Personality Traits of the Appalachian People


Friday Fare to Appalachia

Do the people of a geographic region like Appalachia have unique personality traits? Some think so. A number of studies have linked personality traits to U.S. geographic regions or even U.S. states. As an example, a 2013 study done by Time Magazine found that the people of Kentucky are one of the most neurotic and introverted people in the nation. They are not very agreeable or open. West Virginia joins Kentucky in the trait of introversion. But, the people in both states exhibit tough-mindedness as well. Most “happiness” studies that have been done find the people of Kentucky and West Virginia ranking near the bottom.

But, wait! This sounds terrible regarding the personalities of the people of these parts of Appalachia. Since I am one of these people,I don’t think we are all unhappy or that we all have troublesome personalities. Could part of the problem be stereotypes of the people of Appalachia? Read on…..

Appalachia is a large region in the eastern part of the United States, named after the Appalachian Mountains. It encompasses 205,000 miles and the people are 42% rural as compared to 20% of the national population. All of West Virginia is considered to be in Appalachia. Parts of twelve other states are in the region, including Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia.

John Alexander Williams, an author who wrote Appalachia: A History, specified that there is a “core” Appalachia. That core includes 164 counties. Those counties are the entire state of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. I tend to agree with Mr. Williams. In case you haven’t read my story on this blog entitled, Appalachian Roots, I was born and raised on the fringes of Appalachia and my mother’s family is from deep in the heart of Appalachia. There is a distinct difference between those living deep in Appalachia and those on the fringes.

I spent a good deal of time with my grandparents in the heart of Appalachia growing up and until I was in my 20s. I became familiar with the personality type of the people. While introversion and tough-mindedness are characteristics of the people, I don’t agree with some of the others mentioned in the Time personality study cited earlier. You do have to recall that people migrated to Appalachia during the pioneer days under great hardship. Many migrated because they wanted privacy and land around them. They did not want close neighbors and the thought of being in the mountains appealed to them. The fact that their descendants are introverted and tough-minded can’t be a surprise.

The author Loyal Jones, in his 1991 book entitled, Appalachian Values described some of the personality characteristics of the people very well and his description tallied with my experience. He said the people had the traits of, “Religious, Individualism, Self-Reliance and Pride, Neighborliness and Hospitality, Family Solidarity, Personalism, Love of Place, Modesty and Being One’s Self, Sense of Beauty, Sense of Humor, Patriotism” (Jones 1991:170). I can picture my grandfather when I read that description along with a lot of the men he associated with at his home in Magoffin County, KY. Jones stated that some other authors considered these personality characteristics to be deficiencies, which I can’t imagine.

I believe these personality characteristics may describe the Appalachian people of the past very well. The citizenry of the region have changed as economic times have changed. Money has gotten more scarce as coal mining and farming wanes, a lower paying service economy picks up, and the drug culture and welfare society explode. These cultural and economic events have taken a toll on the personalities of the Appalachian people. Gone is the sense of self and self-reliance of these once-proud people. Family solidarity has fractured. Individualism is no more. Instead, we see once-proud, hard-working people relying on welfare and selling their food stamps for drugs. We see single girls having babies so they can draw those welfare checks and young men seeking out pain pills and disability checks for non-existent ailments. We see any money that does exist invested in drugs instead of in food for the children and a roof over those childrens’ heads. Only in pockets of Appalachia do we find the once proud people of that region. Where there is no work, there can be no pride.

Why do the people stay in Appalachia? Some of their personality traits explain that. The love of place, their culture, their family — all of those are reasons. But, there have been waves of out-migration from the area since the 1960’s. The smart ones seem to leave. The others seem to find reasons not to. The very personality characteristics which are endearing may spell the end of the people of Appalachian unless economic times change in the area. That is the subject for several more blog posts.

Watch this space! #appalachia #amwriting #writing #blogging


Book Review: Clay’s Quilt

Clay Sizemore, a young coal miner who lost his mother at a young age, is the main character of Clay’s Quilt. This novel by Silas House, a renowned Kentucky author, was House’s debut novel in 2001. I’m reviewing this book for you because it is one of the best novels I have ever read. It is worth reading whether you are interested in Appalachia or if you are just interested in reading a good novel. If you like a heart-wrenching story, populated by colorful characters, and set in the most difficult of environments, you will enjoy Clay’s Quilt.

The story is a microcosm of life in Appalachia based on this one Eastern Kentucky family but it will strike a familiar chord to members of all Eastern Kentucky families. I know this writer, at times, felt like I was reading about my own family.

Free Creek, the setting for the novel, is located in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, near coal mining operations. Young men like Clay Sizemore and his friend, Cake, are born here and never expect, or want, to leave. They settle into their occupations, raise a family, have a big extended family full of aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews, and this is their life. It can be a very good life. It can also be a hard life, but these people, the people of Appalachia, don’t know that. This is all they know and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clay Sizemore lost his mother in a tragic car accident when he was three years old. That day, an icy and snowy winter day, Clay’s mother decided she was going to leave her husband. She took Clay with her and lost her life on slick roads. His extended family closed ranks around him and raised him from the age of three. After that day, Clay never knew his father. He had his beloved Aunt Easter, who took care of him as a boy. He also had Uncle Paul, who made quilts, and Dreama, his cousin who he loved like a sister.

Clay became a hard-working coal miner. He worked in the mines during the day, but on the weekends, he and Cake went to the local honky-tonk, drank their fill, and listened to their mountain music. There he met the beautiful Alma, a fiddler with whom he wanted a future, but Alma had her own problems. Most importantly, Clay had a box of his mother’s possessions from which he tries to put together her past, hoping to figure out who she was and who he is. During this time, Uncle Paul is making a quilt – out of the pieces of Clay’s mother’s clothes.

This is a beautiful story written by Silas House in lyrical prose. It is short on sentimentality and long on descriptive characterizations and good storytelling. It is easily readable in a weekend. Clay’s Quilt is a stunning and mystical novel that will stay with you for a long time after you read it.

You can get the Kindle edition at or the hardcover or paperback at Abe Book’s. Enjoy! #writing #am writing #blogging #appalachia #Best_Books

Recipe for Memorial Day: Corn Pudding


Just for fun, I want to share with you an old-fashioned Eastern Kentucky recipe that you might enjoy for your Decoration Day celebration. It came to me from my aunt, Sylvia Prater, who was born and raised in Appalachia. She was my mother’s sister, a wonderful cook, and our whole family enjoyed her big meals often as I was growing up and even after I became an adult. Here is her recipe:

Corn Pudding

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the following ingredients in a 13″ by 9″ baking dish:

2 cups frozen corn

4 beaten eggs (I recommend a cage-free brand)

2 cups milk  (I recommend skim milk)

2 tbsp butter (i recommend real butter like Kerry Gold)

1/4 cup sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Grease your baking dish with a dab of the butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes. Stir before it sets. Enjoy for your holiday dinner! #am writing #writing #blogging #appalachia #recipes

*Image courtesy of ji1991


#weekendcoffeeshare: 5/28/2016


Hello! I didn’t know if you would come by for coffee since it is Memorial Day Weekend, but I’m glad you did! It is such a beautiful day. Why don’t we sit out on the front porch at the table and we can have our morning beverages? Here….help me carry the pots. Thanks!

Tell me what you’re doing this holiday weekend? Oh, you are going to your family home in Floyd County! That county is right next to the county where my mother’s family came from. Are you taking flowers and going to a family cemetery? Yes, I know. My family cemetery is on top of a hill too. Also a private cemetery. So many of my ancestors are buried on top of one hill or another in Magoffin County in private cemeteries. The family all chips in every year to keep them maintained. So do you? That’s just the way in Eastern Kentucky, isn’t it? Very few of my relatives are buried in the public cemeteries in the area. Oh, you call Memorial Day Decoration Day, do you? So many people do in Appalachia. There is a whole story behind Decoration Day.

Memorial Day was originated as Decoration Day in 1868. It was established by the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Veterans of the Civil War, to honor all the Civil War dead. An earlier Memorial Day, in 1866, was celebrated by women of the Confederacy in Columbus, Mississippi.

Memorial Day, or Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30 no matter what day of the week that date fell on. The families of the war dead usually celebrated the holiday by placing flowers on their graves. Gradually, Decoration Day included all war dead, not just Civil War dead. In 1971, Decoration Day, then called Memorial Day was designated a national holiday and was to be celebrated the last Monday of May.

In Appalachia and in most of the South, the tradition of the holiday did not change. It is still called Decoration Day and still celebrated on the Sunday before the last Monday of May. It’s an important holiday in Appalachia. Relatives of the war dead come home to the region from far-flung places to place flowers on the graves of their relatives and to see relatives still living in the area. It is a tradition that the cemeteries are cleaned and mowed, graves are cleaned up and weeds are cut, and everything is made to look nice for the holiday. All types of flowers are placed upon the graves from live to cut, artificial, and silk. Flags are placed on the graves of veterans. Usually, a big meal is eaten at some relative’s home and a lot of visiting takes place. In Eastern Kentucky, at least, relatives are buried in private cemeteries all around and through a county, or several counties. A lot of driving and walking up hills to private cemeteries is required.   You can’t even get a car up to where this writer’s grandparents and great-grandparents are buried.

Church services are often conducted in the local churches on Decoration Day. Some families celebrate it as a secular holiday. It seems that one of Americans’ favorite events on Memorial Day is attending one of the parades in thousands of cities and towns.

I’ve enjoyed having coffee with you today! I hope you enjoy Memorial Day!

*Image provided by Simon Howden

**Thanks to for providing the linkup for #weekendcoffeeshare!


The Early Homes of the Appalachian Mountain People


Friday Fare to Appalachia

Caves. Rock ledge overhangs. Primitive cabins. In that order. That is where the mountain people of Kentucky settled after they made the difficult trip to what would become the Commonwealth. As the people came into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap — from North Carolina and across the mountains from Virginia, they experienced a really arduous journey. The trip across the mountains from North Carolina and from western Virginia was treacherous and extremely physically taxing. As of 1782, about 4,000 pioneers had settled in Kentucky and they were the ones who had made this exhausting trek. By 1790, there were 40,000 settlers in Kentucky and the increase in settlers had largely found their way to Kentucky via the Ohio River. Kentucky was settled by the people from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, in that order.

As the pioneers made their way over the mountains to the south and east, they most likely lived in cave-like structures along the way, when they could find caves not inhabited by the black bear. When they arrived in Kentucky, caves were their first living quarters and they made them quite sophisticated on the inside (photo, top left). After caves, the settlers moved to rockhouses. Rockhouses were under cliff overhangs and were held up with poles, a technique probably borrowed from the Cherokees. You can find locations where rockhouses existed even today, one in Magoffin County, KY near this writer’s family home. But, it wasn’t long until the log cabin came along.

A lingering question is where did log cabin architecture come from? It didn’t come from the Native Americans since they did not have the axe as a tool until they got it from the white settlers. It probably did not come from the predominant nationalities of settlers, the Scots, Irish, or English, because those countries are mostly treeless. Many agree that settlers from Sweden, Switzerland, and southern Germany brought the idea of log cabin architecture to America and it made its way from where they originally settled in Pennsylvania to the Kentucky mountains. There was a small German population in Kentucky.

There is some confusion about where log construction came from, however. The word “cabin” is Irish. The log cabin’s construction seemed to be Irish based on the fact there were openings under the eaves instead of gables. Log cabins came before log houses on the frontier. The log houses were probably based on Germanic construction techniques and even included houses with the dog trot plans seem so frequently in Eastern Kentucky. Both were lumped together and called cabins, however.

Cabins were more crudely constructed than houses. Cabins were built quickly from logs notched at the ends, chinked and daubed, or sealed with stones and mud, with chimneys made of sticks, rocks, and mud, and they usually had no windows and a dirt floor. The roof was made of bark. Houses were more carefully built. They had windows and floors and chimneys made of stone. Their roofs were wooden shingles.

This essay describes the progression of housing only in Eastern Kentucky during the late 18th century and very early 19th century. Some parts of Appalachia were more progressive and, by the early 19th century, had moved to frame houses. Those were available only to the wealthiest settlers.

*Note: The photo of the log cabin above was taken by this writer. It is located in a display park around the Magoffin County Historical Society in Salyersville, KY. It is an actual cabin, taken from the county, and rebuilt for display in the historical society’s park. This writer’s great-grandparents built and lived in a cabin very much like this one and raised their five children. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. #amwriting #writing #blogging #history #appalachia

Introducing A Regular Blog Feature: Friday Fare to Appalachia


Hi everyone! Beginning this Friday, 5/27/2016, I will introduce a regular Friday feature on my blog, Writings from the Heart, called Friday Fare to Appalachia.

Every Friday, you can look forward to a story about Appalachia. An essay, an article, a personal story, Appalachian recipes, old ghost stories, folk tales, music, or some manner of information about Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky. I’ll write about Appalachia other days of the week too, but you can depend on it on every Friday.

I hope you will join me for fun on Friday Fare to Appalachia!



Appalachia and Food: Green Beans and Corn Bread


Green beans and corn bread. The staples of life in Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky for the mountain people as they settled the area.  Fresh green beans out of the garden. Even in the winter, green beans and corn bread were one of the most common meals because many women in Appalachia have always used the canning and freezing techniques to preserve food. Green beans have been one of the crops most commonly preserved.

The family garden is not as common in Appalachia today as it was in the past, but they still can be found. They are located in the creek bottoms between the mountains. During the past three centuries, family farms growing this and other crops in those creek bottoms were common.

Today, we buy our green beans in grocery stores and never think about what variety they are. Not so in Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia both in the pioneer days and even today. Green beans were bought from family farmers and the variety was very important. Maybe the most popular variety was “white half-runners.” This is a whitish climber bean with an excellent taste. Another variety is the pole bean which is also a climber, but a much bigger bean than the half runner. Others are tenderette beans, greasy beans, Kentucky wonder beans, and different varieties of heirloom beans. One variety of heirloom bean is this writer’s favorite bean – the old-fashioned cornfield bean. These were all grown in the past in Eastern Kentucky and some are grown today. Many have become “heirloom beans.”

Heirloom seeds of any kind are seeds that are not found in the general marketplace in modern times. They are kept by farmers and seed-saving organizations and passed down from generation to generation. They are closely guarded, but this is a topic for another post.

The cooking technique for green beans was quite different than it is today for people who do not reside in the area. Green beans were cooked until they are very tender and with some sort of seasoning, usually in the form of fatty meat such as ham hock, salt pork, or something similar. Unless you were very careful, they could be quite greasy, but the Appalachian people liked fatty food. My grandmother lived on fatty pork feet and lived to be 97. She also worked hard, hard physical work, all of her life!

You could not have green beans on your table for a meal without corn bread. Corn bread was a little different than it was, for example, in the desert southwest. It was usually made with white cornmeal, though some used yellow corn meal. Buttermilk instead of regular milk was used. It was cooked in an iron skillet seasoned with lard. Many of the early Appalachian people existed on beans and cornbread. My own mother liked to have cornbread and milk for dinner.

Would you like the old recipes for green beans and cornbread from Eastern Kentucky? These were my grandmother’s, handed down to her by generations of women who came before her:

Green Beans

A pot full of green beans, broken into small pieces and washed three times

A piece of fatty meat, such as ham hock

Salt, to taste

Cover with water and boil the water down, then turn down the heat

Put a lid on the beans and cook slowly for 1-2 hours until the beans are very tender and the water is mostly gone.



Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

One cup of white or yellow corn meal, your choice – do not use self-rising

One cup of white flour… not use self-rising

Pinch of salt

4 tsps baking powder

Buttermilk…..enough to make the mixture smooth and stirable but not runny

While you are putting together the cornbread, have your iron skillet getting warm on the stove top with a couple of heaping tbsp of lard in it. Be sure the lard is melted.

Pour the cornbread mixture into the hot skillet. Careful! This will be hot.

Carefully place the skillet full of the cornbread mixture into the oven.

Bake 15 minutes or until the cornbread is brown on top. Remove from oven.

In the next step, CAUTION. Be careful and don’t burn yourself!

Have a plate ready. Turn the skillet upside down and dump the cornbread onto the plate. With another plate on the back of the cornbread, flip it over. Put a knife under the cornbread so it won’t sweat.

Sit it on your counter to cool. Done!

Delicious, but not so healthy in modern times. In another blog post, I will give you my own personal version of these recipes that I have made a little healthier!

These recipes helped keep the pioneers’ stomachs full as they lived their very hard lives in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. They needed more fat in their diet than we do in 2016 as they did hard physical labor all day and their bodies required the extra calories and extra fat. #writers #amwriting #blogger #bloggerswanted #culture #history #Appalachia #EasternKentucky

#weekendcoffeeshare: 5/21/16


Hello! I’m so glad you’re back for our #weekendcoffeeshare! It’s raining outside so bring your coffee and let’s sit on the couch in my office and chat. It’s so good to see you. Do you think the rain is ever going to end?

How has your week been? You’re suffering from writer’s block? That is so frustrating, isn’t it. What do you usually do when that happens? I need to know because it happens  to me too. So you leave your writing and do other things for awhile? I guess that’s one approach, but I’ll have to disagree. If I step away, I step away for a long time — too long. What works for me is to push through it. Instead of writing about topics in what is supposed to be my niche, I go outside my niche and write about something else I know about. After all, we all know about more than one topic, don’t we? Couple our knowledge with good research and there you have it. Suddenly, we’re writing again, though maybe about something new. Maybe we can sell this piece to a different editor or publisher and we will have a wider market for our writing.

I’ll tell you what I did once. I was having trouble finding topics in the niche I considered my own so I went far afield with my writing. I had always been interested in writing about Appalachia but I had never tackled any topic in that area. On the campus of the University here, where I taught for a long time, is a little piece of Appalachian history, the Cora Wilson Stewart Moonlight School. It was originally located next to the campus training school where I attended grades one through twelve. I did some research and wrote a piece on the Moonlight School for Preservation Magazine, having never written about historic preservation before. My writer’s block was gone! I also realized I could write about more than one topic.

Tell me how it works for you to step away from your writing? So you take a walk or go somewhere different or do some reading. You gradually relax enough to relieve the writer’s block. Sounds possible. What I would hope is that I could get ideas from a walk or traveling or reading or whatever else I would do that is different. That really might work if I could then have enough discipline to get back to writing. I will be going some different places this summer, taking a lot of photos, and getting some new ideas that I can turn into articles or into some sort of work. Really the same principle as your strategy.

It’s been so good to talk to you today for #weekendcoffeeshare. You’ve given me a great idea about getting rid of writer’s block and a lot to think about. Have a good weekend.

The Smokehouse – Preserving Meat in Eastern Kentucky


The smokehouse is a tradition in Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky. Long before the days of refrigeration, meat, mostly pork in Appalachia, was cured and preserved on family farms in buildings called smokehouses. Hams and bacon were the primary cuts of pork you would find hanging in these smokehouses. The buildings were sometimes log, concrete block, or other material. My grandfather’s smokehouse was a building made of lumber, coupled with a root cellar, and it had a sleeping loft as a second floor.

Smokehouses are windowless buildings with one door, a vent, and a smokestack. Of course, there is a stove for the smoking. Most have racks to hang the meat after curing and smoking. You will usually find a padlock on the door because the meat is a valuable commodity. It literally insured the family’s survival for the winter.

Pork was a staple in the diet of the Eastern Kentucky people. Although they raised some dairy cattle, they raised few beef cattle because there was not enough flat land for grazing. Pork and chicken were the primary meats on my grandparent’s table. One of my guilty food pleasures, to this day, is an old-fashioned country ham, just like my grandfather used to smoke. Smokehouses still exist on farms all across Kentucky and Kentucky-smoked hams are expensive treasures that are often part of the feasts at the holidays. For the early settlers of Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky right up into the early 20th century, smokehouses were necessary parts of the family farm. Without them, the population would have not had meat to live.

The process of curing and preserving meat is not complicated but it has to be done properly in order for the meat to be safely preserved. Usually, the meat is rubbed with a coarse salt and then you rest it. You repeat this rub and rest process several times. This is what is called salt-curing and it is done to pull the moisture out of the meat.

After the curing process is complete, you can begin the smoking process. You have to find the right kind of wood to burn to smoke the meat. The first rule is never to use soft wood such as pine. Such wood has resin in it. Always use hardwood and many like to use wood from fruit trees. Hickory is another wood of choice. The fire is lit and the fire burns very slowly. The goal is to kill any bugs or bacteria in the meat by bringing the meat up to a certain temperature for a long period of time, usually a period of months. Then, the meat is wrapped in cheesecloth and hung on racks to dry and cure. Some cure their meat for as long as a year or more, particularly pork. Other meats may not take as long to cure.

My grandfather, in Magoffin County, KY, raised a lot of pigs. I used to love to help him “slop the hogs.” They never let me around when it was time to slaughter them. But, I remember the smokehouse and the smoking meat vividly…..which made for delicious family dinners. Many years later, one of my aunts used to send, for Christmas, a country ham to my Uncle Tincy, who was stationed at one Air Force base or another, some overseas. We all grew up loving those smoked hams.

The largest concentration of smokehouses can be found in Virginia, with many associated with Colonial Williamsburg. Smokehouses are a valuable part of the history and culture of Eastern KY and Appalachia in general. #EasternKentucky #Appalachia #culture #history #amwriting #writers #blogger #bloggerswanted