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Jul 19, 2008

Reading Jean Richie's book....this uns long...

I have read this book over the past couple of weeks and I loved it. Many of the scenarios she described and the language used brought back memories of my family in Appalachia. One particular aspect of her life was the telling of ha'nts.
Our family did a lot of primitive camping when I was young because Dad worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and we traveled many a weekend to the corps managed lakes in Kentucky, long before there were any managed campgrounds. Many of our camping weekends were at Nolin Lake, at Moutardier. The first few times we camped there, we drove in on a gravel road. All that was there at the time was the boat ramp and I think there was a spigot for water and pit toilets for the boaters. Dad would use a machete and swath out a place in the tall grass for us to pitch the tent and we would commence to gathering firewood, stringing up a clothesline, and settling our bedding and clothes into our little 3 room, canvas house. Dad and my brother Greg slept on one side and Mom and I on the other. One night, just after going to bed, dad told us a story of the headless horseman of Moutardier, which was a major reversion of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but I had never read nor heard that actual story at that time, so it was somewhat new to me. We giggled and laughed and I don't remember being too scared because Mom chided him for trying to scare us. I had heard a similar account in the past, so it wasn't totally new. I guess if Mom had not chided him, he would've probably filled our heads with many a tall tale and ha'nts, but that is the main one I remember.

I also remember when the families got together, both the Bayes' and the Wisenbergers', there were tales told about the children who had died of tapeworms or folks who had some other horrible thing happen to them and that did scare me. One event that actually did happen was the falling of a bridge across the Ohio River near Huntington, WV, only a few miles from my grandparents in Ironton, Ohio. We were visiting them shortly after it happened and it was still being talked about on TV and within the family. Ever since then I cannot cross a bridge without a twinge of fear. It has stayed with me all of my life. Just a few years ago, a Christian song was being played on the radio about a situation just like what happened there, and it brought those feelings to mind strongly.

Another thing in the book that I could identify with was when she said she thought a man "purty". It is funny because the first thing my Granny Bayes said about my husband when she met him was, "He's purty." That has stuck with us and I often tell him the same.
Also, the telling of her nephew as as a baby reminded me of how my dad grew up and how babies were so made over. If a baby was thin, they were thought to be sickly and if they were fat, they were thought to be healthy. If my granny had seen my youngest when he was a tiny baby, she'ld have written him off as dead for sure because he was a very skinny baby but he was the healthiest of the three, not having constant ear infections and such as the other two did.
I also could identify with being the baby of the family. I am the younger of two. Just as her siblings always said she was spoiled rotten, so was I often disdained many times by mine. I also thought about how much easier it was for us as the youngers because the elders had the most trying times in most every way. Our families were better off financially as we grew older, after the elders left home and started lives of their own, and our parents were probably wiser, just due to the experience they had gained with raising the older ones.
If you like folklore and plain talk, you will love this book as much as I did. I hope my review here will encourage you to pick it up and learn about the hill people and how the hard life they led paved an easier way for us.
Another great book I read recently is Yesterday's People: Life in Contemporary Appalachia written by Jack E. Weller. I actually read this book in 1977 as a college senior, getting ready to student teach. I decided to read it over because it rang true to my heart then and I wanted to refresh my memory. It was published in 1965, but the thoughts therein still hold today, to some degree. It will help those who look down on the mountain folk to understand why they were, and are, who they were, and are.
So what on earth am I doing these days with nothing to do but read? I now have arthritic knees and have been sidelined for a while. Physical therapy is helping some after just one week, so I hope to regain my strength and be more active before too long. Thank goodness I can sit and strum!!!!

Music in our family was mostly on my mother's side, most of it hidden. My papaw Wisenberger player guitar and mandolin and my mother and at least one of her sisters played piano. Poor Dad couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. I do remember Granny Bayes humming and whistling songs when she stayed with us during the winters in her latter years. She seldom sang the words loud enough for me to hear them. I wish now that I had asked her more about what she was singing and learned a few of the tunes. When she passed away they gave her a very traditional funeral with 3 preachers and the little church choir who sang several songs, all unaccompanied. I did not know any of them. Most of them were about a mother in heaven waiting for her children to meet her, very heartwrenching, to say the least, but very much like her. I am sure she would have loved it.
At this point, I have to give credit to my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Ward, who taught us zillions of folk songs and helped to carry on a tradition that today's students probably do not get, at least here in suburban Louisville. I do not remember the name of the books she taught from, but it may have been "America Sings", or something like it. She was a fiesty little woman, probably no more than about 5' tall, but she made sure we learned those songs. Mom knew them and we used to sing them, especially on long road trips to visit family, before I64 and the Mountain Parkway were in existence, when it took 6 hours to drive from Louisville to Johnson County on the state highways. Miss Jean writing about walking 40 miles in 3 days makes that seem like nothing.
I guess that is where I will stop. I have rambled on enough. I was able to retrieve most of this post today so I am happy that I did not have to rewrite the entire thing. I thought I had lost the entire post when my computer locked up, but I had saved most of it before that happened. I hope you have enjoyed it!

See you at Kentucky Music Weekend next weekend!

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