New Potatoes

Most homes on the mountain have a little vegetable garden – okay, most of the gardens are pretty big.  And potatoes are one of our main staples.  You may recall I mentioned here that I was raised to understand you needed bread with every meal, well you gotta’ have ‘taters too. 

This time of year (or a little earlier if you were ambitious in February) the gardens begin to yield little new potatoes.  We boil them in their skins with a little oil (bacon drippings or lard if you’ve got it), slather them in butter, add salt and pepper and it’s one of the best meals of the summer.  Well at least it seems like it at the time because if you raised your potato crop by this time of year they’re pretty shrivelled and soft.  And after all, we only get “new” potatoes for a little while before the skins start to get thick and you’re wanting to peel them.

Maybe I’m so thrilled to get these potatoes because of the childhood memories they trigger.  My whole life I remember going to the garden with Grandpa Livesay and digging out a mess of taters.  The dirt around the plants was loose and piled high on the stems so my fat little-girl fingers could just about scoop them right out of the ground.  He’d carefully drive a pitchfork in and we’d all exclaim over the number of little white spuds that popped out – after all this is the prediction of the winter’s potato crop and we thought we’d starve if we didn’t raise a bountiful enough crop. 

My grandpa was not a Christian until the very end of his life yet he always knew The Good Lord was providing this produce by the sweat of our brow – well mostly his brow.

Joy and Ricky Orias

Joy and Ricky Orias

With our day’s harvest in a bucket we’d go to the barn where there were barrels of rainwater caught for cleaning things like this.  Since we no longer needed to catch the water for drinking, you could plunge your hands straight into the cool barrels, cleaning both the food and the child.

We have missionaries from The Phillipines staying with us, and partaking of tonight’s early summer treat.  I asked if they grow this kind of potatoes – sweet potatoes are a staple for them.  She said, yes but we don’t eat the skins.  I bet she has a similar childhood memory for she grew up on a farm as well and little girls on farms have gotta’ have similar memories, don’t you think?

The Stories Online


Have you ever Googled your own name made the shocking revelation that most of us have some web-presence these days?  Publishers tell us authors we must have such a presence and we are always working to build our audience – after all if you’ve got a story to tell you want to tell a whole bunch of people don’t you?

While chatting with a friend recently some subject came up and I said, “Hey I wrote a blog about that”.  So I whip out my handy-dandy smart phone and search “Tennessee Mountain Stories” plus the subject of the moment.  What popped up was an “Interview with Beth Durham”. 

Huh?  What interview?

Well, I’m always talking about Tennessee Mountain Stories to pretty much anyone that will listen – and quite a few folks that tune me out.  And here was someone who not only listened but took notes!

You see homework can now be found on the World Wide Web and I had in fact answered some questions for my communications-major-niece.

It’s kind of fun to read through someone else’s summary of your work and I thought you good readers might enjoy this piece as well.  You can click here to see Anna Grace’s article.

Decoration Day 2017

I got a chance to visit the Whittaker Cemetery this week on Decoration Day and was reminded of a story Clyde Whittaker had told me about the origins of that cemetery.


The land for the cemetery was donated by one of Clyde’s ancestors, John Whittaker.  He lived near one of the corners of the land and when his mother passed away, they buried her in the back yard.  So, when the town of Monterey grew to the point that a public cemetery was needed, he donated this property. 

Relatives of John Whittaker Stone.jpeg

Mrs. Whittaker’s original stone has been lost but a modern stone marks that plot as the earliest grave.  Nearby are two graves marked by a single stone but with no names, only noted as relatives of John Whittaker.  And, there are no dates on Mrs. Whittaker’s stone.  nHowever, on Ancestry I found John Whittaker III who lived 1783 – 1869. 

Whittaker Cemetery Tent Grave A.jpg

This old cemetery has some of the tent graves we’ve talked about here before.  I was surprised to see a 1938 date on one tent grave as I would’ve thought that tradition had died by then.  And a son of John Whittaker III was buried in 1900 under a tent grave.

You know I’m always asking for the whys and hows of settlements and such so it’s exciting to hear an legend like this one about the origins of Whittaker Cemetery.

Wedding Memories


Well it’s the wedding season.  These days, June is the preferred month for brides, although only by a slim margin over August (0.6% more).   I love to hear stories about people’s weddings and as I’ve mentioned here before the old stories are very different from today’s. 

At a recent friends’ wedding someone commented that the bride’s day started before 7:00 because she had so much to accomplish before the afternoon ceremony.  I couldn’t help but think how different that day was compared with brides through history.

Diane Franklin recounted a story I love about her own wedding day.  It was 1965 and her family home had been crudely wired but there was still no running water.  But she was intent upon having a bath on her wedding day.  So she started her day by drawing water, heating it on the stove and filling a corrugated tub.  Her fiancé had moved up north to work in Ohio and picked her up in his 1964 Plymouth. 

There don’t seem to be any stories on the mountain of church weddings until the early 1960’s and I can’t seem to ferret out the inspiration to start this tradition – you will recall that all of the Appalachian stories I hear are about weddings in the preacher’s living room or the courthouse.  I suppose there were always some such ceremonies in town by the few somewhat wealthier families.  It seems like once a few folks started marrying in church the tradition took root pretty quickly.

Of course it helped that the groom in today’s story, Lewis, was doing pretty well.  He’d waited to marry until he found steady work and had good prospects for his future.  He bought flowers to decorate the church, someone took photographs and the bride’s sisters were attendants. 

So I’m curious about your stories.  What is the earliest church, or large formal, wedding you’ve heard about on the mountain?  Just click “comments” below.

Ya’ Don’t Say

You know that I’m fascinated by the origins our our mountain speech and you may recall an article here where an early 20th century author related our language to that of classic poets.  Well last Sunday the pastor brought to my attention just how much of our language is borrowed directly from The Bible and I wanted to share some of those phrases with you.

The website Unlocking the Bible lists 37 phrases and gives their scriptural reference.  Many we’d probably immediately peg as biblical such as:  “An eye for an eye” and “Forbidden fruit”.  But did you know that “Nothing but skin and bones” comes straight out of Job 19:20?  I would have attributed “Rise and shine” to someone like Benjamin Franklin, however he probably borrowed it from Isaiah 60:1.  “Wash your hands of the matter” seems decidedly Appalachian to me yet it originated in Matthew 27:24 with Pilate’s attempt to distance himself from Jesus’ crucifixion. 

“Go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “Fly in the ointment” (Ecclesiastes 10:1) and “Wit’s end” (Psaslm 107:27) are so common I never gave any thought to their origin.

The website The Guardian doesn’t give the specific scriptural reference but offers a long list of phrases from the Bible which you might enjoy reading through.  “The powers that be,” “God forbid” and “Bottomless pit” often come from my mouth and I’m afraid I got them more from my mountain surroundings than directly from reading my Bible.

You know that I’m always a little fuzzy on which words and phrases are unique to the mountains – and I’m often asking ya’ll to tell me if you hear these things in your neck of the woods.  Since these lists came from off-the-mountain sources it makes me think they are widely used but I’m always eager to hear your input.

The Bible has fallen out of vogue in a lot of America today – specifically in main stream media.  I suppose I’ll be listening to those anchors and actors to hear how many bible-terms they use without even knowing they’re doing it.