World's Longest Yard Sale

Since 1987, the first weekend in August has seen an amazing influx of visitor from around the world to our little plateau as they both vendors and shoppers come to the Highway 127 Corridor sale.  Today, the sale reaches from Addison, Michigan to Gadsden, Alabama making it six hundred ninety miles of rummage.

Who doesn’t love a good deal?  And I’m betting more than a few of you readers appreciate yesterday’s treasures as much as I do.  Today, I‘m thinking not just about the stuff to be found along this sale but also about the route itself.

Have you ever driven down a country road and wondered what it might have been like to make that drive, walk or horseback ride way back when?  If you haven’t, I challenge you to ask that question sometime, even if it’s a road you’ve traveled many times. 

Roads are built and re-built, changing their paths slightly.  Certainly as we’ve become more adept at slicing through the geographic features, we’ve straightened both hills and curves.  Yet there are many features that remain unchanged.  Even after major route changes, you can often still see a hint of the old path.  Can you close your eyes and imagine you’re seeing it for the very first time.  Imagine you’re the first non-native to enter the area.  Picture what it must have looked like to the long hunters, the trappers or the earliest pioneers.  

In his novel Jubal Sackett, author Louis L’Amour wrote about a seventeenth century explorer who walked across our Cumberland Plateau seeking a new home for his family.  He found the ideal place in the Sequatchie Valley.  As I read the story many years ago, I quickly realized where he was at and that may have been the first time I thought about just what our home would have looked like to those early explorers.  It’s hard to imagine the mountain without power lines, pavement or houses but it’s intriguing to try.

If you are visiting the corridor sale nextweekend, try to see beyond the tents and tables and to the countryside.  If you are driving very far at all, imagine riding in a creaking wagon with little or no suspension or even walking behind the wagon to spare the horse pulling your weight along with the weight of all your worldly possessions. 

Photos courtesy of Fentress County Chamber of Commerce

Photos courtesy of Fentress County Chamber of Commerce

If you travel beyond the neighborhoods you normally frequent, look into the faces of the people.  I find the differences awfully interesting.  Even from Albany, Kentucky to Pikeville, Tennessee the people who settled here were different in many ways.  Listen to the accents; just last week we talked about Appalachian English, can you hear the change in dialect after one hundred miles? 

It’s often hard for me to remember the relative difference in distances.  Over the four days of this year's sale, many of you will travel two or three hundred miles.  Some will travel the entire length of the sale.  Given the traffic in some areas, your speed may match that of a pedestrian or horse drawn wagon.  However, we normally can drive a hundred miles in just a couple of hours.  In the early nineteenth century, many people lived out their entire lives never travelling that far. 

As I considered the communities you would pass through just in Fentress County, I thought maybe this would be a good time to take an historic look at some of our regional towns.  Let’s plan to do that over the next few weeks and we can start in the Fentress’ county seat, Jamestown.

Finally, just a bit of scheduling news.  I’ve been telling you about this book I’m hoping to publish by summer’s end.  Well, I’m very close and need to concentrate on it for a few weeks.  So I will only be publishing on the blog every 10-14 days through the middle of September.  Please consider leaving your email address in the “subscription” box on the right hand side of the page, that way, whenever I publish a new story, it will come right to your inbox and it’s perfectly free to you.   Thank  you for your patience with me during these very busy weeks.

Appalachian Pride

I recently read a news article about a West Virginia University professor, Kirk Hazen, who has written numerous books and articles about Appalachian English.  It was entitled “A push to restore pride in the way Appalachians speak”. (professor, Kirk Hazen, who has written numerous books and articles about Appalachian English.  Now if you’ve been reading my blog you’ll know this is a subject close to my heart and you’ll probably hear me talk about it again.  But today’s article really grew into more – as they so often do!

In 1975 June Carter Cash released an album entitled Appalachian Pride.  I confess, I never knew this song but was thrilled when I came across the lyrics which talk about an Appalachian man living in Chicago and dealing with, “Dirty movies, credit cards and bills past due again”; so he pulled up stakes and went home to the mountains where they don’t have much money but there’s “ham in the smokehouse, some flour in the bin, molasses, cans and beans until the crop comes in,” and they have their dignity.

Country music has celebrated the pride of the South for years, unfortunately, too many lyrics were written about the sadder side of the mountains and I’m not sure they’ve done a lot to truly encourage us to be proud of our mountain heritage.  Not to fear, we didn’t need them to tell us who we are and where our worth comes from.

A lot of research has been done on the culture of the Appalachian Mountains and the findings for many years said the people were disconnected from the civilized world, impoverished and uneducated.  Again and again one movement or another has wanted to go in and fix the whole people.  The beauty of what Doctor Hazen is writing is that we are not a people to fix but rather a culture to appreciate. 

And that’s what we are doing here, isn’t it - appreciating the mountain people!

As more objective research comes to light, we begin to see that those remote communities really preferred their isolation.  These were people who chose to live in the mountains and to maintain their own culture.  This is not unlike city neighborhoods where immigrants from one nation or another settled together.  The Chinese or Italian or Irish people went out into the city and took jobs and blended into the American melting pot through the day then went home and ate the food, celebrated the traditions and spoke the language of their homeland.  The ancestry of the mountains is strongly Scotch-Irish and those people simply clung to their own traditions and language in their mountain home.

The University of South Carolina published a dictionary of Southern English which I found absolutely fascinating both in what it included as well as what I did not find.  I’ve bookmarked that site and will refer to it many times, I’m sure.  I made a short list of words common to us that were not included there and then I conducted a little poll asking if others knew these words.  I’ll be interested to hear from some of you readers whether you’ve encountered these terms in other parts of the world.

Poke is something you can carry your groceries home in.  The Scottish know that word, and Midwesterners were familiar with it but surprisingly a Mississippian did not.  I began to wonder if this was truly an Appalachian word but a Californian did not recognize it.

Arsh Taters are the staple, starchy vegetable of most of our meals.  I always imagined arsh was our version of Irish, and my Mississippi resource called them Irish but no one else I polled gave them a name at all.  Perhaps that is because Sweet Potatoes are so truly southern that other regions never needed to differentiate. 

Set a great store by is a great way to measure the value you place on a person or object.  Neither Mississippi nor California used this phrase but it was familiar to Scotland, and the Midwest. 

Of course, this wasn’t really a scientific sampling since I only asked one person from each region.  And I didn’t throw Y’uns, Coil Oil, or Pone at them. Are those three common to all of you?

Long time readers will recall the novel I presented a little over a year ago, The Lewis Story.  I wrote that in the mountain vernacular and it was a challenge for me.  Speaking our dialect is as natural as breathing, but I’ve never been allowed to write it.  However, as I’m editing that work in preparation to publish an eBook I am realizing that the use of jour native speech really does add a sense of authenticity to the story.  I hope you think so as well, and I look forward to your reviews of that book when it publishes in a couple of months.

The Bible urges Christians to “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).  Perhaps we ought to also be ready to answer where we’re from and why we’re proud of it.


Clarkrange Soiree

Seventeen years ago, Mike and Barbara Cross wanted to have a few friends over, roast hot dogs and shoot off some fireworks on the Fourth of July.  The fifty to sixty person crowd in 1998 consisted mostly of their family and a few close friends.  Last Friday the annual event drew over three thousand people. 

While the first little cookout was designed mainly for the Cross’ grandchildren, subsequent gatherings were expanded to include the whole neighborhood then the Clarkrange community.  Now, it is the largest community event in the Upper Cumberlands and attracts folks from all around the tri-county area. 

After a couple of years, Mr. Cross was involved in a mobile bar-b-que business and with the expertise and equipment so readily available, it naturally became a part of the annual party.  Now, instead of a simple weaner roast, they are offering a full bar-b-que meal.  Of course, that means his wife began making gallons of potato salad, baked beans and cole slaw.  This year, she and just a couple of other ladies cooked two days straight to provide the sides for 2,500 plates.

Three years ago, Judge Todd and Tracy Burnett joined the Crosses as hosts.  Both couples said that this is their opportunity to give something back to the community.  In fact, I thought Judge Burnett expressed it very beautifully when he said they felt so blessed to be part of the community and that the people had done a lot for them and their families through the years and they want to do something in return.   

While both gentlemen are involved in county politics, they have never allowed the Soiree to be a political event.  Various Representatives, Senators and Judges attend each year, but no campaign speeches are given and no one’s agenda is advocated.  Even close-knit communities can be divided by elections and the hosts’ commitment further underscores the sense of community in this annual affair.

I’ve been talking all year about visiting and getting re-acquainted with neighbors and friends.  Well, the spirit of these hosts absolutely exemplifies my point.  From opening their own home to organizing the expanded event at the local park, they are willing to put forth an enormous amount of energy to serve and entertain their community.  The Soiree allows us to get to know our neighbors, renew old friendships and forge new ones.  I saw people there that I haven’t seen in years and resolved to keep in better contact with them. I had to ask names for more than one person and met a number of new friends. 

For the first time, this year’s Soiree was held at the Park in Clarkrange and there was something for everyone there.  From food and music to bouncy houses and face painting, no age group was forgotten.  The playground equipment as well as athletic fields at the park, heightened the entertainment level with pickup basketball and touch football games and lots of laughter from swings, slide and sandbox.

The fun culminates in an incredible display of fireworks that seemed to punctuate all of the afternoon’s events.

Photo courtesy of Amber Key

Photo courtesy of Amber Key

UPDATE:  Originally, I posted a video clip of the fireworks.  However, my web host required me to post that using You Tube.  Unbeknownst to me, You Tube followed up my clip with suggestions for other You Tube videos.  Please know that I in no way made those suggestions, nor did I have any control over them.  I surely hope I caused no offense to any of you dear readers and if I did, please accept my heartfelt apology.      BD

 

Sweet Pickin's

The blackberries are getting ripe and it seems early, but I guess the summer is just getting away from me.  I’m always excited to see those bright red berries begin to darken, it’s a sweet gift from God.  Okay, all of our food is a gift from God, but when I see blackberries springing up from abandoned fields or forgotten fence corners it seems somehow special to me.

Farming, or even a little vegetable garden takes a lot of work - one day, we’ll probably talk about the rigors of reaping a living from our sandy mountain soil.  However, there’s no work to growing blackberries.  In fact, if you aren’t very careful, they will grow in lots of places you never intended.  So it might be easy to see them as a curse you have to fight against.  But there’s no curse in a blackberry pie.

It’s always hot when the blackberries are ripe and the June bugs just love them, then there is the matter of the briars.  Okay, there’s no effort required to grow blackberries but harvesting them is just a bit more of a challenge.  They do tend to grow in less than ideal locations, primarily because those are the places the cattle haven’t trampled or the bush hog hasn’t cut them back.  Still, with long sleeves and just a little care, their juicy sweetness can be had for your own table.

I love blackberry dumplings – a treat my grandmothers taught me.  Blackberry is the primary jelly on my table simply because they are the most available fruit and I’m not a huge fan of apple jelly.  Frozen or canned, the berries can be enjoyed all winter long.  And of course I’m not the first one to enjoy this wild treat.  Blackberries have been used all over the world for centuries.  In fact, according to gardenguides.com, we don’t really know their origin as they were documented by the Greeks, Romans and Native Americans as well. 

Those early cultures used the whole plant.  The root, bark and leaf were boiled for medicinal uses.  And early folklore attributes supernatural protection and healing by gathering berries during a certain sign of the moon or crawling through the brambles.

The more recent history which we tend to focus on in this blog has certainly not forgotten blackberries.  My own family has passed down many stories of picking and eating the berries, and selling berries was always a good job for young’uns that didn’t have a lot of income avenues. 

Our modern canning methods only perfected in the mid-nineteenth century.  So there was a lot of history and a lot of years of food preservation before that.  Native Americans dried blackberries, but since there aren’t any surviving recipes that use dried blackberries, or blackberry powder, I am assuming that was not widely practiced by early settlers.  It certainly isn’t a practice that’s been handed down on the plateau, unless you were taught to make blackberry wine.

With limited availability of more exotic fruits, I can only imagine that this was a summertime delicacy that would be enjoyed as long as the season permitted and then anxiously awaited until the next summer.

One of my favorite stories about blackberries happened during a time when my grandpa was unemployed.  In addition to attending stock and crops, he took every opportunity to pick berries and brought in so many blackberries that grandma grew weary of cooking and eating them.  She put in her request for blueberries instead.  In the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, the plateau also had those abundantly available.  Along with several family members, Grandpa took his wagon up to ‘the big woods’ as the woodland on Hwy 62 was known, and picked from blueberry bushes that were knee-high.  He told of sitting on a lard stand with his bucket between his feet and just raking the blueberries off. 

I understand that wild blueberries are very prolific in the New England states, but they have largely disappeared in the southeast.  Do any of you remember wild blueberries on the plateau?

Movin' on Up

Movin’ on Up

 

A few years ago I had a pickup truck and a dear friend in need.  That combination took me to Drew, Mississippi and showed me a true story of Americana that I’d like to share with you.

Bounded on the west by the might Mississippi River, the state enjoys some of the finest farm land in our nation.  As you travel eastward, the terrain rises into hilly, wooded country.  The Cooper family originated near Eupora, Mississippi.

The Cooper home near Eupora, MIssissippi

The Cooper home near Eupora, MIssissippi

I imagine life in Eupora in the early twentieth century was much like life in Appalachia and the family was doing whatever was necessary to survive.  Reuben Cooper farmed, he worked as a postmaster, he logged and worked at the local grain mill.  He was an industrious man dedicated to his family and eager to improve their situation.  Along with his wife, Cornelia Etta Cooper, they raised six children and sent all of them to college – no small feat for that generation and certainly an indication of their forward-thinking.

Sometime early in the 1920’s Mr. Cooper had an opportunity to move nearly one hundred miles west where he would at least manage and possibly buy some six hundred acres of delta-farmland.  You don’t have to have too many farm genes to realize what an opportunity that was.  In fact, I think I could find a few plateau farmers who would jump at that chance even today.  With only their two youngest children still at home, the family left their hill-country home, apparently believing they would be back for they left many of their belongings behind.  Mrs. Cooper’s brother lived in the delta area and his daughter had married into a large landholding family.  These family connections no doubt emboldened the Coopers to make the move. 

A lot of the details for the time immediately following the move are a little vague at this point, but the family initially lived in a tenement-type house but were soon able to rent a large, two-story home just outside the small town of Drew yet still close to the land; eventually they built a home in town.  They never did move back to the hills and their daughter Eddie would always regret all of the things they left behind.  Not to fear though, neighboring relations took good advantage of those items when they realized the family was gone for good.

While we don’t know the details of the land deal, nor all of the work that Mr. Cooper did once he moved to the delta, they clearly prospered.  This is obvious by the home they left behind, where Eddie would raise her family.  They furnished the house in Drew with fine 1920’s-era furniture, including a formal dining room and parlor.  Still there were remnants from their former life because Mrs. Cooper kept the kitchen table her husband built for her in the hills which sometimes doubled as a surgical table for at least one amputation had been done on it.

Eddie Cooper had already finished high school when her family moved to Drew.  She prepared herself to be a teacher and set off into the world.  She taught in a small school about fifteen miles from home where she was kept by families in the school district.  As you can well imagine, this was a time of learning and growth for her.  She had never enjoyed cooked greens, but recalled learning to eat them because that was sometimes all the family had to offer her.

While teaching in Linn, she met Milton Powell who came from one of the original delta families.  However, he was estranged from his family at that time and when he married Eddie, they returned to Drew and set-up housekeeping next door to the Coopers.  There, they would live out a long life and raise three children of their own.

Now, back to how I learned this story.  A few years ago, Mrs. Powell was forced to enter a nursing home and with her children all living out of state, the family home was left empty.  The family feared the home would be vandalized or possibly even burned and despaired for the treasures left there.  Enter my pickup truck.  I had the opportunity to drive my dear friend and Mrs. Powell’s granddaughter to Drew to collect a number of family possessions.  I guess I learned some of this story during the six hour drive to Mississippi so when I walked into that empty house, the history seemed to speak to me.  It was obvious that the family had some means but as we sorted and packed, their more humble beginnings were revealed.

America has always been about opportunity – we’re often called the Land of Opportunity – and most of our ancestors came here seeking a better life in one way or another.  So, in many ways, the Cooper’s story feels like the American dream.  Here’s this man working hard and pushing his children to get an education and better themselves.  Then, at a time in his life when many men would think of slowing down, he makes a move that would have been very significant in 1920 and seizes an opportunity to better his own situation, and improve the comfort and convenience of his wife.  It’s also the story of a man like so many early-twentieth-century husbands and fathers who steadily worked at whatever job presented itself and faithfully provided for his family.

Mr. Cooper’s steadfastness paid great dividend and was obvious to me, a stranger, half a century later.

UPDATE:  After some reader feedback, I realized I need to let you know what happened to those treasures my dear friend  and I brought back to Tennessee.

They now reside in a beautiful home in East Tennessee where Mr. Cooper’s granddaughter and great-granddaughter have made their home.  Rather than sitting behind velvet ropes in a museum, these pieces are used and loved every day.  The kitchen table, built by Reuben Cooper in the hills, has served his great-great-grandchildren many meals and witnessed yet another family building a lifetime of memories.  We always say, “If walls could talk,” but I can’t help but wonder what tales these furnishings might be able to share!