Appalachian Thursday – Reclaiming “Hillbilly”

view 7-4-18There’s been some talk lately about how hillbilly is a derogatory word that shouldn’t see the light of day. So I’m going on the record to say I not only don’t mind the word, but that I think we should reclaim it.

Consider the word’s origin (or etymology if you prefer): hill + Billy. So basically, taking a really common name for a person and linking it to hilly terrain. I know–I was hoping for something more highfalutin.

Here are two of the earliest known uses of the word in print:

“I would hate to see some old railroad man come here and take my job, and then, I don’t think it is right to hire some Hill Billy and give him the same right as I just because he was hired the same time I was.” – The Railroad Trainmen’s Journal, July 1892

“In short, Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires of his revolver as the fancy takes him.” -New York Journal, April 23, 1900

That second one actually makes hillbilly-ness sound pretty appealing–or at least free-wheeling. But derogatory? Well, I guess that depends on who you are and how you mean it.

Pretty much any word can become derogatory–I’ve certainly heard folks use the word “Yankee” in a way that didn’t convey admiration. But if you visit Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, WV, I think they’d tell you that word–and it’s stereotypical connotations–have worked out just fine for them.

I don’t mind it a bit if someone suggests that being from a farm in West Virginia makes me a hillbilly (maybe I’m a hillbetty). I’m proud of the place I grew up and the people who shaped me. Sure, there are problems–just like everywhere else. But there are also plenty of amazing stories of people overcoming, sticking it out, and staying true to their heritage.

So I say let’s ignore those folks who think hillbilly is a dirty word and reclaim it. In my book a hillbilly is someone who loves the hills and hollers of Appalachia; someone who has some knowledge of living off the land; who holds family close; who will step up to help a neighbor in need; is a creative problem-solver (do a search for hillbilly air conditioner); who knows how to laugh and makes a habit of doing so often; who plays hard, eats hearty, and loves deeply.

In short–some of my very favorite people in this whole world.

#hillbillylife

 

Laying Up Treasure

treasuresThis past weekend a good friend and her family hosted a yard sale to empty out her grandparents’ house. Health issues and advancing years have forced the couple into a facility and it’s time to think about selling the little house they’ve lived in for so long.

Thistle and I stopped by for moral support AND to shop for a memento or two. I’ve known this sweet couple since we moved to our current house and she’s the one who first invited me to the church my husband and I now attend. I knew she collected teapots and thought it would be nice to have one.

I came away with a deviled egg plate just like the one my mom used when I was a kid along with a cast iron corn stick pan and a sweet little Brown Betty teapot. Which set me to thinking about what I consider my “treasure.”

I started walking through the house to pick out my favorite things. There’s the salt box and cast iron, elephant-shaped bottle opener from Dad’s childhood. Five or six wee pitchers from my grandmother’s collection. My mother-in-laws 40th anniversary salt and pepper shakers. The embroidered picture Aunt Bess stitched. A Christmas figurine from Mom’s childhood along with the butter mold she used when I was a kid (made by my great uncle).

And then there are the items that belonged to the senior ladies of the church. An amber glass cake plate and hand-painted dessert plates from Billy. A toll painting of a basket of eggs from Ann. And now Betty’s brown Betty teapot and egg plate.

These are my treasures.

But it’s not the THING so much as it is the person each one brings to mind. As I tallied my treasures I realized the value isn’t in the tangible item, but rather in the intangible memories and emotions and . . . love.

Matthew 6:19-20 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Betty’s teapot has a chip in it. I might break that egg plate while doing the dishes one day. Every last item could be lost or destroyed but that’s okay because they aren’t really my treasures. And ultimately, it’s not even the people they represent that’s the treasure–love is. And love never fails.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Take Two (the summer that wasn’t)

creek snowMan friends, I’m so crazy right now that I basically gave you a repost of one of June’s blogs today. Shoot. I even used the same picture!

Well, that simply won’t do. So here’s something new.

It’s been hot lately even in the often refreshingly cool mountains of Appalachia. But before you complain about the heat, let me tell you about the summer of 1816–the summer that wasn’t.

The first hint of something off came on May 12, 1816. Now, the final frost date for my area in NC is May 15, but it’s a pretty rare occurrence. In 1816, the twelfth brought a heavy frost deep into the region. After a brief warm-up, the first week of June brought more cold. A traveler in Pennsylvania wrote,  “This morning was very frosty and ice covered the water ¼ inch thick. We had a brisk breeze from the northeast.” On June 6, it snowed in Albany, NY.

In July and August folks saw river and lake ice in Pennsylvania. On August 20 and 21 frost formed as far south as Virginia. A newspaper in Virginia reported, “It is now the middle of July, and we have not yet had what could properly be called summer. Easterly winds have prevailed for nearly three months past . . . the sun during that time has generally been obscured and the sky overcast with clouds; the air has been damp and uncomfortable, and frequently so chilling as to render the fireside a desirable retreat.”

Crops failed, food prices climbed, and there wasn’t enough hay for the coming winter (the real one).

So what caused the year without a summer? The most accepted theory is volcanic activity. In April of 1815 Mount Tambora in Indonesia saw the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. Estimates suggest that the eruption lifted around 36 cubic MILES of material into the atmosphere. At least 10,000 islanders were killed outright and the global temperature dropped about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

And on the other side of the world Appalachia didn’t have a summer.

Hmmmm, sounds like a great plot for a historical novel . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Summers in the Yard

grass

Learning to blow a piece of grass between her thumbs to make a honking sound.

Of an evening, I often sit out on the front steps and watch the daylight linger. As the fireflies rise and Thistle nibbles grass it’s fun to think about what a fabulous playground the front yard supplied when I was a kid.

There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with balls. We generally played barefoot and would get all sweaty and breathless then there would be that prickling feeling as the sweat dried and the cool of the evening settled in. Mom sometimes only washed our nearly black feet before bed. I think the prospect of bathing three tired children helped her prioritize.

Of course, we also caught fireflies and stowed them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. We were occasionally allowed to bring these in to flicker in our rooms as we drifted off to sleep. When the June bugs came (in July), we’d sometimes tie a thread to a leg (a tricky job) and have a bug on a leash.

Then there were all the things you could do with what grew in the yard. Pinch a blade of grass between your thumbs and blow on it to make a wonderful, honking sound. Tie flowers together to make chains for your hair and neck. Chew on sweet clover.

It was easier in those days to be drawn outside. There were only two or three channels on TV, no video games or electronics, and even our toys paled in comparison to the wide world of summer outside the front door. I sometimes see neighbor children outside on summer days and it makes me glad. Maybe I’ll stop by and show them how to tie flowers together, how to blow on a blade of grass–these are skills worthy of being passed on.

Should I Pray for Power?

crosswordWe saw some storms blow through late Friday afternoon knocking out the power just before five. Our landline went down as well, so I loaded up Thistle (who is FREAKED OUT by power issues) and drove about a mile and a half to where I can get a cell phone signal.

Called it in. Of course, they’d had about 400 other people call it in by then, but hey, it’s something to do. Word was that 1,700+ folks were without power in our outage and crews were assessing. They’d text me once they had news.

Well, good luck with that. I went on home where I:

  • Listened to a battery-powered radio,
  • Read a book,
  • Wrote a thousand words or so of my new book (laptop was charged),
  • Worked on a crossword puzzle, and
  • Pondered what I could eat that wasn’t refrigerated.

Then, around 7 p.m., the power blinked back on and I proceeded to cook the chicken breasts marinating in the fridge. No problem-o.

And honestly, other than not having access to the internet, that wasn’t much different from what I would have been doing anyway.

Neighbors called at 8 p.m. to see if the power was back on. They’d gone out to eat after the electricity had been off for about an hour and were faced with crowds of other people doing the same thing.

I told them we’d had power since seven and they asked if I’d said a prayer for restoration. Which kind of took me by surprise. Well, no. I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me to pray about the power being out. And while I don’t think God would have minded a chat about electricity in the least, I’m pretty sure he and I can come up with better stuff to talk about.

Sure, power outages can be scary. For people who depend on electric medical equipment. For hospitals and nursing homes. For people living in extreme heat or cold. But for me on a cool, rainy Friday evening? It was a minor inconvenience at most.

We talk about taking a “break” from things like Facebook or our cell phones. We take vacations from work and sometimes give up food or drink like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, or wheat when we’ve been overindulging. Maybe we should start taking breaks from electricity. Eat peanut butter crackers, go for a walk, play cards, read books, and talk to each other.

Hmmm. Maybe the power should go out more often . . . I think I know where the breaker is.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Anvil Shooting

watermelonJust like everywhere else in the country, folks in Appalachia spent yesterday enjoying cookouts, eating watermelon, warning the kids not to burn themselves with sparklers, and maybe enjoying some patriotic music.

We grilled hot dogs and chilled our watermelon in the creek out back. (It takes up too much room in the refrigerator.)

But back in the day there was another way mountain folks celebrated Independence Day–back before they could buy fireworks at a stand in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s called anvil shooting.

The idea is to place one anvil upside down on the ground and fill the concave space in the bottom with black powder. Then, place a second anvil right-side-up on top of the powder-filled first. A fuse is stuck into the powder, lit, and the resulting explosion can send the 100+ pound top anvil up to 20 feet in the air.

This was done in place of fireworks for rural people who wanted something more spectacular than just firing off a hunting rifle. It allegedly sounds like cannon fire.

There are actually anvil shooting competitions now and an anvil shooting world champion from Missouri named Gay Wilkinson. He’s launched anvils as high as 200 feet. The good news is anvils generally fall close to the launching point. Even on a windy day.

I generally love all things Appalachian, but I think I’ll stick to sparklers for my celebrations!

Are Writing Contests Worth It?

Selah awardCarol, Rita, Christy, Inspy, Selah, Genesis, First Impressions, Badge of Honor . . . and those are just the ones I’m most familiar with.

Some contests are for pre-published authors, some for published, some for traditionally published, some for independent, and some mix it up. And only ONE story wins in each category. Which can leave those who DON’T win feeling . . . less than.

I coordinate a contest for pre-published authors at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference and here’s what I know about contests . . . are you ready for this? They are TOTALLY subjective. Scores can vary widely, which is why at least three judges per entry is ideal.

I entered a contest before being published. One judge gave the entry a near-perfect score while another, well, clearly thought it could have been better. MUCH better.

The Carol Award finalists were announced on Saturday and what struck me wasn’t the books that were on the list, but the books that weren’t. I’ve read several really wonderful stories this past year that either weren’t entered or didn’t make the final cut.

So why bother with contests?

For pre-published authors I think it’s incredibly valuable when you get feedback and/or opportunities. Judges’ scores can point you toward weaknesses and strengths in your writing. Being a finalist or winning can sometimes get you in front of editors and/or agents. So if you’re starting out, jump into the fray! I entered multiple contests that provided invaluable input for improving my writing.

But what about the contests for published authors? What good is winning one of those?

  • For better sales? After signing my first contract I asked my editor if winning awards helped with sales. Not really. Okay, that’s probably not why.
  • For the prestige? Maybe a little bit. I mean, it IS fun to sit up front at the ceremony and have folks congratulate you. Plus you usually get something pretty to wear or put on your shelf.
  • For the affirmation? Hmmm. This may be getting closer. Did I mention writing is subjective? Having a panel of judges say, “This is good,” is something of a relief. Writers are notorious for self-doubt.
  • For the joy of celebrating work done well? Wow–I hope so. It’s nice to lift up excellence–to applaud it and encourage those who produce it to keep up the good work.
  • To support organizations for writers? Ahhhh, now this one is a bit different. Quite a few contests use entry fees for things like scholarships or to support an organization that provides services for writers. Even if you don’t final or win, you can feel good about supporting other writers.

I go back and forth on contests. I think they’re a wonderful tool for writers yet to be published, but I’m conflicted about entering now that I have several books under my belt. I guess the trick is to get real with myself about why I’m entering. And then decide if that reason is worth the entry fee . . .

I’d love for writers who have entered contests to chime in and share your experiences!