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 – Outhouses

Outhouse posterTomorrow is my wedding anniversary–twenty-two years! So what does that have to do with outhouses? Well, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that the church where we married was lacking indoor plumbing.

It still is twenty-two years later.

So, in honor of the outhouse at my wedding, I thought I’d share some interesting outhouse facts.

And no, I did NOT attempt to use the facilities in my wedding gown.

  1. Crescent moons. The crescent moon you often see cut in the door serves a couple of purposes. First, it lets in a bit of light. Second, it was a way to differentiate between ladies and gents. Women got the crescent moon while men had a star. Allegedly, the moon is more common because the ladies took better care of their facilities and so they lasted longer.
  2. Two-seaters. You may have seen an outhouse with two holes and wondered just how chummy folks were back in the day. Typically, the second hole wasn’t for simultaneous pottying. Often there was an adult-sized hole and then a smaller, child-sized hole.
  3. Garbage disposal. There are actually folks who go around digging where they think outhouses might once have been. This is because owners used to toss all kinds of stuff into the opening. And yesterday’s trash is sometimes today’s collectible.
  4. Toilet paper. Often, there wasn’t any. This is where the Sears catalog came in with its nice, soft pages. And if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “rough as a cob,” it originated in an outhouse where shucked corn cobs were sometimes re-purposed.
  5. WPA Outhouses – In the 1930s part of Roosevelt’s Work Projects Administration (WPA) was improving rural sanitation through the construction of Red Cross designed outhouses (see image above). These were luxury models with cement floors, smooth seats, and vents. They were also meant to be fly and vermin proof, although I have my doubts.

All in all, having used an old-time outhouse and a modern port-o-john, I have to say the Appalachian outhouse is the nicer of the two experiences.

Appalachian Thursday – Which Winter is This?

redbud

A sure sign of redbud winter.

We’ve been complaining lately about the weather.

I know, I know, everyone does that ALL the time. But spring this year has really been a roller coaster ride. Windows open. Windows closed. Coats off. Coats, hats, and gloves back on.

I was thinking the weather really is getting crazier. Then, this past weekend, I noticed that the redbud trees had bloomed almost overnight. Suddenly there were all these gorgeous sprays of deep pink in the edges of fields and neighbors’ yards.

Which reminded me. This warm, cold, hot joy ride is nothing new. As a matter of fact, it’s so not new, there are several old-time names for the various bouts of cold that crop up after that first taste of spring.

Like redbud winter. Which is what we had last weekend.

Now, let’s see. There’s also dogwood winter, locust winter, blackberry winter, britches winter, and whippoorwill winter.

Some of these are pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a primer:

  • Redbud winter – When the redbud trees bloom
  • Dogwood winter – When the dogwood trees bloom
  • Locust winter – When the locust trees bloom (see a pattern?)
  • Blackberry winter – When the blackberry brambles bloom
  • Britches winter – Wait. What? This one is more fun. The full name is linsey-woolsey britches winter which means it’s the last time it’ll be cold enough to wear your long underwear
  • Whipporwill winter – (I smell a book title) This one is barely cold enough to call winter, but it’s when the whippoorwills migrate north from Mexico

So, turns out the now-warm-now-cold craziness we call spring in Appalachia really isn’t anything new. It’s been around at least as long as long underwear.

Holy Week–The best story EVER

Easter gardenJust picture it.

Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. People act like he’s a rock star–waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks down in the street.

The king is here.

But wait. This isn’t the king they expected. He doesn’t overthrow Roman rule. He doesn’t claim a throne, wear a crown, or live in a palace.

Instead, he makes fools of the religious leaders. He sets the temple straight. He tells stories and gives them the greatest commandment all wrapped up in love.

He is NOT what anyone expected.

And then they arrest him and kill him.

But Holy Week doesn’t end there. Easter morning is yet to come. And it’s the greatest day the world has ever known.

This is my FAVORITE time of year. It’s better than Christmas. Better than my birthday. Better than my wedding day.

This coming Sunday, as the sun tips over the horizon, I’ll remember what God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit conspired to do . . . for me. Every year I recognize that I don’t deserve it. And every year I recognize that, nonetheless, salvation is mine.

I hope and pray salvation is yours as well. Because he didn’t do it JUST for me (although he would have). He did it for YOU as well.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Moonshiners!

springI love it when I describe something in one of my novels that I can clearly picture and THEN find that what I described actually exists. InĀ Miracle in a Dry Season Casewell cleans out an old spring with a catch basin. Guess what my husband found in the woods on the mountain behind our house?

Just such a spring with basin.

It’s a steep hike to get to the place where water flows from the side of the mountain, but clearly someone had been there before us. They dug out a spot and shored up the edges with stones set in place. It’s lovely.

And, of course, we wondered why someone would create such a spot so far from any sign of a house. Our answer was further down the mountain, near a neighbor’s house, in the form of a cast concrete cistern with an outflow pipe.

The spring flows there to fill the cistern. We asked a local fellow who’s lived in this valley all his life about our discovery. He gave us the name of the fella who used to live in that house. The fella who kept his still close so that the smoke could be mistaken for smoke from his own chimney.

You need good water to make good moonshine . . . or so I hear.

Casewell didn’t make moonshine, but his son, Henry got mixed up in that business. Guess I didn’t need to look too far for inspiration for either story!

I love living in a part of the world where such discoveries are waiting in my own backyard. Where an afternoon hike can turn into research. Or maybe verification of a past tale . . .

cistern

Appalachian Thursday – A Fickle State Capital

capitalToday I’m headed to Charleston, WV, the capital of my home state, to participate in the WV Book Festival. I’m not only excited to be going as an author, but also because Charleston is a great city with an exceptionally beautiful capital building. And turns out it has an interesting history . . .

The current capital is actually the sixth structure to house state government. The first was in Wheeling, WV, from 1863-70. Then it was moved to Charleston (capital #2). In 1876, they switched back to Wheeling where they built structure #3 even though the old one was still around (and is even today).

In 1877 the legislature let the people choose between Charleston, Clarksburg, and Martinsburg (what happened to poor Wheeling??). Charleston won and the governor said the capital would be moved there in eight years. That capital–built around the old one (#4)–was fully occupied by 1887. THEN . . . it burned down in 1921.

So a temporary wood-frame structure was erected and dubbed the “pasteboard capital.” It (#5) burned down in 1927. Luckily, they had already begun construction of the capital that houses state government to this day (#6). The west wing had been finished in 1925, the east wing was completed in 1927, and the main domed section in 1932. It cost just under $10 million, which was actually LESS than the legislative appropriation.

The gold dome is the capital’s most recognizable feature. At 292 feet tall and 75 feet in diameter it’s gilded with real gold leaf (over copper and lead).

I’ve visited before, but I’m thinking it might be time to stop by again . . .