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

 

Time to Rebuild

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Time to Rebuild, Part I

When I walked into my house, after shoving in the door, I knew we would have to rebuild. The entire inside of the house. It was destroyed. It was such a shock that I was shaking and felt I had to sit down, but there was nowhere to sit. The furniture was knocked over and wet. I couldn’t even sit on the floor. It was wet but not only that. The hardwood was raised up. The water had caused it to move and stack itself up in piles. It was the most unbelievable thing I had ever seen. The power of water. The power of a flood. The necessity to rebuild the entire interior of a house due to a flood.

This is what happened to me and my family last summer, the summer of 2015. We had been on vacation. Traveling around New England in our RV. We were planning to be gone for six weeks and had gotten as far as Cape Cod. We were planning to go as far as northern Maine before heading south again. We had so enjoyed the southern coast of Connecticut on Long Island Sound. We had actually enjoyed the entire state of Connecticut. The beautiful Cape Cod houses in their traditional New England colors. The campus of Yale. The mansions along the Rhode Island coast. The Mystic harbor and the old ships. On the way north, we had seen so much in Maryland and Pennsylvania — become familiar with those two states beautiful states. America is really a wonderful, gorgeous place.

When we got the call about the flood in our home, we were, of all places, on a large boat off the shore of Plymouth, Massachusetts on a whale-watching tour. My cell phone rang. I wish now I had not answered it but finished the tour instead. But answer it I did and heard what no one on vacation ever wants to hear. My neighbor said, “Rosemary, I have bad news.”

A pipe had burst under a sink in my kitchen. My neighbor had noticed water running out of my house — a sure sign of something being wrong. He had a key and walked in to check. He didn’t really walk in. He shoved his way in as he couldn’t open the door because the floor being pushed up blocked it. Water was everywhere. Even standing in the drawers of the cabinetry in the kitchen. He and another neighbor looked through the house. The water had knocked over furniture, ruined the floors, and they actually couldn’t tell all the damage that had been wrought. They  just knew it was bad. Very bad. So, my neighbor made that phone call.

The eighteen hour trip home in an RV over the Allegheny Mountains was the longest trip of my life. We hardly talked. We hardly stopped — only for gas and to eat. Neither of us could really eat. We just snacked. When we got home and pulled the RV into the driveway, we just sat there for a few minutes. We knew there wasn’t much use to hurry. We didn’t know when the water pipe had burst, but we got the call about the flood 3.5 weeks into our trip. Later, much later, the insurance adjuster told us that it probably burst quite soon after we left based on our water bill and the damage done to our home.

So we took a deep breath, got out of the RV, and started toward the house. I had the house built myself, at that time it had been 17 years. I had put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into my home. I couldn’t imagine that the inside was destroyed. We opened the door. #flooding #amwriting #writing #blogging

Stay turned for Time to Rebuild, Part 2.

Personality Traits of the Appalachian People

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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 amazon.com or the hardcover or paperback at Abe Book’s. Enjoy! #writing #am writing #blogging #appalachia #Best_Books

Introducing A Regular Blog Feature: Friday Fare to Appalachia

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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!

Rosemary

 

Appalachian Roots

I am from Appalachia, central Appalchia to be exact. Northeastern Kentucky to be even more exact. My roots have a bit of a split personality. Part Appalachian, part Swedish! What a combination which probably accounts for my split personality and eccentric leanings. Someday, I will write about my Swedish family. Now I want to write about Appalachia. Appalachia breaks my heart.

I have always lived geographically close to Appalachia and spent almost 30 years teaching students who came from the region. I did not grow up deep in the heart of Appalachia but I frequently visited my grandparents and other family who lived in the Central Appalachian region. As I grew up, their culture was my culture, their values were my values, their way of life was my way of life. By the time I was becoming a teenager, Appalachia’s best days were behind it but I didn’t know it. My grandfather had worked hard to insure that his eight children, including my mother, had left the region in order to get an education and seek their fortunes. One had to go elsewhere for an education. There were only two universities reasonably close by and the terrain of the region is geographically isolating.

Poverty was the calling card of the region. My grandfather was a landowner, a successful farmer, and had gas and oil wells on the rich land. When I looked out his front door, I saw acres of corn and tobacco growing and many dairy cattle grazing. He was the exception not the rule. He refused to let his family work in the coal mines, but coal mining was one of the principal industries. Much of the region is not suited for farming as it is too mountainous. Manufacturers did not bring their industries to Eastern Kentucky. There were no good roads.

The people opposed interference from outside the region. They feared that their culture would be taken away, their way of life stolen, their children corrupted. They feared cultural change more than they feared poverty.

My grandparents are gone now but the old farmhouse still stands. Do you know what I see when I look out the door now? Trailer parks. Very poor, hopeless people. Children playing in the dirt yards. Starving dogs surviving on table scraps tied out in the yard. I know enough about the area to know what lies within some of those trailers. Drugs. Heroin. Pain pills. In that county, there is little economic activity with around a 33% unemployment rate. Farming is gone. The gas and oil wells still pump but the owners of the mineral rights live far away or the mineral rights were unfortunately sold along with the land. The people lost their way of life but not to manufacturers or education. They lost it to drugs and poverty.

Appalachia breaks my heart. #appalachia #poverty #drug abuse

Watch this space for much more on Appalachia.