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

 

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.

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!

Appalachian Thursday – Wild Critters

Spring 12 bears 051There are people who have never seen an animal in the wild. Oh, maybe a city squirrel or some pigeons, but I’d argue they’re not really wild.

My mountains are a veritable zoo of wildlife. Just yesterday Thistle and I encountered a teenage bear on our evening hike. She was easily persuaded to abandon the trail for the deeper woods where she melted into the rhododendron like she’d been a dream. Thistle knows better than to give chase.

But she will chase squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits all day long. As well fed as she is, I suspect it’s just for sport. We’re also knee-deep in turkeys and see the occasional deer. Back in WV you can’t NOT see a deer. They’re frankly too plentiful.

We’re also treated to sitings of raccoons, possums, groundhogs, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and the truly rare bobcat. I saw more skunks back in WV where we had one living under the back porch for a while. He would come out after dusk and see if there were any scraps left in the dog dish. We’d stand behind the screen door, watching, and he’d squint at us (I think skunks may not have the best eyesight). Adorable, but we knew better than to go out there.

I suppose there are folks who would rather NOT encounter wildlife every time they go outside, but it’s one of the reasons I love these mountains so much. Bears on the back deck can be a bit of an inconvenience, but they’re also a living, breathing example of God’s miraculous creation–a reminder I’m glad to have.

Appalachian Thursday – Lightning Bugs

You know it’s summer in the mountains when the lightning bugs start putting on a show. As kids, we loved to catch them and drop them in a mason jar with holes poked in the lid. Then we’d put that jar on a dresser in our rooms to watch them twinkle until we fell asleep.

Now I’d rather just sit outside and watch the show all across our yard and into the trees. And while I now know what’s happening is actually a cutthroat mating dance, it’s still incredibly lovely. And peaceful. And a little bit magic.

I realize some of you out there don’t have lightning bugs (or fireflies if you prefer). So I thought I’d offer you a peek at last evening’s light show . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Summer Outdoors

grass

Learning to hold a blade of grass between her thumbs so she can blow across it and make a marvelous sound.

In the cool of the evening my husband and I often sit on the front porch steps. We chat lazily, watch Thistle poke around, and wave at passing cars.  It’s a very Appalachian-summer thing to do. Of course, if we were kids, we’d be up and off the steps taking advantage of what a fabulous playground the front yard supplies.

Summers on the farm meant being outside. There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with ever-changing rules. 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 filthy 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, 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 toys paled in comparison to the wide world of summer outside the 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.

Appalachian Thursday – Feuding

feud1I’m currently working on a story idea that involves a feud. One of my goals in writing stories set in my beloved Appalachians is taking some of the stereotypes and clichés and either debunking them or shedding new light on them.

So. Feuding. In the style of the Hatfields & McCoys.

Except theirs was not the only historic feud. A friend who is a Kentucky native lent me her copy of–brace yourself for this title–A history of the feud between the Hill and Evans parties of Garrard County, Ky. The most exciting tragedy ever enacted on the bloody grounds of Kentucky.

Well, count me in!

Written in 1854 by Lieut. J.J. Thompson, this book is priceless. Never mind the feud, the writing is captivating. In Chapter IV, he tells of false accusations spread about Dr. Evans by Mrs. Rus Hill. Here’s an excerpt:

“She took her child into her arms, and with the sincere affectation of an expert actress, set out from her lone cabin of rudeness, and made the welkin ring with lamentations for her miserable fate. The proud hills, disdaining to listen to such airy wailings, repulsed the empty sounds and with reproof echoed them from their rock-ribbed sides to the ear of their degenerate mistress . . .”

This continues as a spectacular run-on sentence, but you get the gist. Apparently even the landscape took a side in this feud. And I am determined to work “welkin” into my next novel. (It means the sky or the vault of heaven. Of course it does.)

I’m only five chapters in and no one has died yet, but they are certainly whaling on one another. The whole thing started one winter when Dr. Evans hired Dr. Hill’s “negro woman.” Then, in the spring, Dr. Hill decided he wanted use of her services and, “thought of no better way of securing them than by inducing her to run away.” He sent his niece to do the inducing and when Dr. Evans took issue much head whacking ensued. I mean that literally. Dr. Hill hit Dr. Evans in the back of the head with a “large hickory stick.”

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up. Then there’s a set-to at a BBQ, false accusations, doctors undermining one another’s diagnoses . . . good stuff. I’m not sure if anything will make it into my story but I’m having a grand time learning about this “most exciting tragedy.”

You just can’t beat real-life. But you CAN read this treasure for yourself. It’s on-line HERE.