I try to keep up with books set in Appalachia, so I was excited when I saw that fellow Baker Publishing Group author Ann Gabhart was writing a book about the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky in the 1940s. These were women who went into remote hills and hollers as nurse-midwives.
Ultimately, These Healing Hills is a sweet story of a healing romance between a jilted nurse and a soldier returning home from WWII. But what utterly charmed me about the story, was Gabhart’s use of Appalachian language and phrasing unique to eastern Kentucky. While there are some commonalities to Appalachia, there are certainly regional quirks. Here are a few Ann uses:
- Sass patch – Nope, I’ve never heard a garden called that, but I loved learning how native Kentuckians refer to their vegetable patch.
- Shank’s mare – I want to use this one! It means your own two legs. As in, he traveled by shank’s mare. I looked it up, and it’s of Scottish origin, referring to the bone in the lower part of the leg that was once called the shank.
- Punishing – Used to mean someone is hurting really bad. A woman in labor is said to be “punishing real bad.” I’d heard it before, but had forgotten it.
It’s the use of language and phrases like this that I think gives Ann’s writing an extra dose of authenticity. She writes Appalachia well because she knows it and loves it–warts and all. I definitely recommend These Healing Hills for a true-to-life peek into an important part of the region’s history. Plus, the story is just plain GOOD!