Appalachian Thursday – Glad for Montana

MontanaNo, not the state.

I often brag about how the people of Appalachia are pretty fantastic. Well, this week, a young man named Montana helped prove my point.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad has Parkinson’s Disease. Every six months or so I head home and we go visit his neurologist at the WVU Medical Center. That was this past Tuesday. As we were headed out of town, Dad suggested stopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Well, sure!

Dad used to be quite the gun collector and hunted all his life. Activities that are more challenging these days. Still, it’s fun to look.

We made our way to “The Lodge” and there was Montana, a clean-cut college-age guy wearing a cross on a chain, ready to wait on a customer. Dad started talking guns with him. Montana pulled out rifle after rifle for Dad to admire. They talked guns, hunting, and worked around to sports. Montana played golf and Dad used to coach golf, so they compared notes on just about every course in the state.

It was wonderful.

Finally, another customer approached and Montana, who mentioned somewhere along the way that he’s studying nursing, moved on.

Dad and I browsed the store and as he headed for the exit, I circled back to thank this incredibly kind young man. Turns out his grandfather had Parkinson’s. He passed away two years ago, but Montana spent a lot of time with him and recognized the symptoms in my Dad.

I wanted to hug him, but settled for a thank you and a shoulder pat. Montana is doing my home state proud. He’s doing that cross around his neck proud.

I have a feeling he’s going to be an excellent nurse.

Taking a vacation–of sorts

This week I’m taking the closest thing to a vacation I ever do. It’s a week off from work to spend time with my family. It’s not exactly a trip to the beach, a cruise, or a European getaway, but it’s what I love–being on the family farm and hanging out with the people who have been part of my life since the day I was born.

In light of being on vacation, I’m giving myself a day off from the blog. No deep thoughts today. No peeks into history. No interesting tidbits. Instead, here are a few photos of my West Virginia home. I’m betting by the end of the week I’ll have a few more to add to the gallery . . .

 

 

Appalachian Thursday – A Poor Harvest

applesI’ve mostly given up trying to grow our food. I keep a pot of herbs and this year I grew a cherry tomato in a pot near the front porch. Based on what I paid for the plant and the number of tomatoes I picked, I’d say I broke even on that one.

But, like the local bears, I’m opportunistic when it comes to harvesting food. Blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, grapes, and nuts tend to be plentiful in our area. We pick them wild and have neighbors who are glad to share.

This year, though, there just wasn’t much to harvest. I made an apple pie last weekend and had to supplement with store apples. The walnuts are few and far between. Even the hickory nuts are less this year.

Growing up on the farm, we had walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts (hazelnuts). Walnuts turned our hands (and clothes) black. Chestnuts could be removed from their prickly casing by pinching them between the soles of our boots and pushing them out. Hazelnuts we just let dry a bit and then whacked ’em good with a hammer.

Mom probably made things using nuts, but mostly the pleasure was in just eating them straight from the shell. And eat them we did! Chestnuts in particular were an easy target and the crisp texture and flavor of that buttery, yellow nut was SO good. You can score them and roast them briefly to make them easy to peel, but we just bit ’em until the shell cracked.

Hopefully 2018’s poor harvest is just an off-year–a down season in the cycle. And since there’s not much out there, I guess I’ll leave most of it to the critters. I kind of like it when the squirrels sit on the back deck methodically eating nuts that leave smears of black, walnut leavings.

Reminds me of how God provides for squirrels and growing children just the same. And how what he provides nourished my body back then and my heart today.

Appalachian Thursday – Firearms

Going Hunting

Wherever I got the gun stuff right, it was Dad and Daniel’s fault!

My latest novella–A Shot at Love–releases next Tuesday. It’s part of The Christmas Heirloom, a collection of stories that follows a piece of jewelry from Regency England to modern-day America.

Now, these are romances–sweet stories of finding true love. But when you write Appalachian fiction true love doesn’t have to come wrapped in hearts and flowers. It can come by way of a turkey shoot and a rogue blue jay.

My heroine–Fleeta Brady–is a crack shot who isn’t the least bit interested in finding love. But then she meets Hank Chapin, a gun collector from South Carolina who admires more than Fleeta’s way with a .22 rifle.

I grew up around all sorts of guns and learned to respect firearms from birth as best I can remember. Treat every gun like it’s loaded. Never point a gun at a person. Don’t shoot an animal unless you’re sure of a kill.

We knew where the key to the gun cabinet was, but would never have considered fetching it down without Dad’s permission. I didn’t hunt but I certainly helped to “process” plenty of wild game growing up. Guns were simply part of life on the farm. And I could hit a walnut with a .22 for all the good that did me!

Don’t worry, Fleeta mostly shoots targets in my story. But it was fun to research and write about rifles and then to get Dad and my brother Daniel to check behind me to make sure I’d gotten it all right. Peep sites and scopes. Shotguns and thirty-ought sixes. Learning what, exactly, an over and under is. Fine tuning words I’d been hearing all my life. It made me feel closer to the hunters I know and love.

Yes, my story is a romance, but it’s more than that. It’s yet another love letter to the people and the places nearest and dearest to my heart. Because when you love someone, you learn their language.

EXCERPT:
Fleeta noticed a second man catching up to Judd. He was shorter and thicker—though not heavy by any means. His hair was sandy—almost blond, but not quite. More the color of honeycomb. Fleeta thought he looked pleasant enough and started to smile. Then she froze as she got a good look at the rifle slung over his shoulder. It was a Woodmaster—a Remington 740 and a .30-06 caliber. And if she wasn’t mistaken, the gun was brand new. Her breath caught in her throat, and she forgot to blink. It was the finest rifle she’d ever seen and a semi-automatic at that. She wanted to reach out and touch it so bad she could almost feel the silk of the wood and the ice of the steel.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Sang Hunting

ginseng2While in West Virginia last weekend my brother showed me some ginseng plants. He was checking them to see if they had seeds he could plant to spur future growth. He gathered up the red fruit with seeds inside and sowed them in a new spot. Seeds need 18+ months to germinate so if we’re lucky, they’ll sprout in the spring of 2020.

Ginseng is not for those in a hurry.

The native plant is prized for all kinds of curative properties from preventing the flu to acting as an aphrodisiac. In the Orient, the fact that the root is often shaped like a man with a body, arms, and legs, makes folks believe it has all sorts of body-related benefits. Another name for it is manroot. It’s relatively common in Appalachia, although the fact that you can get $500 or more for a pound of the dried root has caused over-harvesting.

Enter sang hunters.

There are lots of regulations around how and when the roots can be harvested. Plants should be five years old or older before they’re harvested. If you plan to export the root, it has to be 10 or more years old. How do you know how old a plant is? The first year, there will be just one, compound leaf typically with three leaflets. After about five years, the plant should be at least a foot tall and will have four or more leaves each one with five leaflets. The plant pictured above with three leaves, each bearing five leaflets is probably three or four years old. Not ready for harvesting.

If you look closely, you’ll see a wee crown right in the center. That’s where tiny flowers gave way to red berries with two seeds each inside. They’ve been planted now.

Ginseng is going to find its way into my stories one of these days. It’s ripe with potential–poaching, stealing, the solitary act of hunting through the woods, the art of digging the plant so as to keep the root undamaged and intact . . . it’s an art and a mystery.

Just the sort of thing I love to write about.

French Creek Pioneers

I had the pleasure of attending the French Creek Pioneers gathering this past weekend with my dad and brother. This is a meeting of folks descended from the original settlers of French Creek, Va., back in the early 1800s (before West Virginia became a state). There were Goulds, Youngs, Smallridges, Sextons, and Phillips among others.

I’m descended from the Phillips line. The first ancestor to come to America was Nicholas who came to Dedham, Mass., in 1630. Six generations later, in 1815, David Phillips moved his family to French Creek. Seven generations later, in 1971, I came along.

These are the Phillips for whom I named the characters in my Appalachian Blessings series. They aren’t based on any specific ancestors, but are rather a collection of bits and pieces I’ve read or seen or heard along the way. And it was SO special to set up a book table and share those stories with folks who are . . . well . . . my family!

I love sharing my Appalachian stories with just about anyone, but it’s extra special to share them with family members who share the same heritage. Here are some photos from the weekend–click on the images for captions.

 

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