Memories From The Mountain. Reflections On Appalachia.

Flickr / illinigardner
Flickr / illinigardner

“Daughter of Appalachia” is a title that I have worn proudly my entire life. Every word that leaves my mouth is tinged and wrapped in that special “twang” we all know so well, and even if I wanted to, I’d never be able to hide where I’m from. Northerners and Southerners alike can always peg my accent, and usually add some quip that I’m too country for country and too southern for the south, I have to be from Appalachia, or most of the time, Kentucky. Yes sir, or yes ma’am, I’m from Southeastern Kentucky, I always reply. Most of the time, I get some jumbled joke about The Dukes of Hazard (because obviously) or asked if we have shoes (depending on how far up north I am, because Yankees are generally clueless) and I smile, and nod, and go on because no one on earth except the generations of people who have grown up in Appalachia can know and understand how wonderful and special it is to call these mountains home.

If you were raised here, you know exactly to what I am speaking of. Appalachia is so much more than an area, it’s an entire culture and region of people with a unique way of life. Appalachia, for some, may have different meanings, but to me it symbolizes many things: life, mountains, music, food. So much goes into Appalachian living that makes it so different from any other space on earth. I am positive that no one in the entire world lives their life like we do in the Appalachians. Good, or bad, you decide for yourself, but I wouldn’t trade my heritage for anything.

I know what it’s like running helter-skelter down a gravel road with only the wind at your back and mountains over the horizon. I know the feel of smooth bedrock beneath bare feet, and slimy green algae between toes in a gently flowing creek. I can still pick out the best craw-dad holes, recognize a gin-sing patch, know better than to go creeping up on somebody’s pot patch during harvest, and I’m not afraid to bait any kind of hook. I’m from a place where the whole family crams together at Grandma’s house for dinner. Golden fried chicken, dipped in puddles of gravy, with okra and fried cabbage, dripping with grease. The smell of morning dew, tobacco hanging in a barn, the foul and musty odor of a chicken coop and the way it feels to literally wash the mountains off your skin after a day in the hills, will all remain the perfume trigger points of my (eccentric) but overall jolly childhood.

Legends and lore have been passed down from generation to generation. Tall tales, mingled with Indian legends and folklore that almost everyone believes in, and they continue to keep alive. We are the offspring of grand storytellers, troubadours, cowboys, and outlaws. We have the moonshiners, stills nestled up deep in the hills, perfectly hidden and producing the finest white lightning you can wet your whistle with. Real life mountain dew. We’ve got marijuana farmers, patches that play cat-and-mouse every summer with helicopters and police with large knives. We have tobacco farmers, forgotten heroes, who break their backs so we, and the rest of the world, can kill ourselves with cigarettes. We’ve lived on this land for decades, forged our lives from unimaginable circumstances and near impossibilities. We have built our communities from dust. We’ve known defeat, victories, and even in times of hardship, we’ve always survived.

I recall the boom of the coal business. The roads thick with black dust. Coal trucks, stuffed and overflowing with the area’s lifeblood, would fly around two lane curves, like children with Halloween bags; so plentiful that no worry was given to the pieces that fall from the top. Trains would be gorged to the brim with loads of black gold, ready to be transported. I live in town, and hearing the long, and low whistle of the night train always sends a melancholy shiver down my spine, for whatever reason, even now. Everywhere you went, you’d see black-sooted miners in their uniforms, running errands after work. Or you might have caught them before their shift, anticipating the day ahead. I remember the economy. The businesses. The energy. The good times. Coal is still here, maybe not as booming as it once was, but it’s undeniably one of the driving forces of Appalachia, both past and present. Regardless of whether the mineral is still in the mountains or in a railroad car, its still in our blood and in our minds.

Being a product of an Appalachian upbringing has instilled in me many things. Hard work, honesty, loyalty, respect, perseverance and independence. It has also borne something else.  I’m not sure, for me, when it happened, but I have an instinctual closeness and kinship with this land that has provided for me for so long. I cannot describe the feeling in depth; all I can say is that I have an innate need to defend this piece of Earth to outsiders. There is a  need to tell people, and let them know, that this place is better than what everyone else seems to think. We are a people who have braved the edge and lived through it all. We are a people who have foraged and settled and withstood. I supposed you can attribute my feelings to the same love and determination passed down from distant ancestors who came here to start new lives and carried with them forever, that same kinship and love for these mountains. It is damn near impossible to pull away from that iron clad grasp that these rolling hills will forever hold on my heart.

So you see, when I say that I am a daughter of Appalachia, I mean that this region has mothered me in more ways than one. We are people who are proud of our heritage, who have soft hearts for these mountains and sharp tongues for anyone who tries to belittle our homeland. Love of this land started very early for me, and has only deepened with the passing of years. I know how it feels to go on vacation, and feel the elation and satisfaction of getting the first glimpse of the world outside these mountains; like a child who finally gets the strength and height to peek their eyes from the window to the world outside. Most of us dream of leaving and seeing the greener grass outside the mountain ridges. Some of us will get that opportunity, but for me, the discovery of new places has never found a way to outweigh the feeling of coming home. Salt, sand, the ocean, big cities, bright lights, it’s all fine and good, but to pick a place to breathe, live and die… give me my mountains. I’m proud to say Appalachia/Eastern Kentucky is my home, my heritage, my past, my present, and my future. TC mark

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