was sorry about the mess. He said, “Don’t worry about it every road in the county is like this.”
If it wasn’t for my new car I’d still make it up and down every day. Muddy driveways are something I’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Pap and Granny’s could get muddy especially in the days when Pap drove an oil truck home every day. My uncle’s driveway is paved now, but in days gone by it got to be as bad as ours is every year and it’s longer. Papaw Wade lived with my uncle in those days.
Pap used to have a 1973 white Impala. One day we were going up to see Papaw Wade. He hit the driveway with everything that car had. We made it about halfway up and did a complete 360 in the middle of the road. Before I knew what happened we were turned around headed back down the hill. I about cried but Pap just laughed. I can’t remember if we made it up that day on another try or settled for walking the trail through the woods.
The road we live on was gravel until the girls were about five or six years old. When I was a teenager the gravel road would get bad in certain places. I remember one year it was especially messy just above Clate and Mary’s. I had a little black Ford Exp. I worked at Catos so I had to dress up nice for work. One day I was coming home and got stuck in the mud. I tried to spin myself out a few times but soon gave up. I didn’t have any other shoes to put on so I finally took off my heels and hose and walked the half a mile home in my dress. Granny got a big kick out that she laughed and laughed at me. I said, “Well what else was I supposed to do wait for someone to come find me?”
If you look close in the photo you can see Chitter is barefooted. I’m not sure how she got down the hill without her boots, but she didn’t have any to wear back up. Granny tried to get her to put on a pair of her old shoes but Chitter wouldn’t have it. Said she wanted to feel that gushy mud between her toes.
New Years has its traditions and customs just like all the other holidays. A few of the most well known being the traditional kiss at midnight, the big ball drop (in my neck of the woods it's the Possum) and the hard to achieve New Years Resolutions folks make.
Churches often ring in the New Year by praying for the coming year to be all it should be-it's called a Watch Service. I come from a fierce fire and brimstone upbringing-growing up I always thought the Watch Services were to make sure the redeemed were gathered together just in case the New Year didn't come after all.
This year I've been introduced to 2 new traditions-ones I've never heard of before.
The first came by way of Gary Carden-of Blow The Tannery Whistle fame. It's an old Appalachian tradition called the First Footer. If the first person to set foot in your house after the New Year is a tall dark haired man-you're sure to have good luck for the coming year.
The second came from Noble Pig. When midnight arrives on New Years Eve-you quickly eat a dozen grapes. Each sweet grape represents a good month in the coming year-each sour grape signals a not so good month.
A New Years day tradition in the south is to eat black-eyed peas, ham hocks, and cabbage to ensure the coming year be a wealthy one. Our family has never taken part in this custom-but the other day Granny allowed we should start-cause she had figured out this is probably why we've always been poor.
To be honest, most of the time when the clock strikes midnight-I've already been asleep for several hours. A night owl I am not. But this year I will be awake-by force of Chitter and Chatter. This year when the New Year rings in I'll be...
Contra Dancing. I hope the coming year is a happy one for you-and please leave me a comment and let me know what you do to ring in the New Year.
It began with bad timing. I wasn’t looking for a dinner revolution any more than Lucy was looking for Narnia when she hid in that wardrobe. But Lucy and I, we both accidentally discovered magic.
The bigs had just gotten into the swing of public school and I was trying to be more intentional with our time together in the evenings, especially dinner. I was failing: we were running late and only the biscuits were done. I normally plated everything myself, but I wasn’t about to let biscuits get cold on a plate because that is just a hateful thing to do. I took out my hand-me-down, much-loved sunflower Fiesta serving bowl, wrapped those babies up, and let them hang out on the dining room table while everything else cooked. I saw its matching platter and pitcher and thought to myself, why not? The bowl was already on the table. We usually only served dinner family style on holidays, but on a whim, I pulled a couple more plates and platters down. It seemed funny to me, to bring out “special” dinnerware for eggs, biscuits, turkey bacon and orange juice, but I’m not opposed to funny.
The 14-year-old lumbered out of his room and raised a brow at the set table with food all in the middle. “What’s all this? What’s in there?” I shrugged. “Just brinner stuff. I thought we’d try it like this.”
Time slowed down.
I’m going to address two issues we had every night at dinner, both concerning time. First issue: no matter how hard I tried, I was never at the table with everyone else. Whether someone’s plate needed adjusting, we forgot condiments, drinks, whatever, I was always running around to get it. Since I made the plates, if I left something off, I felt like I needed to grab or correct it. I would insist they go ahead and eat, because the food was ready, they’re kids, they’re hungry. This lead to me eating warm-ish food while the rest of my family sat, completely or at least mostly finished with their food, ready to bolt, and waiting on me. Not exactly an environment that fostered lively conversations as my kids’ knees were literally bouncing at the chance to be dismissed. Second issue: the teenager. He inhales food, so take everything I said above and make it double time. It was hard to even pin him down for our usual “high/low” before he was ready to be excused. He was respectful, but checked out.
I have no idea what magic happened with the meal that first night, but it never wore off. I got to sit down with everyone. Everything slowed down. We were eating at the same time temperature. No one was inhaling a pre-plated meal. No knees were bouncing.
Conversation warmed up.
I didn’t realize it until we began doing dinner this way, but we honestly weren’t at the table long enough to even get going, socially. Isn’t that the idea of family dinners? It’s not just a box to check off because it’s “good for them.” No, it’s good for them because it connects us. My family is Italian, so I know that meals should be just as much about the company as the food, but they were getting lost in the mix of our hectic evenings. That slow minute after prayer, when no food had met a plate yet, when things had to be asked for and passed around, turned out to be the perfect amount of time to get the kids talking. We were hearing stories we had never heard before. We were laughing. High/low took a back seat, because we were hearing about those best and worst parts of their day organically, and in detail. This all sounds so obvious as I write the words out, but man, we were missing it.
They tried stuff.
FINE, I had read this somewhere before and totally forgotten it, but it turns out kids are more likely to try something new when presented this way: available, but not mandatory. It worked!! The four-year-old still hates everything, but hey, he’s trying it and THEN hating it! We take victories anywhere we can find them. #blessed
The siblings were kind. Like, really.
I KNOW. It was insane. But seeing my 14-year-old help our four-year-old with plates too heavy to lift, or watching them pass on the last serving of something when just a week before it would have been a race back into the kitchen for more, made me a believer. We have almost five years between each kid, so finding their common ground can be, well, uncommon. But hello, food. They’re all so here for food.
My kitchen is not a restaurant kitchen, all hidden aside from some little rectangular hole from which to slide plates. It is not a mystery, and yet something about me plating meals seemed to make my family believe the food appeared on its own, and therefore would — yep! — disappear on its own. Don’t get me wrong; they are good, considerate kiddos. Their manners…I mean, they’ve been taught manners. Mama tried. But dinner was very often left behind. For the mysterious food fairies. They had to be reminded on the regular until the family style meals began. I don’t know if they felt some sense of ownership for everything on the table, or maybe more sense of community, but they were clearing their things (and each others’) without being asked. I don’t question gifts from God, y’all, I just go with it.
That’s right, Rocky Top, Tennessee, it isn’t just a song, it really does exist; well it does now anyway. Formally Lake City, and before that Coal Creek, it is town with many names and amazing history.
However, no matter what you call us, we are a town in need of help. A town that the interstate bypassed and time has forgotten.
In today’s ramblings, I’ll talk about our town, what happened, and at the end give you 15 or more ways you can help. It will be long, but PLEASE stay with me, or at least scroll to the end. 😉
We are a small town, a proud Appalachian people that wouldn’t normally ask for help, but now, now we need help, and we need it from our citizens and neighbors.
We are a town with a strong history of battles fought and won by a sense of community pride and a strong bond. Our history included horrific mining disasters, battles for work, struggling during the Great Depression, and so much more, but our community was strong and pulled through together. A TVA project building Norris Dam, not only brought electricity to the entire area, but brought JOBS in a time when so many were suffering, it brought light in so many ways, and again, our town prevailed. As the building of the dam ended, the Manhattan Project came along, bringing in more jobs and an even bigger sense of pride and community. This was a turning point for many years. Plenty of work, more industry, booming small town businesses. This was the way of life for the next 40 years.
Our ancestors were a proud people; dirt poor most of them, but proud and hard working. They worked their way out of poverty and they raised my parent’s generation. People who knew how to plant a garden, can the food, and were engineers and electricians at the same time. This was our past, it is something to be proud of, something to look back on and smile. The grandparents of my generation brought this town out of poverty and into something to be proud of. The parents of my generation worked to maintain that, UNTIL:
First, the interstate took the traffic away. At one time Main Street, aka Highway 25W, wound its way through our little town. People traveling from north of Kentucky all the way to Georgia and back would travel that road. They would stop in, eat at our restaurants, visit our stores, stay in our hotels. It was a pretty booming little place. Being one of the few towns between Kentucky and Knoxville, there was much to offer. Norris Dam State Park became a major attraction in the summer, those were GREAT days… but then…
THE INTERSTATE!! Gone was the traffic, the extra business, the tourists… We became Radiator Springs, from the movie “Cars”, and slowly, we watched our town begin to die.
This didn’t happen 100 years ago, not even 50. No, this was the late 70’s, early 80’s, when my generation was just a bunch of kids. We don’t remember much about a booming town, but we do remember when it was different, busier, more community driven. We also remember it dying, by the time we were teens, it was almost gone. So….
That simple, we simply left. We were young, we vaguely remember shopping in town at the local stores, so many were gone by then. The booming town our parents grew up in as teens, we never witnessed. Before us, there was a theater, stores, drive in, and other amazing things to do. We grew up with stores shutting down or already gone. We grew up going to Knoxville, we had the interstate after all, East Town Mall was a happening place back then. Sure we cruised town, McDonald’s to the Car Wash and back again, but that was because we were young and socializing.
Then it happened, we grew up and limited by lack of opportunities, confined by the smallness and emptiness of our town, WE LEFT! Bigger, better, faster, growing, jobs, college, whatever the reason, WE LEFT!! But now….
Our dreams carried us elsewhere, but in our minds, we knew where home was, where our parents were, and where we wanted our children raised. We remembered the friendships, the closeness, the caring hearts of our neighbors, teachers, pastors, and friends, the honesty and hardworking generation of our parents. We forgot the dead, lifeless streets and closed storefronts, we just wanted “small town” for our children. So…WE RETURNED!!
But to what? Still empty buildings? More dilapidated than ever before? Chain stores moving in just a few miles up the road, and our few stores that had been hanging on all those years, shutting down! Depression had taken over the town, and with it drugs, poverty, and a deep sense of loss and loneliness prevailed. BUT…
Our parents were still here, living just on the outskirts of town, happily retired, houses paid for, large well groomed yards for the grands to play in. Our school was bigger and better than ever, some of our favorite teachers still teaching, and many of our friends returning to rear their own here. Hope was here, our kids would get teachers who knew their families, knew their stories, and didn’t judge them regardless of that story. We all returned, or stayed, longing for what we knew had been lost, hoping all was not lost. We sense that there is still something here, something that pulls us back, something that can be fixed, but we don’t know what to do. SO….
Here we are, a few of us, maybe more, still hoping, wanting our town back, wanting that picturesque Mayberry we know existed at some point.
What are we doing? Well, being scoffed at by some, saying this town is lost, dead, nothing but a drug haven. We are laughed at by others, because we embraced the name change when it came. Did we love the new name? No, not really; we are LAKERS, through and through after all. Yet, we hold out hope, that just maybe, a new name will revive our old town.
We want it. We need it. Our children need it.
Basically, we are doing nothing, waiting on someone else to do it. All of us waiting, hoping, but not ACTING!!
Do we not want something better? Do we not want to see a clean, upbeat town for our children? What are we scared of?
Are we afraid of being laughed at? Scoffed at? Told NO? Are we afraid of the town becoming too big and too busy? Or are we just part of the problem? Has the depression gotten to us? Infected us? Making us feel beat down, overwhelmed and hopeless? Where is our hope? Where is our pride? Where is the pride of our ancestors? They lived in much tougher times, with so much less than we have now yet they prevailed and built a great town. Are we just too busy to care or are we just too scared?
Rocky Top will always be a small town, and that’s not a bad thing. But what’s wrong with bringing back local businesses, local attractions, maybe something that will pull in tourists again. It’s still a LONG drive up I-75 from Knoxville to Lexington, or vice versa; why not make ours the town the weary travelers want to rest in?
However, progress is slow, and too many of us, myself included, have been sitting around waiting on someone else to do something. To PROVE to us, that the town is going to be revived. That it can be pulled from the ashes. Scared to put our time, effort or money into it before we know it is a guaranteed success.
Well, we give back. We quit waiting for someone else to do it. We quit nay-saying and waiting on some rich stranger to revive our town. No strangers are going to come in and make this town what it use to be. No strangers have the connections we have, no strangers have a vested interest in our town.
It’s our turn. Our parents, the ones still living, they are retired, they paid their dues and they did what they could. No, we pick up the reigns.
You don’t have to be rich, powerful, or “from the right family” to make a difference. You have to be dedicated, loving, and willing to work a little bit. Nothing big, a few hours here, a few hours there, $5 here, $5 there. ANYTHING is better than NOTHING and EVERYTHING makes a difference.
Look at it this way, if 100 people, volunteered a measly 3 hours per month in clean up and community outreach, that would be 300 hours of work completed every month. 3,600 hours per year. THAT’S HUGE!!
If 100 people, gave $10 each, every month that is $1,000 every month, $12,000 per year!!! No it isn’t much, but it could go a long way toward painting something, making a picnic area, landscaping, taking care of seniors, etc.
So in an effort to make it easy for you to help, I’ve gathered a list. Below you will find a list of things our town needs and ways you can help. Most require very little or NO money. What they do require is a little time and dedication to ROCKY TOP, TN.
If you have other ideas or projects that need help, please feel free to email me and I’ll add them to the next #SimplyLocal post.
When we turn on the tap, water comes out. When we get up in the morning, the lights and heat go on. Why should we believe the predictions of catastrophic climate change when things appear so normal? What’s the problem with a few record-breaking summer temperatures? Although climate change occasionally pops up in the media, politics, and record-breaking temperatures, the threat of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is not visible in our daily lives. As a result, some people choose to believe it is not happening. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert says climate change “lives in the future” and that’s why it’s so hard for us to see. It is hard for us to imagine what we can’t see in in the mountains.
Jim Hanson, the NASA scientist (also called the Grandfather of climate change) states that people when faced with threats about what they might lose in the future, they make up excuses not to act. We have so many things to worry about – from finances, health, our kids, work and the mortgage payments – climate change is just far too big and horrible even to imagine. In fact, only a small majority - fifty-four percent - of the US public believes that climate change is the result of human activity.
Regardless of what people believe, mounting scientific evidence demonstrates without a doubt that a massive environmental crisis, caused by human industrial activity (namely, fossil fuel emissions) is well underway. Scientists, like Hanson, have suggested that we are entering a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene; this era is distinct in that humans are not only affecting the climate and biological diversity of the planet but the geology of the Earth for millenniums, and that as a result the Earth may not only be inhospitable in the coming years but unbearable for those being born in the future.
Where did the argument for climate denial originate? Climate change denial is the dismissal of actual scientific evidence on the connection of human activity and the extent of Co2 emissions. In a recent study Drexel University sociologist, Robert J Brulle, reveals large companies, including ExxonMobil and Koch Brothers, are funding the multi-million dollar counter-movement to create public doubt about the reality of climate change. Why? Their financial interests are tied directly to extraction industries whose profits would begin to dwindle in the face of such facts.
This countermovement has had a significant life-threatening impact on the planet and our collective future as a species. We have failed to act promptly both politically and ecologically because we have been debating the reality of climate change instead of exploring solutions to this massive problem. Extraction industries depend on public denial to keep doing business as usual. There is no debate. Climate change is real. It is happening. We can debate philosophical truths but not factual truths.
The question for us now is what can I do in this place and in my life to curb the growing carbon footprint we have on the “this fragile Earth, our island home”? We are starting to feel the effects of climate change even here in the southern highlands, as summers grow longer and hotter, and bouts of drought remind us that we are not immune. More importantly, there are ways to combat climate change, and we can’t keep letting ourselves be distracted by those who have only their self-interest in mind.
Taking action is the best way to challenge the deniers, and today, looking over the beautiful blue mountains, I am reminded of all that is at stake and why we care: we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
November 06, 2017
"Apples was scarce one year. Real scarce. My grandmother had a half bushel of apples. She canned the apples, and then she taken the peelings and canned those. Washed 'em real clean and canned 'em. My mother said, at the time, "I'll never eat those." But then later on, she was down in the hayfield, and when she came in, my grandmother had baked two wonderful pies from those peelings. And my mother ate three pieces. They used so many things that we throw away. I remember Grandmother peeled the potatoes real deep and planted the peelings. Raised our potatoes that way!"
Winnie Biggerstaff, 1904 McDowell County - Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie by Patsy Moore Ginns.
Most folks have heard the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band. You may not know that the song was written by members of the band: Vassar Clements, Charlie Daniels, Tom Crain, “Taz” DiGregorio, Fred Edwards, Charles Hayward, and James W. Marshall.
Toward the end of the song, Johnny says, “Now Devil, just come on back if you ever want to try again, ‘cause I’ve told you once, you son of a <bleep!> that I’m the best that’s ever been!” (Well, he said that on the broadcast version of the song. There’s no <bleep!> in the album version!)
As broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, this is the rest of the story…
Time is a grindstone, and lives are its grist. After Johnny won the contest with the Devil, there was still a living to be made. No matter how many Saturday night dances and play-parties Johnny fiddled for, there was never enough cash money in it to make a real living. Sure, he was famous far and wide as “that fiddlin’ boy from up in the hickory woods.” That didn’t keep Johnny from having to plow a mule, cut tops and pull fodder, and put up hay for his scrawny livestock.
No, Johnny never prospered as a farmer, he just hung on…barely. Maybe it was that fiddle of gold. The Devil’s prizes never come without a price, and that fiddle seemed to bring blighted corn, swarms of grasshoppers, and late or early frosts at just the wrong times.
Johnny finally made the long trek to the nearest town that had a pawn shop, but the broker took one look at the fiddle and said, “Gold, huh? Whoever told you that was a tee-total liar. Sure it’s got a thin—a very thin—coat of gold plating, but the fiddle itself is made out of brass. It won’t play worth a toot, and it’s not even worth melting down.” Johnny trudged home, disappointed once again. On the way, a thunderstorm broke, pelting him with hail. When he got home, his wheat crop was beaten to the ground.
Johnny’s life wasn’t all terrible. There was Mary. Daughter of the local hardshell Baptist preacher, he had a hard time courting her, for her Daddy was of the persuasion that a good person was one who didn’t “smoke, drink, cuss, nor chew, nor run around with women that do!” Johnny made the great effort to quit smoking and chewing, and his cussing was reserved for work times far away from anyone else when his stubborn old mule wouldn’t respond to anything else. He’d never been a skirt-chaser, in spite of lots of girls swooning and swanning over his fiddle playing. Drinking he never totally gave up, but he limited it enough so that finally he was able to marry his beautiful Mary. After a few years they had a houseful of kids. It was a good thing that Mary knew how to sew, otherwise those kids would have run around the woods naked.
Johnny was a better man because of Mary, but his ‘reform’ only went so far. He’d still go off on Fridays or Saturdays and play his fiddle for barn dances, box suppers, and the like. He’d come dragging in of a Sunday morning, just in time for Mary to sigh, “Oh Johnny!” with a shake of her head. But he’d hitch up the wagon and haul Mary and the kids to his daddy-in-law’s church. Never went in himself, mind you, but he’d pull to the edge of the church yard, or up the hill into the old cemetery where the mule could graze a bit, and where he could half-doze himself. Of course in those pre-air-conditioning days, Johnny couldn’t help but get a pretty big dose of the ‘old-time religion’ with the windows of the little white church house opened wide to snare any passing breeze.
Like I said before, time is a grindstone, and lives are its grist. Before he could reckon how it had happened, all the kids were grown up and had moved off in search of jobs. They’d come home at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or sometimes for vacation time in the summer (but usually at lay-by time, Johnny noted grimly, not when heavy work was needed.) Finally the worst day of Johnny’s life came. Mary died on him.
Neighbors brought a bait of food, and they laid her to rest in the cemetery’s new part, since her daddy’s square was full of other family graves. Johnny was bothered a bit by that, since two of their babies who’d not lived to be toddlers were buried near the old preacher and his wife. It chaffed him that they weren’t near their momma, but nothing could be done.
In a day or two, the children and grandkids and neighbors went back to their lives. Johnny went back to his broken-down farm and his empty house. He noticed that now arthritis had swollen his hands so badly that it hurt to even play the fiddle—not that his heart was really into fiddling anymore. His back was bent from years of hard labor…and so the Devil picked that moment to come back.
Johnny was coming back from the privy when he heard his rocking chair squeaking in the front room, the room Mary had called the ‘parlor.’ What in the nation? thought Johnny. Nobody I know would just walk in the house and make themselves at home! He bent down to try and look through the latchcord hole, but suddenly the door banged open on its own.
“HEY JOHNNY, I’M BAAAACK!” The devil had on a slick-shiny black suit with a black shirt, black tie, and a blood ruby stickpin big as a pigeon egg. He sprang out of the chair with an evil grin and a menacing glance. Suddenly a greasy-black ebony fiddle appeared in his hand. He tucked the ugly thing under his chin and scraped the bow over the strings. It made the same evil hiss Johnny remembered from fifty-one years before. “I’ve been practicing, Johnny!” The Devil’s eyes flamed red as he played every song Johnny had done in their old contest—but better than Johnny had ever even thought about playing them.
“I don’t want to play against you,” Johnny said, limping over to the cupboard and snatching out the fiddle of “gold.” “Here, take this back.”
“Oh, no, Johnny, you won that fair and square. You keep it.”
“I don’t want it! It’s worthless! It’s just a hunk of tinny brass dressed up to look like gold.”
“What did you expect from the father of lies? Now quit this fooling around. Your turn to play! Or I could just take your soul right now.” All of a sudden the Devil seemed to fill the little front room, looming over Johnny with an intimidating shadow.
The moment Johnny dreaded had finally come due. Why, oh why did I ever say, “Just come on back if you ever want to try again?”
Somehow that threat made Johnny’s back get a little straighter. If I’m going down below, I will NOT just give up. I’m not the fiddler I was, but I’ll be whatever fiddler I can be.
Johnny reached back into the cupboard, to a different compartment where he stored his old fiddle and bow. He pulled it out, dusted it off, and rosined up his bow. “Gotta tune this thing,” he said.
“Get on with it. I’m way behind, as usual. Places to go, things to do, the earth to roam, souls to devour.” To emphasize his impatience, the devil swung an enormous gold turnip-style pocket watch. Just in time, Johnny realized that the swinging watch was a trap, that the Devil was trying to lull him to sleep or hypnotize him.
“You played your set, let me play mine my way.” Johnny tightened the first tuning peg. While his attention was on the task, he failed to notice the Devil squinch up his eyes, fold his arms and tap his left foot with impatience. Johnny didn’t see that one of the Devil’s fingers was sneaking out from behind his folded arms. Neither did he notice the little bolt of fire that flew from it. He only noticed the TWAAANNG as the string he was tuning broke.
Johnny was still staring in dismay at the broken string when TWINGGG, TWAANNG, two more of the strings snapped.
“Looks like you should have invested in some new strings,” sneered the Devil.
“Ummm, you’re probably right,” mumbled Johnny, but inside his head, his mind was racing. Down to one string… arthritic hands… no chance at all, except maybe one thing…
Lord this here’s Johnny. I know you and me ain’t been much on speaking terms. I just remember my Mary sure believed in You. You see what a terrible situation I’ve got myself into here. I know there’s no way in he… uh, no way in heaven that I deserve any help from you. But it just bothers me that this here Devil will win out. Like I said, I don’t deserve any help at all, but please just help me play this one song. Lord, please do it just to show how much better You are than that old Devil. Uh…Amen, I reckon.
Johnny didn’t know if his rough and ready prayer had even been heard, but there was nothing for it but to pitch in. He set the bow on the one string that was left, and started in on that one old American folk tune. In his head, Johnny could remember his Mary singing the song so many times.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found…
At the first note, the Devil’s face had blackened with rage. His body ‘swole up’ until it seemed it would push out the walls of the room. Huge sparks flew from his eyebrows, his ears, and blue lightning rolled and bowled around his hands.
Johnny didn’t notice. His eyes were closed. His heart heard Mary’s sweet voice echoing again in his memory. Slowly he drew out the notes of the last phrase.
…Was blind,,, but now… I… see.
The Devil’s rage boiled over like a black kettle of cane syrup spilling in the fire. Reams of blue and red lightning struck Johnny’s old fiddle. It flew into dust and splinters. Johnny’s body jerked once, spasmed, and then fell to the floor—dead as an anvil and boneless as a half-filled sack of stale grits.
And so the Devil got Johnny. His body, anyway.
But the Lord… the Lord got Johnny’s soul!
Now that's a story I like!
Many people throughout the American South grew up hearing that if they didn’t behave, Rawhead and Bloodybones would come to get them.
These two terrifying creatures were often imagined as parts of the same monster, Rawhead being the bare skull and the headless skeleton being Bloodybones. The origins of this tale go back to England, with the Oxford Dictionary tracing mentions of the phrase back as far as 1548. But, in spite of the longevity of this bogeyman, the original tale has been forgotten. The only remnants we have are an old nursery rhyme from Yorkshire:
Rawhead and Bloody Bones,
Steals Naughty Children from their Homes,
Takes them to his dirty den,
And they are never seen again.
Even though the original tale was lost, countless numbers of stories in the American south involve Rawhead and Bloodybones. One from the Ozarks even reimagines him as a skeletal boar-hog created by a witch. The story I’m going to share with you comes from Kentucky.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who married a man that had a beautiful daughter named Mary. The woman also had a daughter named Suzy, who looked like she’d fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every limb on the way down. Folk around town said that one glance at Suzy could send a freight train down a dirt road. None of that would’ve mattered much if Suzy had been a nice girl, but she wasn’t. Both her and her mama hated Mary on account of her beauty. Mary, on the other hand, was both beautiful and kind. She did her best to return Suzy’s and her stepmother’s hatred with good deeds.
After a couple of years of living under the same roof, Mary’s step-mother got tired of watching her be more beautiful than Suzy. So she went to see a witch and told her she had a hateful step-daughter that she wanted to be rid of.
“Here’s what ye need to do,” the witch said. “Have Suzy pretend she’s ill. Have her lay down in bed and tell Mary that unless someone brings Suzy water from a well on the other side of the mountain, she’ll die. Send Mary to get the water and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Well, I want to know how you’re going to get rid of her,” the stepmother said.
“If ye must know,” the witch said, “the well on the far side of the mountain is where Rawhead and Bloodybones lives. If Mary is as hateful as you say she is, he’ll take care of her.”
“All right,” said the stepmother.
She went home and told Suzy her plan. Suzy laid down in the bed and began to groan. When Mary came inside she heard Suzy moaning and asked what was the matter.
“She’s ill,” said the stepmother, “and nothing can help her except for a drink of water from the well on the other side of the mountain.”
Well, Mary being a kind and good girl who liked to help everybody, said she’d go over the mountain to get the water. So she got a bucket and a biscuit and started out. As she came to the base of the mountain, she saw a small dog in her path.
The dog trotted up to her and whined. “Please, Miss,” it said, “I have a terrible itch on my belly. Could you scratch it for me?”
“Of course I can,” said Mary. She put down her bucket and scratched the dog’s belly. She did such a good job that the dog’s leg started pumping back and forth in delight. Once his itch was gone the dog stood up and thanked Mary. “You smell better than a bush full of roses, “ it said, “and may you smell twice as good when you go home.”
About halfway up the mountain, Mary sat down to eat her biscuit for dinner. An old man with a long, dirty beard came out from behind a tree and sat down next to her.
“What do you want, Sir?” Mary asked.
“I’d like to eat dinner with you,” the old man said.
“All I have is this biscuit,” Mary said. “But I’ll share it with you.” She tore the biscuit in two and gave the old man the larger half.
“Thank you for your kindness and being so good to me,” the old man said when they’d finished eating. “You’re as pretty as a speckled pup. May you be twice as pretty when you go home.”
As the sun sank low, Mary finally found herself on the far side of the mountain. She saw the well, wreathed in evening mist. Mary let her bucket down into the well and cranked it back up. she could see that there was something in her bucket, but it wasn’t water. As she pulled it from the well, she saw it was a human skull. A sinister light shone from its eye sockets.
“What do you want, Mr. Skull?” she asked.
“I want you to wash me, and dry me, and lay me down easy,” said the skull.
So she washed it and dried it and laid it down easy. Then she dropped her bucket down the well again, and this time pulled up a bone, then another, and another. They all wanted Mary to wash them and dry them and lay them down easy. All night she worked, pulling up bone after bone, washing them, drying them, and laying them gently on the ground. As the morning sun peeked over the horizon, the bones began to assemble themselves with a click, click, click. Soon a headless skeleton was complete. It got to its feet and lifted the skull in one hand.
Mary gasped in terror. Before her stood Rawhead and Bloodybones. The skeleton took a step toward her and held up the skull until it was staring straight into her face.
“Don’t be scared,” said the skull. “You have done me a great kindness, and for that, I say when you get home may gold fall out of your hair when you comb it. Now you may take your water from the well and leave.”
Later that day, when Mary arrived back in town, everyone noticed a wonderful smell. They thought that a florist shop must be moving in. They looked out on the street and saw Mary, more beautiful than ever.
When Mary got home, her stepmother was surprised to see her, very much surprised.
“What are you doing here?” she said.
“I’ve got the water for Suzy,” Mary said. She went on in, and gave Suzy a drink.
Suzy, who wasn’t sick at all, got out of bed and started playing.
“I’m glad to see she’s better now,” said Mary.
“Oh, go on and shut up!” said the step-mother. “I wish you hadn’t’ve come back. You just bring hatefulness into this house.”
“I’m really tired,” Mary said, ignoring her step-mother’s meanness. “I just want to comb my hair and go to bed. Can I comb my hair in your lap?”
“No, I won’t let you comb your hair in my lap,” said the step-mother. “What do you think I am, a garbage pail or something?”
“Well, I guess I’ll comb it in my own lap then,” Mary said. She went off in the corner and started to comb her hair. And when she combed it, gold fell out! Her step-mother saw this and said, “Oh, honey! Come here, I’ll let you comb your hair in my lap!”
“I don’t want you too, now,” Mary said. “I’ll comb it by myself.” She kept combing until she had a big pile of gold.
The stepmother realized that the well on the far side of the mountain must be responsible for this magic, so she wasted no time in sending Suzy to fetch a bucket of water there, and she packed a big, fine meal for Suzy to eat along the way.
At the base of the mountain, Suzy met the little dog, who asked her scratch his belly.
“Scratch your own flea-bitten belly!” Suzy said. “I’m in a hurry to get my gold!”
As Suzy walked away the dog looked after her. “You smell worse than perfume on a pig,” he said. “May you smell twice as bad when you get home.”
Half way up the mountain, Suzy got hungry and sat down to eat her meal. The old man with the long beard appeared and asked to share her meal.
“I don’t want your dirty beard dragging in my food,” Suzy said. “Go on and hush up! I ain’t going to let you eat with me!”
“Well all right,” said the old man. As he walked back into the woods he looked over his shoulder and said, “You’re so ugly you could back a buzzard off a meat wagon. May you be twice as ugly when you get home.”
Suzy made it to the well on the other side of the mountain. She rushed to it and dropped her bucket down inside When she drew it up, she found the skull inside.
“Wash me, and dry me, and lay me down easy,” said the skull.
“What do you think I am? Your maid-servant?” said Suzy. “I don’t want to put my hands on you.” She picked up her bucket and hurled the skull out on the ground. Suzy kept sending her bucket dowm, and just like Mary, brought up bone and after bone. Each one of them asked to be washed, and dried, and laid down easy, but Suzy threw each one of them into a pile by the skull. When she pulled out the last bone, she final got her bucket full of water and turned around to leave, only to find Rawhead and Bloodybones standing behind her.
“You hateful, little girl!” said the skull, it’s eyes glowing angrily. “When you get home, may snakes and frogs fall out of your hair when you comb it.”
When Suzy got back to town later that day, she cleared the whole street with her stink. People covered their eyes and pinched their noses as she walked past, saying they didn’t know what was worse, looking at her or smelling her.
When she got home, her mother was waiting with a comb in hand. “Come here, sweet-pea! Let’s comb you hair,” she said. Then the greedy woman began to comb Suzy’s hair, only to get a lap full of snakes and frogs. Suzy and her mother ran away screaming, and Mary lived happily ever after.
by Mark Lynn Ferguson
Original publication: June 29,2016
Appalachian accents are like no other. A mash-up of influences—British Isles, German, African dialects, probably some Native American—all mixed together and baked in our secluded hills for a couple centuries.
Some say that the resulting sound is more like Elizabethan English than the contemporary accent in England. I’m not sure how to confirm that without a time machine, but I do know that the minute Appalachian natives leave the mountains, that accent sets them apart.
You know how it goes. A friend from, say, New Jersey is deaf to his own thick intonation but doesn’t hesitate to reference the Beverly Hillbillies or Deliverance when poking fun at yours. Some folks call it vocal imperialism. I just call it mean.
But it works. Countless mountain people are ashamed of the sound of their own voices, some going so far as beating the accent into submission with diction classes.
This pitiful pattern set today’s guest blogger Chelyen Davis to thinking. A Southwest Virginia native who lives in Richmond, she sees “code switching” among Appalachian folks all the time. That’s when someone switches dialects depending on the circumstances.
Chelyen, who also writes on her own blog Homesick Appalachian, asks an important question—now that we’re constantly exposed to people from other regions, is code-switching just a fact of life or are we losing a key piece of our mountain heritage?
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Be sure to leave a comment below.
*NPR recently started an interesting conversation on Twitter by asking if public radio voices are “too white” and if those white-sounding public radio voices are limiting the audience, shutting out people who don’t necessarily choose to listen to people who don’t sound like them.
The discussion grew out of an African-American professor and hip-hop artist who did some radio work and noticed that he talked differently for radio, and was considering why. From what I could tell from the Twitter discussion, folks of other ethnicities weighed in, and then people started talking about how public radio voice isn’t just white, it’s a sort of standard, non-accented white. You don’t often hear regional accents on NPR, no matter what race the speaker is.
That’s an interesting and valuable conversation to have, and it gets into all kinds of issues — race, ethnicity, regional dialects, the value placed on how we talk, how we sound, the words we choose, how others judge us by all that, etc. An interesting comment on that is here.
But it got me thinking off on a specific related tangent — Appalachian code-switching. This probably would apply to any strong regional accent (hi, Boston), but Appalachian accents are my own experience.
I don’t think everyone in Appalachia (or the south, or another region with a strong accent) code-switches. Not everyone needs to. My uncles and cousins mostly still live in the small communities where they grew up, and I doubt they talk any differently at work on the strip job than they do at home. They might change their words a bit when they go to, say, the doctor’s office in Bristol or Johnson City. But largely, their lives are lived around people who talk the way they do.
But I grew up hearing my parents code-switch because they left those communities. They were both the first in their (large) families to go to college, and we lived in a town — still in Appalachia, but outside the more isolated, small communities where they both grew up. You could hear my mother’s voice change when she called her parents on the phone. To neighbors where we lived, it was your basic “Hi, how are you?” To her own parents, it was “Howdydo. Howre you’uns a-doin?”
She still does that when she calls her dad or brothers, or when we visit them. And so do I. It seems you only need to code-switch when you leave. (Or become a radio/tv host.)
I am an adopter of accents. I think there’s actually a word for that but I don’t know it — I unconsciously mimic the accent of the person I’m talking to, if I talk to them for long enough and if their accent is distinctive enough. I don’t mean to, and they aren’t necessarily flattered by it, and I don’t always do it strongly. I first noticed it when I spent a month in England in college.
But my own accent is softly Southwest Virginian. I’ve lived away a good long while, so it’s not as strong as, say, some of my cousins’ accents. And probably it never was, because we lived in town and my parents went to college and I grew up watching public TV and, as I noted in a previous post, I was the kind of kid who thought “ain’t” wasn’t a proper word. But it’s there. People here, away from the mountains, sometimes comment on it or ask where I’m from. It’s a great way to find fellow mountain folks here — we can hear each other talk, and believe me if I hear an accent that sounds like it’s from Southwest Virginia, I’m going to ask that person where they’re from.
My sister’s accent has mostly faded, but mine hasn’t. I think I’m just prone to an accent. Also, I lived back home for a couple of years after college, so maybe it sort of “set” then. It gets stronger if I’ve had a glass or two of wine, and it gets stronger when someone asks about it. It knows when it’s being talked about, and it likes to show off.
I have a professional job, but I rarely consciously talk differently than I would, say, at a party or at home. The primary exception has been at public events — say if I’m on a speaking panel — or the occasional times when I’ve been a guest on a radio show (public radio, at that!). I think the accent tightens up a bit then, tries to behave itself. I probably make some different word choices than my colloquial speaking voice, although I know I’ve said “might could” on the radio.
My writing changes some, too. I’m rereading this post and it sounds awfully formal. If you and I were sitting down and just chatting about this, I would probably say things a bit differently.
But that’s all code-switching, I suppose, to an extent. I also know I talk differently when I call home to Mom, and even more so when I call my grandfather. I talk differently when I visit my parents’ families. My boyfriend tells me I talk differently when I come back from a visit home. So I code-switch both ways, to a lesser accent and to a stronger one.
And I’m glad. I’d rather switch than talk blandly all the time. I don’t want to lose my accent, my word choices, the colorfulness of Appalachian ways of talking. I’d be fine with that accent getting stronger. I know many people outside the mountains assume someone with a strong mountain accent is a dumb hick, but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. I love using terms like “might could/should/would” — and it is so handy, perfectly describing that point between “I could go to the party” and “I only MIGHT could go to the party.” I love having that vocal connection to home, to a place and a culture and a history.
My boss once told me he had heard a theory that we talk like where we want to be. I miss home, so I love talking like people back home. People who are glad to get out of the mountains (and there are some such misguided souls) probably welcome the disappearance of their accents, consciously work to shed them. The boss had come from a poor, flat farming area in North Carolina. He didn’t seem to much miss it, and he didn’t talk like his roots either.
I’m not a linguist. I assume there are studies and papers and research and opinions out there about this subject, about Appalachians shedding their accents in the flatlands. I know there are many papers and studies and ruminations about the broader issues of the homogenization of language, the pernicious effects of TV (and radio!) on making us all sound the same, the value judgments placed on word choices and on speaking “proper” English, and all that.
But I love accents and words that change by region. Perhaps because I value them so highly for my own sense of culture and place, I’m all for everyone else having their own too. Why should we all talk the same? Language should be colorful. So while I love public radio, I hope it doesn’t Henry Higgins us all, stamping out accents and strange pronunciations and weird words.