Tennessee Mountain Stories

When your Lost for Words

I am so thankful that I didn’t grow up around profane and filthy-talk.  I well remember picking up from a girl in elementary school the use of God’s name in vain and I tried it out on Mama while she was washing my hair (back in the day we’d stick our head under the faucet in the sink you know and sometimes it maybe felt a little like torture) well I let out that holy name and thought for all the world Mama would drowned me as she declared we do NOT talk that way.  I don’t think I’ve ever said it again.

I do find myself repeating phrases long held in my memory.  Sometimes I don’t remember who I learned them from and others are treasures from long lost family or friends.  Now I get a lot of grief for these sometimes but my family all says the same things and my friends are used to me by now.

“Great Day in the Morning” was the closest I ever heard my paternal grandfather come to cussing and he used it often – no doubt because we were always underfoot and he was always flabbergasted by us.  If we broke something, “Great Day in the Morning”.  If we were arguing – and we were often arguing, “Great Day in the Morning.”  If someone dis something that was just unbelievable, “Great Day in the Morning.”  My neice never knew the man on account of he went home to heaven a decade before she came into this world but guess what I hear her saying all the time… well actually she often gets it a little wrong but that’s just part of her charm.  I think she’ll say “Great Day at Night” or something like that which if maybe funnier than the way Grandpa said it.

Now I never knew my Mother’s paternal Grandfather but his memory lives on in stories.  And some of those stories helped to inspire a character in one of my books; he always said, “By Jingo”.  One reader commented on that phrase after reading Replacing Ann and thought it made the story realistic.  Well I think that old man was realistic but I’m afraid his by-word was a pseudonym for using our savior’s name in vain.  We usually only say this when we tell the stories of that particular ancestor.

I guess what got me thinking along these lines was another of my familiar phrases, “You’re not long for this world.”  Now I confess this one is usually something of a threat, usually to my husband who pesters the living daylights out of me sometimes and when I’ve had enough I tell him, “You’re not long for this world” and I puncutate that with bucko and he knows it’s time to back off.  But it’s quite a worthwhile phrase as we sometimes just know someone ain’t long for this world.  Well I’m sure you can imagine how validating it was when recently a sister in church asked for prayer for a loved one who’d been battling cancer for a long time and she said, “I just don’t think she’s long for this world”.  It was not polite that my husband elbowed me just then.

I know we keep comin’ back to this topic of mountain jargon and Appalachian English  - you’ve got to admit though, there’s a wealth of worthy subject matter there!

By the way, if you weren’t quite so blessed as me in your upbringing and you had to hear ugly talk, I do hope you’re doin’ a little better by your own children, grandchildren, cousins, neighbors, pets, pests…


Psalm 19:14       Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

Travelin’ Around

The things you can see from a Country Road!

The things you can see from a Country Road!

I love it when I bet the chance to see some of the countryside.  And I’ve talked here before about travelling a’foot and stage coach trips and all such as that.  Still, I am continually amazed by the terrain of our Cumberland Plateau – really all of the Appalachian Mountains.

We certainly recall that the rugged mountains were the primary reason our people were so isolated for about 200 years before World War II.  I guess that same rugged beauty is partly why so many people are drawn back to our mountains these days.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park averages 3 MILLION visitors per year.  Can you even imagine that many people?  Now try to imagine what the first long hunters who crossed the Smokies from the civilized East Coast would think if you told them one day their tracks would be crossed by that many people!  A little closer to home, The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area sees over 600,000 visitors annually and I have a hard enough time imagining THAT many people.


So I did have a chance to drive through Woodbury, Manchester and Murfreesboro this week and I always notice the old home sites along the way.  Those areas so significant settlement long before the Plateau and they were settlers who made a more lasting impression on the land.  Farms cleared and tilled two centuries ago can still be seen – some of them have rolls of hay or neat rows of sapling trees on them today while others are sub-divided and sprouting big, modern houses.  There are still of beautiful examples of homes – they look big to me and I can’t help but wonder if they were built to be fine or just to house the large families that were so prevalent in the 1800’s.  And there are small homes too that are obviously from a by-gone era with their multiple chimneys reminding us that a cook stove was necessary in the back of the house and another fireplace or stove in a sitting room.  Sometimes the brick have a different look – and the old brick are usually painted and I wonder why.  Often those homes seem to be in strange places – I notice them on a hill way back from the road and I realize that road moved since the house was built.  Sometimes the houses will have stairs down to the roadway because new roads had to be cut deep into the rolling hills so families added stairs to get down to the road – after all they were still walking out of their homes more often then driving out in an automobile.


I guess you can imagine that I prefer the secondary roads to our fast-paced interstates.  Really I relish the leisure to choose those routes because the usually do take longer.  Yet the extra time is always well spent and I either learn something new or at least come away with questions that drive my research!

Do you love our character-rich countryside?  Well I’d love to hear from you about that.  Please click the comments below and tell me where you like to drive on country roads and what you’ve noticed.

And if you always find yourself running 70 on the big roads, leave a little early, and check out the joy of a country road.


Taking a Little Break

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As the summer winds down and school is about to ramp up I have to confess I’m finding myself just a little tad overwhelmed!

So The Stories will take a short break this week and be back with a bang next Friday (hmmm, is there a story in guns, cannons or other noisemakers!?!)

If you aren’t receiving Tennessee Mountain Stories in your inbox each Friday morning, this might be a great time to subscribe! Just click in the box on the right hand of the screen and leave me your email address.

We’re Porch People

Well a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the dog days of summer coming early and now it’s turned off cooler than we usually expect in late July.  And it’s perfect porch weather!  You may recall from an earlier post that I’m a big fan of the Cumberland Homestead and since they’ve kindly stocked my books in their Homestead Tower Museum, I’ve been spending more time in that community of late.  The museum’s curator and I were just discussing that the houses were clearly not designed by a local person because not a one of them has a decent porch – and we are porch people.

We visit on the porch, work on the porch, rock babies, pet the dog, churn butter – most anything that needs doin’ on a hot summer day can be attended to on the porch.  And while you’re there you can watch the world go by and enjoy the lush green beauty of the mountain. Porches are therapeutic.  You can look out on the work you’ve accomplished as you see rolls of hay ready for the winter or rows of beans and corn waiting to grace the supper table.  It’s a great place to share your troubles with a friend or find God’s answers to your troubles in His word.  The porch is a cool refuge from the hot sun or a dry spot in a rain shower. 

I want to pass along two great little stories people have shared with me about porches.

Along about 1940 my great uncle Edsil Stepp was visiting his oldest sister who’d married and moved to Muddy Pond.  Aunt Wealthy wasn’t one to let much grass grow under her to so I’d imagine she had him busy and he escaped in the early evening to rest a moment on the front porch.  He heard before he could see a group of girls walking along the dirt road and when they came into view he hollered a greeting.  “Where ya’ goin’?” was a natural question for him and they told him they were on their way to church.  I’m not sure whether Roasalee Sisco was concerned for his immortal soul or  if she just thought him handsome but she spoke up and said, “You ought’a come with us.”  As any young man in his right mind would do, he hopped off that porch and went on to church with them.  They were married in the winter, and remained so for the next 63 years.

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Alvin C. York is a renowned World War I hero who hailed from the northern end of Fentress County in Pall Mall.  After Seargant York returned from the war the Nashville Rotary Club raised the money to buy him and his new bride, Miss Gracie, a home.  They build a Colonial Revival home on the 400 acre farm.  I toured the home with one of their sons who served as the park ranger there for many years.  He said her first reaction to seeing her beautiful new home, ‘we’ve got to have a porch.’  And she did – they immediately had a large front porch built.

I don’t know about you but these days I find myself running from one project to the next event or appointment.  Find some time today to sit on the porch – you’ll be glad you did.

Reunions Then and Now

This weekend I will gather with a group of extended family – relatives of my paternal great grandmother.  We’ve talked here before about how I enjoy the family reunions and looking forward to this visit I’ve been thinking just how blessed I am to know so many of my distant relatives.  One my cousins shared these pictures with me a couple of years ago and when I came across them again recently I knew I wanted to pass them along to you. 

This is the Norris family, gathered nearly 75 years ago.  Tom Norris was my great-great-grandfather and some of his siblings moved all the way off the mountain to Sparta, TN.  Now what is today a 45 minute drive must have been a whole other world in that mule-drive era because these relatives came to visit but rarely.  The day commemorated in these photos drew all of the plateau-family together for a full day of fellowship.  I don’t know that the two siblings that joined these people ever saw each other again after this day, at least not this side of heaven. 


How I wish I could sit right in the middle of that bunch today.  Can you imagine the stories?  What history they could teach us.  What characters they’d known and oh the memories they must have shared.  Tom was born in 1857 and seems to have lived his whole life on the Cumberland Plateau.  Nicey was born about 1865 their father had come from North Carolina along with his parents and at least one brother. Do you suppose that Tom and Nicey had heard the stories of that move across the Smoky Mountains to the western frontier of Tennessee? I wonder how they ever even found our plateau and why they chose to settle here?

Well despite all my questions, there’s no going back in time however I can certainly spend some time with the remaining Norris relatives.  Some of the stories from that long-ago reunion will be shared again this weekend – after all, we remember the stories only because we keep telling them.  Many of the people in these pictures will be remembered when we’re together and even though most of the people at that long ago reunion died before I ever knew them, their character lives on because we pass the memories along.