Turning – #writephoto

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Abigail was curled up in a corner of her sofa going through the photos in the photo album she had kept. She’d just finished a huge project. She’d gone through her mother’s personal belongings. A lifetime of photos, letters, other personal things. It had been very hard, very emotional. Her mom had been gone for a long time and, only now had she been able to bring herself to sort through the dozens of boxes she had left behind.

She knew now, after the discoveries she had made, that her mother had spent a lifetime climbing a mountain like the beautiful mountain in the picture she had taken years before. She’d never known her mother until she went through her things. Odd how you could live with someone all your life and never know them. There was so much more to her mother than she’d ever known.

Abigail looked up from the photos, thinking to herself how she could have been closer to her mother and understood her so much better if her mother had only talked to her. If her mother had talked to someone. She didn’t. She closed herself up in a cocoon and when she did talk to family and friends, it was only about the good stuff. She wouldn’t open up, confide in anyone. Pride. Foolish pride. Pride that cost her family, friends, loved ones, and the affection of her husband. But, perhaps most importantly, her daughter and her own self-respect.

Her mom came by that pride honestly. Her family was so prideful that it silenced them, even between each other. There was no such thing as an apology, an honest discussion, or real interaction. Abigail was glad she was more like her father’s family. Of course, they were proud, but they weren’t afraid of expressing their feelings and they didn’t feel jealous of each other. Looking back, she felt sorry for her mother.

Abigail had been turning away from her mother’s family for many years, even before she realized why she was. There were a few members of the family that were still in her life but very few. As she grew older, she had no patience for the type of pride that cost you loved ones. It was common in Appalachia, in the mountains.

She looked back at the photo album and realized that it was time to turn away from the kind of life where pride was more important than love. She closed the book.

 

*Thank you for the challenging writing prompt, Sue Vincent! What a beautiful photo!

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Track – #writephoto

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As she walked down the long, dark track in the Appalachian forest, she thought of the wild things that used to be so populous here and how few of them remained. The deer had once walked up on her porch and ate from the troughs surrounding her house. There were hundreds of species of birds. It was quiet, peaceful. Over the last few years, humans had stolen their habitat.

She thought of the author, Wendell Berry’s, poem, “The Peace of the Wild Things,” and wanted to lie by a tree and know their peace. She knew she never would. She hadn’t seen a fawn or a pileated woodpecker this year. This was the first year they were gone. All she had heard was the screech of chain saws and the clang of heavy equipment as they tried to turn the forest into a park or a crowded subdivision. Why did they move here and claim they wanted quiet and solitude and then make it like everywhere else? Was this progress? She didn’t think so.

The track wasn’t as deep in the forest and the wild things were gone. It had only taken twenty years in this small corner of the Daniel Boone National Forest. She had once loved it here. Now, she supposed she would have to leave in search of solitude once again. She had been young when she had come here. She wasn’t young anymore and this had become home.

She considered following this track where the wild things walked all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where her roots were. She felt she was too old now. Life wasn’t easy there. She couldn’t deal with feet, not inches, of snow in the winter. How could she live without seeing her beloved wildlife daily? She’d kept her blinds closed this summer so she could pretend they were still there.

Suddenly, she remembered that very old movie called “Elephant Walk,” starring Elizabeth Taylor. She thought it was shot in the 1940s. The characters built a home in the jungle and took the elephants habitat. The elephants returned the favor by walking right through the home.

Would the wild things take back their home here someday? Part of her hoped so.

 

Thanks to Sue Vincent for this writing prompt and photo!

 

July 10: High Summer

 

A pictorial of high summer around northeastern Kentucky, on the fringes of Appalachia. The middle of July is definitely seen as mid-summer. Another few weeks and the “dog days” arrive, which mean the end of the summer is approaching. It’s been an extraordinarily hot summer here. 90s almost every day and high humidity. HIgher than usual. As I sit at my desk typing, it’s 91 degrees. Tucker, my puppy, refuses to go out in the afternoons. The deck burns his paws, so I have to carry him.

I have very few flowers blooming this summer, even though I live in the middle of the forest. It’s just been too hot for them.

It’s a slow day here at my house. Tucker and I got in some outdoor time very early this morning. I sat on the deck with him while he played a little and chewed on his bone. I like slow days. I don’t have many of them. They give me time to relax a little. More importantly, they give me time to reflect on my writing. What direction do I want to take with my current writing projects? Are there new projects I want to undertake?

I write a little about Appalachia. There is a book some of you may have read called “Hillbilly Elegy.” A bestseller. J.D. Vance is the author. I saw J.D. on television recently. On a news station giving his opinion, which I thought odd. I grew up here and even though this book is a bestseller, I don’t agree with most of it. I have been pondering my own version of Vance’s story of Appalachia. His family migrated from the area. Most of my family stayed here. I don’t like the picture he painted.

Have any of you read “Hillbilly Elegy?” What do you think?

The photos are the area around where I live. My property has been declared a National Wildlife Habitat. Enjoy!

 

#SoCS – 5/26/18 – Appalachia: Memorial Day

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It’s Memorial Day weekend and that’s an important holiday in Appalachia. It’s a holiday that honors lost loved ones, whether they were lost in war or died of natural causes, in this region of the U.S. In Appalachia, it’s a weekend where families reunite, have large meals together, and decorate the graves of their deceased relatives with flowers. Across Appalachia, Memorial Day is most often called Decoration Day.

When I was growing up, and even now, the family would congregate where most of the relatives were buried. In my case, that was at my grandparent’s home in Magoffin County, Kentucky. Every nuclear family within the extended family would bring beautiful flowers to decorate each grave. Often, that would involve going to three or four cemeteries.

Memorial Day at the cemetery was also a social occasion. Families who seldom saw each other would have a chance to talk and catch up while decorating the graves.

After decorating the graves, everyone would go to my grandmother’s house for a large meal and a visit with each other afterward. It was one of the most important family holidays of the year.

We still honor our lost loved ones in Appalachia in much the same way. Families are smaller. There are fewer large family meals. Instead of meals in grandma’s kitchen, they are often prepared on the grill. You will still find people hunting flowers a few days before the Memorial Day weekend to decorate gravesites. They will still enjoy visiting with family and friends in the cemeteries. It’s getting more difficult to find children who know what “Decoration Day” really means and who it honors.

#SoCS – 5/19/18 – Stories of #Appalachia – The Postman and the Dog

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Up until I was in my 20s, my uncle lived deep into the Birch Branch hollow  (pronounced “holler” in the eastern Kentucky dialect). He lived in a cabin and with him lived his female Doberman Pinscher, Gertrude. For awhile, he also had a male Doberman Pinscher named Sue, after Roger Miller’s song, “A Boy Named Sue.”

But this story is about Gertrude. My uncle was a postal service worker in Magoffin County, Kentucky. He delivered mail and Gertrude accompanied him. Mail carriers in rural areas tend to drive slowly between stops and my uncle certainly did. One reason he drove slowly is because of where Gertrude rode in/on the station wagon that he drove. She rode on top of it. My uncle and Gertrude were something of a legend in Magoffin County because this was quite a sight to passers-by.

My uncle passed away in 1974 and left poor Gertrude behind. She was old then and very bonded to him. She lived the last years of her life on my cousin’s porch, in a cushy dog house, undoubtedly grieving for my uncle. She was bonded and there was little to do for her although my cousin certainly tried.

A man and his dog.

Stories of #Appalachia – Birch Branch Today

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My grandfather’s farm, in Magoffin County, KY, USA, located in the heart of Appalachia, is no more now in 2018. It was located at the intersection of the small dirt road, Birch Branch, and a county road that was only a little more well-traveled, Burning Fork. My grandparents have been gone now for many years and the farm sold off. I only have one reason now to go back to Birch Branch and that is a much-loved cousin who still lives in the area. I guess a second reason is to gaze longingly at what used to be the farm and wish for things that used to be. I feel less and less able to do that and more likely just to remember it in my heart and mind.

Today, unless you can remember Birch Branch and my grandfather’s farm in what used to be lovely eastern Kentucky, you wouldn’t recognize it. The road is the same, dirt and some gravel. But where my grandfather’s and great uncle’s farms were beside it, now there is a trailer park. Not a well-maintained trailer park, but trailers with neglected little children running around in dirt yards and dogs tied out in the heat on chains. Usually, there are men sitting on the steps of the trailers, during the day when they should be working. There are no jobs. The unemployment rate in the county is upwards of 33 percent. They either don’t think of it or don’t have the means to travel to find a job like generations before them did.

You’ve heard of the opioid problem in the U.S.? You’re looking at it when you view what is now where my grandfather’s farm used to be. Instead of working, these men are taking pain pills. OxyContin, Percocet, Hydrocodone, any of the codeine or morphine=based drugs they can get. Most of them aren’t just temporarily high because of some sort of problem. They are the long-term addicted. If they ever had job skills, they lost them long ago. Generations of men just like them lost them long ago. It is the cycle of poverty and drug abuse.

Such things had never been heard of when my grandfather farmed this land. If you couldn’t find a job around home, you joined the military or you left home and worked away. You didn’t give up and sit on the steps of a trailer stoned out of your mind day after day after day. I find these people and this lifestyle disgusting.

The creek is still there, filled with trash. I can still envision the part of the land that was my great-uncle’s. He had a beautiful collie dog named Lassie who I played with as a child in the green pasture land. The horrible drug trailers populate that land now.

Some of you may think that the loss of coal mining is responsible for this problem. Not so. Magoffin County is not a coal mining county. The loss of self-respect and the availability of drugs is responsible for the problem. When I visit, I want to scream at these people to get in their cars and find a job. It wouldn’t help.

Politicians can discuss the opioid problem, but until they can find jobs for these people, the opioid problem will remain. It may, right now, be too late. I hate to sound cynical about an area that I loved so much, but I don’t expect this social and cultural problem to be solved in my lifetime. Magoffin County, KY is certainly not the only county in an area as big as Appalachia to have exactly the same problem.

Stories of Appalachia: Birch Branch

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There is a little creek that runs up a hollow (pronounced “holler” in eastern Kentucky) called Birch Branch. Now in case you don’t know what a holler is, I’ll tell you. It is the very narrow valley between two mountains. I’m not sure if that term is specific to Appalachia, but that’s the only place I’ve ever heard it used. Birch Branch is the creek that was beside the farms and houses where my family, for many generations back, lived and thrived. The name came from the Native Americans. I assume it was named because of the slight river birch trees that grow by the creek.

I didn’t live there. I grew up in northeastern Kentucky which is still Appalachia, but it isn’t the heart of the region. Birch Branch and the area around it, which is in Magoffin County, Kentucky, is in the heart of Appalachia.

When I was growing up, we used to visit my grandparents and other relatives in and around Birch Branch very frequently. That area was originally where my maternal grandmother’s people lived and, when I was a girl, most of them still lived there. My mother, dad, and I were often there every weekend. I developed an understanding of Appalachia and its people because I am one of its people. My mother grew up there. I have deep Appalachian roots through her that extend back to the Revolutionary War.

Back to Birch Branch. It was a beautiful place back in those days. Heavily wooded. Mountainous. A few homes miles apart. The road was dirt and gravel. My grandfather and grandmother married and bought a house on that road in 1901 along with a beautiful farm. They raised eight children in that farmhouse, including my mother.

By the time I came along, they had moved to another farm house on what they called the main road, an intersecting road with Birch Branch. All of my childhood, my cousins and I would play up and down the Birch Branch road and in that creek. We heard stories of what had happened there in the past. One story was that one of my great-grandfather’s wives had gotten angry with him and thrown herself into the creek. I’ll have to tell you that it would be very hard to drown yourself in that creek since the water level is usually low. That story is part of the family legend.

One particularly poignant memory for me is a trip I took up Birch Branch with my grandfather in his cart pulled by his mules. We went to his family’s homeplace, which was farther on from Birch Branch. I remember that, even as a child, the beauty of that place struck me. Green, lush, pure, clean. Not like it is today. The remains of the log cabin in which my grandfather had grown up were in the wonderous meadow to which he took me. I’ll never forget that special day. Circa 1960s.

Birch Branch is part of my heritage. Stay tuned for Part 2. Birch Branch today.

Dark #writephoto

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The stress that permeated his family was unbearable. There were no jobs. No way to make a living. He was thinking of leaving the small town in the Appalachian Mountains to find work elsewhere. He would try to come home on the weekends. So many in generations before him had done the same. Others had moved their families to cities, to other towns, where they could find work. Their families weren’t usually happy. The people of Appalachia were clannish. They loved their mountain life existence, their extended families, their neighbors. They didn’t want to go to a strange place. He was thinking of going it alone, sending money home, coming home when he could.

He walked before dawn at the foot of the mountains. Thinking. Pondering. It was so beautiful here. The sun was about to rise and he stopped to watch. He had seen this sunrise many times and each time it was more beautiful as it rose over the mountains. No wonder the family didn’t want to leave. People from the outside didn’t understand. They thought them lazy. That they were people who wanted to be on the government dole. That wasn’t it at all. Their culture was different from that on the outside. They knew they wouldn’t fit in out there. Their families and their lifestyle was important to them.

The coal mining jobs had gone away due to the movement toward clean energy. Farming had gone away because tobacco was no longer a cash crop and the corn and other crops had been usurped by the big corporate farms. Because they were geographically isolated, industry did not want to locate there. What were they supposed to do? Abandon the life that they had known for generations?

He had been a specialized machinist in the mines. He could get a job on the outside and had even interviewed with other companies. As the sun rose over the mountains, he knew he had to leave to support his family. He had to send his children to college. There was no place for his wife to work and both their parents depended on him. As the sun rose higher in the sky, he made his decision and started walking home to tell his family. He would not lose them or his connection to this beautiful place. He would drive home on weekends. He would give them the gift of keeping their lives intact.

A Simple Christmas

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The cabin was deep in the heart of Appalachia. She was a city girl and he had worked in the city for years. They weren’t on the same page any more. They had been fighting, constantly bickering. He was desperate to save their marriage.

He surprised her with a trip to the cabin for a simple, country Christmas. She didn’t think she’d like it. Just the woods, a tree, their dog, and them. It was awkward at first, but then they began to talk. They rediscovered what they loved about each other at that cabin in the woods that Christmas.

100 words

Photo Credit Sandra Crook

The Death of a Small Town

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Granny Atkins sat, hidden in the shadows, on the porch of the old house looking at what used to be a busy street in her hometown of Littleton, West Virginia. Drug addiction had killed this town. Littleton wasn’t even a town anymore. It was a death trap. Only a few people her age remained here. The rest had fled or died off. Her generation had worked on the gas wells, but they weren’t pumping much anymore. There was no work.

All that remained were a few families trying to raise some children. They didn’t have any money to move away. The teachers taught drug awareness classes in the only remaining school, but when the heroin came to town, it didn’t matter. The kids used it anyway. They got crazy, burned buildings, and overdosed.

Littleton was a ghost town now. Soon, she would be a ghost too.

Little Dude in Rehab