Feasting and Fasting

Happy Thanksgiving! 

As we celebrate what we often believe is a uniquely American holiday, I had not thought to write about it until Sunday’s sermon moved me.  You know me to be a Christian Fiction author but this blog is not especially evangelical.  That is due largely to my lack of expertise – there are lots of people writing with far more authority than I could offer.  Today I write more from inspiration than education and I hope that I can cause you to pause for just a moment to give thanks for the myriad blessings we all enjoy.

We always talk about the pilgrims who first settled in North America but their other title was separatists.  Somehow that name is not quite as attractive to us as pilgrim, is it?  But these brave souls wanted to be separate from the government and crown that sought to dictate every detail of their lives – right down to when, where, how and to whom they worshipped.  They came to America so that they could worship however they saw fit. 

Children will do plays this week dressing up as Indians and Quakers; we may tell the story of the colony at Plymouth Rock and the kindness the Native Americans showed these newcomers.  Some will even take a moment on Thursday to think of what we individually have to be thankful for.  And then we will dig in. 

On Sunday, Pastor Bill Hall preached on Fasting and Feasting.  But nobody wants to talk about fasting this week, do we?   We are all gearing up, planning menus and trips to grandma’s house for one of the biggest meals we’ll have all year.  Yet, in America today we feast so much that I wonder if we can really appreciate the feast-nature of this holiday?  If we fasted for one day or even for one meal before the feast would we be better able to appreciate it?

Officially we say that the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated following the harvest of 1621.  We recognize that without the help of the native peoples those first settlers would not have survived and they acknowledged that in their first Thanksgiving feast.  In 1623 the pilgrims kept another Thanksgiving; they had a lot to be thankful for that year.  You see, about half their number had died; those that survived must have felt eternally grateful. 

While some of the settlers the Mayflower delivered may have come from farming backgrounds, the Separatist Church had been in Holland for a decade dwelling in towns and working in trades.  They were no doubt fairly poor but I’m not sure anything could have prepared them for the hardships they would face on a brand new continent.  Those first winters no doubt saw fasting days by necessity for the food stores were lean.  But this was something their Indian neighbors already knew about – it was a way of life for most nomadic tribes who relied so heavily on the availability of wild game.  Of course, the Wampanoag tribe that befriended our forefathers was farmers.  Many of you reading this have seen seasons on a mountain farm and can certainly relate to the fickleness of crops. Thankfully, today we can always run to Walmart if the garden doesn’t pan out; this was not an option in the seventeenth century.

Giving thanks and the idea of feasting with thanksgiving dates way, way back.  In fact, it’s ordered in the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament.  God asked the Jews to keep eight different feast days.  While we see both the children of Israel and the early Christians fasting in lots of different circumstances, The Law actually required a fast for the Day of Atonement. 

Modern Sukkot

Modern Sukkot

Any feast is a lot of work.  One of the feasts the Jewish people were given is Sukkot, the Feast of Booths and this is the perfect example of the work required.  During this seven-day holiday, booths are built and covered with palm fronds or other plant material.  The family leaves their home and lives in this booth for a week, remembering the conditions during The Exodus.  The feast is shared inside this booth as well. 

Family feasting in the Sukkot

Family feasting in the Sukkot

While we aren’t building huts in the front yard, there’s still some work required to roast a turkey and trim the table properly – not to mention fighting the crowds to lay in all the groceries required for the feast. 

There’s some effort required of fasting as well of course.  It’s more than just going without.  The fast was intended to bless someone else.  What you were going to eat is supposed to be given up so that someone else can enjoy it.  With our social programs and hopefully because of active churches, it would actually take a little effort in America to find someone who really didn’t have a meal. 

Of course in our modern society, not every home is a Norman Rockwell painting.  Even if you are not living the idyllic family life this year, there is still so much be thankful for. 

This year I’m thankful for healthy children and loving friends and family surrounding me.  I live in a land of plenty where the probability I’ll go hungry this winter is really pretty small.  We have steady work, a warm house and shoes without holes.  And we will have a bountiful table on Thursday.  All of these and so many others are direct blessings from God and I give him the praise for them.

What do you have to be thankful for?

Daniel Boone’s Wanderings

I have a great new book to share with all of you and I’ll be doing so periodically over the next few weeks (as I manage to read it through).  The Land of Saddle-Bags (1924, Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication) was written by Berea College Professor James Watt Raine.  I’ve read many books about the Appalachian people in the early twentieth century and I’ve complained about most of them.  When I started reading this book, it brought tears to my eyes for I felt that finally here was a man who wrote with appreciation of my people.  He did not present us as a people in need of fixing, pathetic and ignorant. 

Professor Raine was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US when he was twelve years old. While he was educated in Ohio and New York, his family lived in West Virginia and Arkansas.  Therefore, he grew up among the Southern and Appalachian people and no doubt was one of them.  Many mountain folk were so busy surviving in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that there are few books published by them.   The writings about these people in this era are penned by outsiders who came to the mountains to teach and heal the poor creatures living there.  It was a noble undertaking but I feel it doesn’t really reflect the true nature of the people.  The tone of The Land of Saddle-Bags seems determined to correct this image.

The book is only 260 pages yet I feel I can write from it for weeks.  It details the progression of civilization from New England down the Valley of Virginia and westward.  I was fascinated by Mr. Raine’s brief history of Daniel Boone and wanted to share it with you verbatim.



“In 1750 Daniel Boone moved with his father, brothers, and uncles from their home in Pennsylvania into the Valley of Virginia.  They stayed in Rockingham County one season, presumably to raise a crop of corn. They then moved on down to the valley of the river Yadkin. Here the father and most of the uncles settled permanently and lived the rest of their lives. But Daniel, fifteen or sixteen years after his marriage, moved his family to Watauga, in Tennessee, a region he had explored ten or twelve years before. He had scarcely built his cabin before the whole valley was over-run with Scotch-Irish from North Carolina, coming there by thousands on account of the wrongs they received from the Government officials.

The next year, accordingly, in 1773, Daniel Boone and his wife, Rebecca Bryan, and their children started for Kentucky, where Boone had been hunting and exploring some years before. With them went forty Bryans, Captain William Russell, and several others. But in Powell’s Valley, just before they reached Cumberland Gap, the mountain pass into Kentucky, they were attacked by Indians. Several were killed, among them Boone’s eldest son, and the party decided to return to Watauga until the region became safer. Boone, having already sold his Watauga home, went into the Clinch Valley, near Russell. Two years later he moved his family to Boonesboro, where, in the meantime, he had built log cabins and started a stockade or fort. His migration from Pennsylvania, where he had lived sixteen years, to Kentucky thus took twenty-five years. He spent a year in Virginia, twenty years in the four different places in North Carolina, and four years in Tennessee.

It was, therefore, when he was forty-one years old, that he thus brought his family to Boonesboro, and he lived in Kentucky thirteen years. Then Boone’s land was seized on technical error by shrewd title-sharks, and in 1788 he moved to the mouth of the Great Kanawha River, now in West Virginia. For eleven years he lived here-about, but again coming into conflict with registered titles, in 1799 he decided to go beyond the jurisdiction of the United States. Accordingly, he moved across the Mississippi River into Spanish territory, penetrating nearly fifty miles west of St. Louis, and here lived for twenty years. His wife died when he was seventy-eight, and shortly thereafter he was persuaded to give up living alone in his cabin. From that time he lived in his son’s two-story stone house. Yet in his eighty-fifth year his sons could scarcely restrain him from starting out alone, or with an Indian lad, to begin life anew in the unexplored Rocky Mountains.

Boone always felt uncomfortably restricted when neighbors crowded their homes too close around him. He wanted to live in the open. He enjoyed the freedom of the unfenced wilderness. His life therefore was a succession of flights from his neighbors. However, he was not a recluse, in fact he was very genial and social in his nature, always enjoying neighbors – but not too close. He wanted elbow room. Like a sociable English gentleman, he needed a scope of land large enough to be alone when he wished. In this Boone was typical; he constantly led settlers into new territory, and as constantly fled from their midst as soon as they began to clear the forests.”

Say Thank You to a Vet

I am posting this article earlier than usual because I wanted to be sure to be on time for Veteran’s Day.  This is a holiday we need to pause to recognize those brave men and women who have fought for our nation; they deserve our attention for at least one day each year.  However, I found myself struggling to find the words; I started the article two or three times but couldn’t get it just right. Then, as I was baking a rather pitiful Happy Birthday cake for a very appreciative Marine (the USMC turned 240 years old yesterday and it turns out Marines don’t care so much if their cake is pretty so long as it’s sweet!), I suddenly realized that it is the effort – the service - that we must recognize and appreciate even if the words are not especially eloquent.

We are now more than 150 years past The American Civil War and seventy years past World War II, the stories of the common soldier are fading fast.  I really appreciate those people and organizations that have worked to preserve those stories and I’m always asking for them whenever I have a chance to talk with a veteran.  In fact, I’ve recently re-connected to one of my cousins who served in World War II and one of the first stories I wanted to hear from him was about his war-time experiences. (I’ll be sharing some of his stories over the coming weeks.)

Today I thought I’d share a little story with you about my great-great-grandfather, Philip Perie.  Now, if you read much of my stuff, you’ll often see glimpses of “Grandpa Perie” for his life, and the legends that live on about him are certainly story-material.

Grandpa Perie was born in 1822 – at least that’s what his tombstone says.  We wouldn’t usually doubt that date, but census records from the late 1800’s give ages that don’t correspond with that birthdate.  Still, he was born in Falerna, Italy and had at least one brother. 

Italy in the nineteenth century was a conglomeration of states ruled by foreign powers with a populace fighting for independence.  Therefore, the country was torn by one civil war after another.  I’m sure that every home had lost a father, husband or son to these wars and Mrs. Perie desperately wanted to give her own boys a better chance at life.  So, she worked her fingers to the bone to earn passage to bring them to America.  She first sent Joseph to America and he situated himself in Chicago, Illinois.  Then, in 1856 Philip followed and declared at the port of entry he was bound for Chicago.  He was already thirty-two years old, not an especially young man in those days.

So many immigrant stories begin with peasants buying passage to the promised-land only to arrive on our teeming shore to find the tired, poor, huddled masses were still pretty tired and poor.  And those fleeing from political unrest and persecution often found more of the same in America.  Yet, they came and they adopted America as their home and when war broke out, they chose a side and took a stand. 

I can’t even imagine what either Philip Perie or his mother must have felt when he’d been here just nine years and The American Civil War broke out.  I don’t know whether he enlisted immediately or waited until he was draft; whether he joined the Army for the regular paycheck, as many immigrants did, or if he truly believed in the cause of the union is lost to history.  But he fought and for the rest of his life he was proud of that service. 

I’m including a couple of pictures of Grandpa Perie in front of a giant flag; I don’t know if the Uncle-Sam-look is by design or perhaps the iconic recruiting mascot is modelled after Philip’s generation.  Even with so many questions remaining, doesn’t this old man simply exude patriotism?  Doesn’t he rather make you want to take your own stand for liberty?

Our brave soldiers, sailors and Marines have marched into battle for many different reasons over the years and every one of them ought to be remembered with great pride.  There are many things I would change in our nation today if I had the power, and our liberties do seem to be under attack on many sides.  But we still enjoy the greatest freedom on earth and that freedom has never been free.

Please say thank you to a vet today.

Final Stop on The Tour of The Upper Cumberlands

We’ve spent twelve weeks touring the Upper Cumberlands through 1940’s spectacles and from the perspective of Dr. Willis Baxter Boyd in his promotional booklet The March of Progress in the Upper Cumberlands of Tennessee. Today I’d like to wrap up the tour with stops in three towns and three additional topics. 

McMinnville, TN

McMinnville, TN

If we drove this route today, it would be about fifty-seven miles up highway 56 and we would not pass any other towns on the tour.  But these three stops seem logical to group because The March booklet presented them in such a similar fashion.  Facts are presented about each location and they are certainly painted as appealing places to visit or even live.  And while the vast resources of the area are detailed, there doesn’t seem to be any real effort to recruit industry to these towns. 

Furthest north of this group is Carthage, Tennessee.  This is the first town in the booklet that wasn’t accompanied by a motto; it is simply presented as the county seat of Smith County.  Carthage does sit at the confluence of the Caney Fork and Cumberland Rivers.   It is the last point at which the Cumberland River makes a junction with a railroad since the Tennessee Central had a branch line into Carthage.

Farming of various stock and crops was the primary industry in Carthage with burley tobacco being the second highest means of cash in the county.  The highest ranking crop was not named.  The average size of farms was sixty-three acres.

No doubt due to the ease of transportation and the great supply of tobacco, five large warehouses were established by the Carthage Tobacco Board of Trade and bought tobacco from fifteen counties.

Just twenty-seven miles south you will find Smithville, “The City of Hospitality and Friendliness”.  The county seat for DeKalb County, Smithville was home to Consolidated Bus Lines, Seven Springs Health Resort and a “government owned and operated airport and [aviation] radio station.”

The Seven Springs Resort seemed to have all the same water that Red Boiling Springs had, as we discussed here a couple of weeks ago.  However, I found it very interesting that the resort was minimalized in the booklet’s article.  It made me wonder whether that resort was ever as large as Red Boiling Springs had been.  However, an internet search yielded no answers.  Neither The Smithville City Hall website nor Wikipedia makes any mention of the resort nor does it have a site of its own.  Perhaps one of you readers will know more about this; if so I sure hope you’ll leave a comment.

Our final stop is McMinnville, “The Southern Gateway to the Upper Cumberland.”  This county seat for Warren County lies on Highway 70-S which The March bills as “The Broadway of America”, the longest cross-country highway in America.  There were six other “important roadways” radiating to all points on the compass. 

The article lists advantages in locationand natural environment being service by the Sparta branch of the N.C. & St.L Railway.  Ten manufacturers and at least five nurseries were already located in Warren County. The nurseries had annual receipts exceeding one million dollars in 1940 – that’s more than $16 million in today’s money.

The booklet includes a map of areas served by Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation within the Carthage article, however, there is no text accompanying the map, nor is there any detail given within the article.  Prior to the establishment of TVA, private electric companies like this one could be established and serve a given area.  While it’s certainly possible there were other companies serving the region, the immense white space on this map is startling to my 21st century eyes.  There is another map for McMinnville Electric system  which shows coverage in DeKalb, Cannon, Warren, Van Buren and White counties.  This map has even more white space than the Upper Cumberland Electric.

TC Engine 1.jpg

The March booklet also gives a two-page mention to the Tennessee Central Railway Company, noting it is “The Road of Personal Service”.  Unfortunately, very little information is given about the railway itself which struggled with financial difficulties for decades and finally terminated passenger service to the Eastern division in 1955 and ran its last train in 1968.  Still, this railway was a lifeline for the plateau for over sixty years.

Several previous articles in this series have well established that the booklet’s author was certainly an equestrian enthusiast.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that he promotes the Tennessee Walking Horse for mountainous and hill country.  In this article, he gives great detail to the blood lines for pure breds and I was particularly interested that he points out the value of Walkers for pleasure as well as farm utility.  Remember that this book was written when there were still few tractors on farms in the Upper Cumberlands so horses and mules were harnessed every day.  He also gives mention to the W.J. Evins Stables both in the Smithville article as well in an article of its own.

I’ve really enjoyed working my way through this old document and sharing it with you.  It stretched my understanding of “The Upper Cumberlands” because a lot of the places we’ve discussed are what we would consider “under the mountain”.  Certainly some of the towns were more dynamic and interesting, and after reading this book I want to spend more time in some of them and want to learn even more about others.  I’d sure love to go stay in one of those historic hotels in Red Boiling Springs and I’m ever more fascinated by the history of Monterey.  I intend to finish reading Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age and see if Jamestown shines forth from the pages; and I certainly want to learn more about The Free Hill Community near Celina and Virginia Hill who freed slaves and left her children in our mountains.  I hope you enjoyed the series and that it’s given you a bit fresher perspective on some of our neighboring towns.

Domain of Cumberland County

We are nearing the end of our Tour of the Upper Cumberlands and this stop in Crossville is a very familiar one to me and to all of my regular blog readers.  I’ll link some past articles where I can in this week’s story.

For most of my life, Crossville was "town", it was THE PLACE to go if you needed anything.  Going ‘off the mountain’ was not something we routinely did, therefore Cookeville wasn’t a regular destination and we certainly didn’t go to Knoxville, Chattanooga or Nashville unless someone was very sick or coming in on an airplane – and the two were equally rare. 

Crossville has changed so much in my lifetime that it’s really hard for me to imagine what people who well-remember the town in 1940 must think.  The March of Progress booklet notes that it has a population of 2,000 people in town.  Compare that to the 2013 population of 11,246 and we can already see the immense change.  In 1940, there was “a $20,000 air-conditioned moving house” – ah that would have been the old Palace Theatre which very thankfully has now been fully restored and continues to be a source of entertainment for Cumberland County. 

When this historic booklet was produced, the CCC’s still had two companies at work in what is now The Cumberland Mountain State Park.  The book notes the recreational opportunities at the park as well as mentioning a total of ten lakes in Cumberland County for fishing. 

Image from: http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/cumberland-mountain

Image from: http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/cumberland-mountain

The Homesteads, which we’ve previously discussed here, are mentioned especially noting the hosiery mill and furniture factories located there.

Overall, this article seems to be recruiting farmers as it notes that only 20 percent of the county is currently in farms.  There are several mentions that homes and land can be had at very low cost and the profitability of livestock and vegetables are strongly touted. 

Only passing mention is given to Pleasant Hill.  The Pleasant Hill Academy had been in operation since 1884 and in the early 1920’s a medical clinic was established there which would grow into the modern Cumberland Medical Center (we’ve discussed that here in regards to health care on the mountain).  However, I suppose by 1940 the focus of Cumberland County had adequately shifted to Crossville so that the author of this promotional booklet felt little attention was needed in Pleasant Hill.  The academy would close just seven years later and by 1950 the Uplands Hospital would have relocated to the south side of Crossville as Cumberland Medical Center.

I just really love this directional sign now located on the courthouse lawn in Crossville.  I hope you can enlarge it on your screen to show that it gives general direction and miles to towns from Albany to the north, Chattanooga to the south, Knoxville to the east and Nashville to the west.

I just really love this directional sign now located on the courthouse lawn in Crossville.  I hope you can enlarge it on your screen to show that it gives general direction and miles to towns from Albany to the north, Chattanooga to the south, Knoxville to the east and Nashville to the west.