Appalachian Thursday – Weeeeeelllll

A friend and I were talking recently about our families–mostly the senior ladies in our Appalachian families–and how they can take a single word and communicate a wide range of meanings. The perfect example is the word, “well.” Depending on the accompanying tone and expression, “well” can express a variety of messages. Here are a few: Well. (Short, clipped, with lips pinched.) An expression of disdain suggesting that you can think that if you like but you’re completely wrong. Weeellll. (Smiling, drawn out, sly sideways look.) I know what you’re getting at you devil, you! Well. (Blank expression, flat tone.) I never would have thought it of you, but there you have it. Well-ell-ell. (Laughing with a jolly expression.) Aren’t you the cutest thing I’ve ever seen? Well. (Downcast eyes, soft voice, a little breathy.) I guess that’s all there is to say about that. I don’t suppose this is exclusive to natives of our mountain region, but it’s surely been perfected here. And it’s one of my frustrations in writing. It’s so hard to share the full range of meanings on the printed page. I often end up editing out a slew of “wells” that really don’t convey what I’m after without the finer nuances of body language. Which is frustrating. But oh well.

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Christmas in Appalachia

While I suppose we were relatively modern when it came to my childhood Christmases, the old-timey traditions are still hanging on in the mountains. And there are some I very much think we should revive for broader use. Here are a few of my favorite Appalachian Christmas traditions: VISITING – My 85-year-old cousin and I were lamenting the fact that no one visits anymore. It was customary throughout the year, but especially on Christmas day. The idea was to simply get out and see your neighbors. In my experience, the older folks stayed at home awaiting company while the younger ones did the traveling. You didn’t stay long, but there were refreshments–fruitcake, cider, cookies–and it was bad luck not to partake lest you spoil the Christmas Spirit. CHRISTMAS GIFT – If you go a bit further back, there was a tradition of carrying small gift items like candies in your pockets as you went visiting. If you met another visitor the first one to say, “Christmas Gift,” would win a gift from the other. DECORATIONS – There was plenty of greenery to be had–pine, holly, or even bittersweet–and it was simple enough to cut a tree. Decorating the tree was another matter. Common decorations included popcorn strings, paper chains, seed pods wrapped in the foil from chewing gum wrappers, gingerbread cookies, and scraps of bright fabric. SERENADIN’ – No, not caroling. The idea was to gather as many noise-making items […]

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Appalachian Thursday – Christmas Countdown

Guess what? It’s 12 days ’til Christmas! Yup, Christmas is less than two weeks away. Are you ready? Are you counting down with joy and anticipation? Or is there a little how-will-I-get-everything-done dread mixed in there? When I was little, we had a count-down to Christmas wall hanging my mom made. It was in the shape of a Christmas tree and had 24 little beads from which we would suspend 24 little, felt ornaments. There was an angel that went at the top as well as a Santa, little wrapped packages, a candy cane with sequins–it was wonderful. And I always got to hang the first ornament since my birthday was December 1. I LOVED counting down to Christmas when I was a child growing up on the farm in WV. Each year I looked forward to all the things we got to do as we counted down. Here are just a few of my favorites: Singing carols in the car. Snapping our fingers for reindeer hoofs up on the housetop. Dad substituting our names as he sang, “First comes the stocking of little Sally (his nickname for me).” Rudolph and Frosty and oh, what fun! Decorating sugar cookies. I now know this makes my mom a saint. Arming three kids with frosting and sprinkles is a bold move. Decorating the Christmas tree we cut on a neighbor’s farm. Dad did the lights and hung his one ornament remaining from childhood–a tattered […]

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