Tennessee Mountain Stories

The History behind Margaret’s Faith

Philip Perie.jpg

Last week I told you a little about the story in Margaret’s Faith and I have been hearing great things from you readers – I want to thank each one of you who have read the book and said such kind things.  And, as always, I want to urge you to leave your thoughts in a review at Amazon.com – or any other book review site you choose.  That is really the best way we can get the word out that this book is worth your time to read.

I’ve told you here before that my books are inspired by my people.  The mountain people are notorious storytellers.  It’s a culture that I relish and I’m always trying to get folks to tell me their very own stories.  Well most families have stories that they’ve passed down through the years.  They are stories that grow with the retelling until they become legends.  And that’s what my family did with the life of our most recent immigrant.  He was my Great-Great-Great Grandfather and he and his brother came from Italy just before The Civil War. 

We’ve kept alive the story that his mother wanted her boys safe from the troubles in 19th century Italy and in the great land of opportunity that America promised to be.  She worked at any job she could get to save their fare.  Then she sent them off across the sea – and that’s the end of what we remember about that precious woman! 

The boys came to America and settled in Chicago, IL just in time to be drawn into their new nation’s great civil war.  Grandpa Philip Perie was patriotic until his dying day, often posing in an Uncle-Sam-type suit before an American flag.  We tell of his service to the Union Army as though he were a great war hero. 

He was raised in the Catholic faith, though we have neither evidence nor stories that he was devout.  His Italian-Catholic values differed from those of our Appalachian-Scots-Irish ancestors and those difference are often emphasized in the legend.

He married a young girl from what is now North Cumberland County, Tennessee and took her back with him to the big city.  It’s not hard to imagine the shadow that beginning would lend to any story from the mountain. 

So these are the characters that I began with when I started writing Margaret’s Faith – that combined with the story my family has been telling for better than 150 years  I always want to stress that the novels are fiction (as the very definition of “novel” demands) and the stories behind them are only inspiration.  There is never enough information from these stories to create an historical treatise so I’ve opted to use the heart of the story and create the rest based on lots of research and long knowledge of the people of the mountain. 


Margaret’s Faith - what's it all about?

Last week I officially introduced Margaret’s Faith to you.  Today I thought I’d share some of the story with you…


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Margaret Elmore reads every printed word she can find.  She longs to see the glamorous and adventure-filled world that she’s read about.  But in 1863, her father is trying to keep his family out of the way of two warring armies.  That means staying close to home on their farm on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. 

Then one October morning Union soldier Philip Berai wanders onto the farm.  Lawrence Elmore’s first thought is to protect the family and home from a possible raiding party.  But this lone soldier turns out to be a danger to only one member of the family, Margaret.  He weaves a story of emigrating from Italy with a dream of building a great fortune.  Eighteen year old Margaret is mesmerized and when Philip leaves a few days later, she runs after him.

Margaret turns a blind eye to the differences in this man’s values and her family’s.  She ignores God’s gentle prodding.

They marry and travel together to Chicago where Philip was living with his brother before the war.  When they arrive, Margaret quickly realizes there is little glamour in this city life.  But she has been raised to hard work and devotion to family.  Without question, she begins to make a home for her new husband. 

I hope you will enjoy walking with Margaret from northern Cumberland County, Tennessee to Chicago, Illinois. You will taste the life on a borderland farm – caught between two warring armies as the people of the Plateau were during The Civil War.   You may even feel the internal battle Margaret wages when her eyes are finally opened to her situation.  Can you identify with her struggle to find joy in the things the world considers desirable? Maybe there’s been a time when you’ve had to face The Lord and admit you rebelled against His will for your life.

You will see a young woman among evil surroundings trying to live a godly life.  And you will see her begin to bloom where she is planted.


Introducing Margaret’s Faith


You've been hearing me talk about Margaret's Faith - and promising it's upcoming publication - for way too long now.  Well if you follow "Author Beth Durham" on Facebook you will have seen the announcement earlier this week that the books have arrived and I’m now delivering them to the retail outlets.  That’s a very exciting moment, if a nerve-wracking one.  Anytime I set one of my creations out on its own there’s a bit of unease as I wait to see if it will succeed or fail; if it will be loved or hated.  Well Margaret’s Faith is so special to me that those feelings are really compounded.   

Over the next few weeks I’ll share a little more about how this book came about and just what it’s all about.  Today I just wanted to let you know that the day has finally arrived.

Way back in December 2017 I shared this blog about Why I Write.  That article talked about Plans for Emma but my purpose is unchanged.  In fact, that article also mentions a trilogy that I have about ½ finished.  Well, you guessed it, Margaret’s Faith is book 1. 

This story is about a mountain girl, but she flees her mountain heritage and it doesn’t take her long out in the wide world to realize how good she really had it back on the Cumberland Plateau.  That’s is no doubt a theme that will ring true with many of you – as it does with me.  I would love for a young reader to learn a lesson from Margaret’s dissatisfaction and eventual rebellion and not have to suffer as this character did.

The books are available now at Hall’s Family Pharmacy in both Jamestown and Clarkrange.  And, you an order Margaret’s Faith at Amazon as either a paperback or ebook.

I truly want to know what you think of the book – and remember reviews are the very best way to let people far and near know about it so be sure to leave one on Amazon or Goodreads, or any other platform you use.

If you can’t get your own copy of the book before next Thursday, I’ll share a synopsis of the story then.

Learnin' Music

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Music is a huge part of our mountain history.  It came with us from the old country and the sounds of Ireland and Scotland can still be heard in it.  It’s a subject I’ve visited here before (more than once actually) and no doubt I’ll light on it again somewhere down the road.  I’m not particularly musical although I’ve always longed to be able to make music as my ancestors did.  Childhood piano lessons have served a few congregations who were hard-up for a piano-player and my squeaky fiddle is a joy to me if no one else.  Still I am determined.  So I’m going to teach my children – or rather have them taught.

Ruthie kept asking to play my fiddle so a tiny instrument was under the Christmas tree this year.  Caleb got his guitar last Christmas and we’ve been making a little progress on it. 

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T.E. Hixson was my Great-Great-Grandfather and he made instruments and taught and played with his children and grandchildren.  In fact, my grandmother remembers having child-sized instruments and hearing that with each birth he would declare what instrument the child would play and immediately begin making it for him or her.  These precious toys were so commonplace in their home and family that when they moved out of the house they left them behind. 

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Grandpa Hixson’s children all played – in fact none of us knew my Great Grandmother (and his eldest child) could play until she was an old woman and I pulled out one of his fiddles.  She took it in her hands and said, “I don’t know if I can even pick out a tune anymore.”

As we embark on this journey of teaching and learning, practicing and improving I’m thrilled every time I hear them pick up their instruments and make their own little music.  And I can’t help but wonder what the Hixson home sounded like all those years ago.  As the day’s work wrapped up and a calm moment could be found, did different ones go back to their guitar, mandolin and fiddle?  Did one hear a few notes picked out and immediately want to join in?  Can’t you see the living room with one young son on his guitar and a sister comes trotting in, fiddle in hand?

Yet I know that they were not immediately proficient at the art.  There would have been years and years of missed notes, squeaky licks and slow improvement.  Were Grandma and Grandpa excited to hear their little musicians trying and trying?  Or did they grow tired of the noise and long to listen just to the birds or the crickets?   I imagine it was a little of both.  And how many times did Grandpa join in with the children?  Was he more often the instigator of their family-jam-sessions?

Of course their day without televisions and tablets, phones ringing or texts dinging surely made it easier to appreciate the efforts their children were putting into music.  It’s harder these days with so many things vying for our attention – not just the children’s attention but mine as well.  And it’s harder still because we have to find a teacher and get to him at the appointed hour.  How beautiful it is to imagine a father just slowly and quietly teaching his children, and teaching by example as he played each instrument.

I already know we’ll soon revisit the music of the mountains for I have a friend who has fiddles her grandfather handmade.  I’m really looking forward to getting that great story and sharing it with you!

A Suggested New Year's Resolution

Happy New Year!  This is the time of year that many of us look at our lives, consider our goals and make an ambitious plan for a happy and productive year.  We used to have a pastor whose first sermon almost every year was on the same topic, “Read your Bible”.  It’s a great topic, one I need to hear at least once a year, and one that never grows old.  Well I don’t know what topic the good Lord is urging for this Sunday but as luck would have it, my undated devotional gave me the same reminder recently. 

As I thought about the little lesson I read, and remembered those annual sermons, I again realized how blessed I am just to be able to read my Bible.  Yes, we live in a free country where our Bibles are within arm’s reach and visible for anyone to see (you can say “Praise The Lord” here).  And all books – including Bibles – are readily available to us (Amen and Hallelujah!).  Yet the most amazing fact of all is that according to “Our World in Data”, 83% of the world’s population can read! 

Now I’ve marveled here before about the wealth of books that we enjoy.  Many mountain homes historically were lucky to have just the one book (a Bible) and luckier still to have someone in the home that could actually read from it.  Learning to read was first and foremost a skill to allow you to read God’s Holy Word. 

Do you know the history of Bible translations?  An untold number of brave men and women gave their very lives trying to get the Bible printed in English.  In the 15th century the church felt the common man was either unable to read it with understanding, or maybe even undeserving of it.  Of course there are still struggles to get scripture translated into foreign languages. The Christian Post reported here in 2015 that 57% of the world’s languages still do not have a Bible translation.  That kind of seems unbelievable to us, doesn’t it?   

So we have the books and we have the skills – are we using them?  This would be a great time to start.