Appalachian Thursday – Back on The Farm

We just returned from spending several days at The Farm in West Virginia. My niece is the eighth generation of my family to grow up on that land. The house we stay in is just a few months older than I am since my parents built it while Mom was pregnant with me. Everywhere I step there’s a memory underfoot.

Not only is it a beloved spot because of my growing up there, but I’d also argue it’s one of the prettiest places in the world. And now the nearby town of Buckhannon is getting downright hip with some good restaurants, music and art venues, and–yes–a brewery. Because a town can’t be hip without a brewery.

It’s come a long way from my high school days and I love it even better now. Come on, take a stroll with me . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Funerals

GE DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve attended several funerals lately and it got me thinking about how much a part of growing up in Appalachia funerals have always been. As a child I often went with my parents to funerals. Shoot, everyone went. It’s just what you did.

The two things I remember most were open caskets and all that food. It was rare to go to a funeral where the deceased wasn’t on display. Everyone passed by the casket. The family would be stationed at the head so friends could offer condolences and hugs. Someone would inevitably say, “Don’t she/he look natural.” (My grandmother put considerable thought into what she would wear for burial.) Then, after the funeral, everyone would go back to the family’s home where there would be a ridiculous amount of really good food supplied by the community.

And, of course, there were quite a few superstitions associated with death. I didn’t necessarily see these things, but I certainly heard about some of them. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

  • When someone died, you stopped the clocks to mark the time and prevent another death.
  • Deaths come in threes. If two people died reasonably close together, someone would always predict a third. I always found this a wee bit unnerving.
  • If you hear a screech owl at dusk, someone will die. I still feel a jolt when I’m hiking in the evening and hear an owl hoot.
  • It’s bad luck to walk across graves. We helped mow the church cemetery when I was growing up. This one worried me.
  • Pregnant women aren’t supposed to look at a corpse lest their child be “marked.”
  • Setting an empty rocking chair in motion signifies death. This one feels like a lovely metaphor more than a superstition.
  • And my favorite–bees carry the news of death.

All in all, these customs and traditions made death pretty approachable for me. And, as the people I care about get older (as do I!), I find myself grateful for growing up in a place where death was very much part and parcel of life.

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – Watch Out for Deer

deer at table

A normal afternoon behind my mom’s house in WV. Photo by: Jean Clark

I saw a Facebook post earlier this week sharing how to speak “Appalachian.” Some of the phrases weren’t exclusive to Appalachia–they definitely overlapped with the south. But one was 100% Appalachia.

“Watch out for deer.”

And what’s the translation?

“I love you.”

It sounds odd at first, but let me explain. In WV it’s hard not to trip over deer when you walk around outside. When we porch sit at the farm, it’s just a matter of time before the deer start drifting through the pasture. When we drive up to the house after dark, the headlights almost always pick out several deer as we come around the last turn. And the photo above speaks for itself.

They are EVERYWHERE.

Which means people are forever hitting them on the roads. Most people I know from back home can tell you about the time they hit a deer. Or were hit by one. Sometimes the poor animals misjudge and leap straight into a moving vehicle.

It’s awful and it’s dangerous. (For the driver AND the deer.)

So, when someone from Appalachia says to you, “watch out for deer,” what they mean is . . . I care about you. Be safe. Keep an eye out and don’t get in a wreck. Be careful. Come home to me.

Which really does mean, “I love you.”

So for all my friends and readers out there . . . watch out for those deer!

A Poem for Remembering

Aunt BessWe all have special people in our lives. Folks who have an impact on us–whether fleeting or long term. I’ve been thinking lately about how many of those people in my life are gone now–Grandma Burla, Aunt Bess, Dusan & Marsha, Aunt Dorothy & Uncle Willis, Smutt & Anna, Grandma Ginny . . . the list goes on.

But maybe, since I carry a little bit of each one of those folks with me, they’re still here in a way. As long as I remember . . .

So here’s a poem for Aunt Bess who shaped my life and the person I am in ways I’m still discovering.

TRUE LOVE

Sometimes love has no motive.
Sometimes love sprouts wild
between the rows of corn,
string beans, and tomatoes.

At 95, Aunt Bess took her cane
and walked me round—
down to the mailbox,
over to the swimmin’ hole,
past the garden where she
remembered her only son
shooting a groundhog the day
he died of scarlet fever.

At 98, she sat me down
on the porch and held my hand.
She talked about Uncle Celly who
appeared like a ghost for dinner
and drew pictures of the Devil.

At 101, she laughed with joy
to see me through the screen door.
She sat in a patch of morning sun,
pulled a kitchen chair close,
asked about people whose deaths
slipped her mind. We resurrected
them there, in that old house,
and they were as good as alive to us.

Always, she cupped my face in soft,
bent hands and said, “You are
so dear to me. So dear.”

At 102 I gave her eulogy, told how
she loved me for no good reason
and how I loved her just the same.

Best Year Ever? Plan On It!

book-img2I gave up making new year’s resolutions a long time ago.

This year, though, I felt like I needed to not so much resolve to do better, but take steps to get a grip on all the STUFF going on in my life. Work, writing, church, family . . . there’s just so much to do, to think about, and to plan. Some days it all just gets away from me.

So I signed up to be an influencer for Michael Hyatt’s new book, Your Best Year Ever. The idea is to stop sacrificing your dreams and ambitions on the altar of daily demands. You know how it goes . . . you mean to write that novel, start that speaking ministry, spend more time in scripture, commit more deeply to your spouse or your kids . . . But first you have to answer all these e-mails, do the grocery shopping, plan that trip to see the in-laws, and get the car inspected before you get a ticket.

And the dreams just never happen.

While I’ve already achieved my dream of being a published author, I’d like to take my writing further. Teach some workshops, have more time for promotions, actually write more. I’d like to find more time for the relationship-building side of fundraising at work in my day job. I’d like to dig deeper into faith with my husband–maybe a study we could do together.

So I’m digging in. Setting goals. Tracking them.

And Michael Hyatt is helping me identify hurdles, overcome roadblocks, develop positive habits, and get unstuck! Will it work? I hope so. I think so.

What gets scheduled gets done. I’ll keep you posted as I aim to make 2018 my best year ever.

How about you? What dreams have you deferred?

Appalachian Thursday – Snow Day!

Snow DayWe had a snow day yesterday–a couple of inches of the white stuff, hardly anyone venturing out, bacon for breakfast, and a good book to read (not to mention one to write!). Ahhhhh.

When I was a kid, of course, snow days were a bit more exciting. And in West Virginia in the 1970s, they seemed more dramatic, too. I remember missing almost the entire month of February one winter. It was so cold that a skim of ice would form on the top of the pail of milk in the time it took Dad to walk from the barn to the house.

Poor Mom. Stuck inside with three kids day after day. And it was too cold to play outside. At least Dad had livestock to tend.

I remember the power going out during a snowstorm once. Dad stoked the fireplace and we got to sleep in the living room floor in sleeping bags. Mom made us wear knit hats since those were the days when we still believed you lost most of your heat through the top of your head.

There was tomato soup with grilled cheese. Card games and board games. Sledding and the building of snowmen. We played in the hayloft, which was a smidge warmer than outside. Mittens were soaked through. Chapstick was applied. And woe to the child who realized she had to pee while wearing a snowsuit too far from the house.

We also fed the cattle. The winter my older brother had appendicitis, I got to ride on the trailer, cutting the twine on bales of hay, and pushing it off for the cows. Bart, our Black Angus bull, would steal bites of hay from the trailer. He was a sweetheart, though, and I’d scratch him behind the ears anyway.

It got dark early those days and in my memory the house was the coziest place in the world. A nation unto itself. A place where the snow and cold could never reach.

Now, snow days frustrate me–make me wish I could get out and work on my to-do list. Maybe I need to go back in time and embrace what I can’t change. Make a snow angel. Throw snowballs for Thistle. Snuggle under a blanket inside and, instead of being frustrated, give thanks for the reprieve of snow days.

Appalachian Thursday – Raw Water

spring

Abandoned spring or gold mine?

I thought it was a joke. I’d seen a few internet-type things referencing “raw water,” but paid them little mind. Then, on the morning news, they did an entire segment on this new trend.

Seriously?

The idea is to drink spring water that hasn’t been filtered or chemically treated. A company in California is selling decorative, 2.5 gallon dispensers of the stuff for $60.99.

Seriously??

They say raw water has minerals that are good for you. Like drinking raw milk (which I love). Well, sure. That’s probably true.

Of course, the naysayers also point out that raw water could contain dangerous bacteria or pollutants that could make you seriously sick. Well, sure. That’s probably true.

The funny thing is, I’ve drunk plenty of “raw” water without thinking twice. We drank from wells where the water was drawn straight from the depths of the earth in buckets and then lifted to our lips in metal dippers (which add to the flavor!). We drank from the cold spring on the back side of the cow pasture. From the spring we passed as we walked up the hill from the school bus stop.

I’m not advocating for or against raw water. I’m certainly a big fan of NOT consuming anything that could leave me miserable in the bathroom or worse.

It’s just funny to me. Like the friend who went to France to learn how to cook wild rabbit and creasy greens. Apparently, Appalachia has been waaaay ahead of the trend curve for a long time.

Raw milk, free-range chickens, antibiotic free meat, and now raw water. My great-grandmother would just shake her head and take another puff on her corncob pipe stuffed with dried mullein. Which will probably be the “new,” “safe,” way to smoke in another five years.