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 – 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.

When did food get so complicated?

sink

Those are cherry tomato plants in the back.

I remember the first time I heard of free-range chicken. Having grown up on a farm, I couldn’t think what that meant. What other kind of chicken could there be?

Then I found out about tiny cages, cut off beaks, and other abominations. And I learned that “free-range” didn’t mean chickens actually went outside–it simply meant they could if they happened to find that little door in the side of the massive chicken house.

Eating seemed relatively simple when I was growing up on the farm. We raised a fair amount of what we ate–garden stuff, fruit, dairy products, domesticated and wild meat. And when we bought things at the grocery store we were generally looking for the best quality at the lowest price.

That was that.

In college, it was all about the cost. My goal was to get the most of the foods I liked for the least amount of money which I also needed for education, car expenses, entertainment, clothing, and so on.

Then I started focusing on things like fat and calories. “Healthy” eating. Food became the sum of its parts–fiber, protein, sodium, saturated fat, vitamins, etc. I started paying more attention to those nutrition panels on the sides of packages.

And now. Now I’ve read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Palin and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. I’ve become aware of the atrocities happening daily in our food system. I’ve become aware that a fair amount of what’s sold in the average grocery store isn’t even food. It’s a man-made approximation of food. Now I’m reading ingredient lists or even better, buying things without a label. You know, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread from the baker, or a fresh chicken at the farmer’s market.

Which brings me full circle to what my grandparents ate. They grew it or made it. If they didn’t have it or couldn’t get it locally, they did without. No tomatoes in January. No strawberries in December. No shrimp or crab in central West Virginia at all.

But there was fresh-caught trout rolled in meal from their own corn. There were Sunday pork roasts from the hog butchered on Thanksgiving Day. There were cakes made with milk from the cow and eggs from the chicken. There was hot cornbread with apple butter.

I think a big part of the problem with our food system today is that we no longer eat to fuel our bodies. Food has become a form of entertainment. We don’t eat so that our bodies and minds have the strength they need–we eat to titillate our taste buds. We eat to satisfy cravings and delight our senses.

And, I would argue, this is not a bad thing in and of itself. God made food GOOD. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We all know the delight of tasting something good.

But when I’m willing to sacrifice the well-being of animals, the land, and the environment just because I crave a feedlot beef cheeseburger followed by chocolate dipped strawberries out of season–that’s when I’m in trouble.

Food shouldn’t be so complicated.

So here are a few things I’m doing to try and reset the natural balance:

  1. Buying local food. At the farmer’s market it’s easy. In the store I’m checking to see just how far those peaches were trucked. From South Carolina? Good. From South America? Not so good.
  2. Making things from scratch. Okay, I did buy donuts for an event at work the other day. But the goal is to make more things from scratch. Homemade pancakes are actually not much trickier than from a mix.
  3. Composting. A huge amount of our landfill waste is FOOD. A compost pile at the far end of the driveway doesn’t even smell bad.
  4. Growing a few consumables. My husband will tell you I have a black thumb. Even so, I can keep a pot of herbs going. And I have a tomato plant in the flower bed that’s currently loaded with wee fruit. Here’s hoping I can harvest some soon!

How about you? What are you willing to do to simplify your food?

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 . . .

Time to Complain About the Heat

Ah, June. Those days of complaining about how cold it is are well behind us. Mild spring days have wound down. Some afternoon it’s even getting . . . hot.

While the first true day of summer may not be until June 21, school is out this week, I’m going bare-legged in skirts and dresses, we’re getting produce at the farmer’s market, and I say this is summer.

Which means it’s time to start complaining about how hot it is. Except I’m trying to learn a lesson from my dog. She doesn’t complain, she just gets cool. And here’s her favorite way to do it . . .

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.