Tennessee Mountain Stories

Being Prepared

I was pretty sure I wanted to talk with you this week about last week’s weather scare.  Now don’t think I’m going to waste much space railing against the National Weather Service or the meteorolgists I listen to everyday.  And I’m going to try not to preach at you – but I’m more likely to lean toward the preaching than complaining.

I was torn between talking about problems with predictions (we’ll have to come back to that topic one day soon) and being prepared…preparedness won this week possibly because the preacher talked about Solomon on Sunday and my children’s bible reading has been in 1 Kings for the last week where they too were learning about the wisest king.

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So the weatherman said it would snow last week.  The temperatures were going to plummet and an overnight rain would freeze making travel miserable and in my estimation tearing down power lines leaving us all quietly in the dark.  Then we all started getting ready – well the more prudent of our society anyway.  Schools cancelled, roads were sprayed and at my house we filled water containers (when the power goes out our well pump quits), carried in wood and made sure there was plenty of food in the house.  I’m sure hoping you’ll click “comments” below and tell me how you prepared.

The people of the mountain are used to taking care of themselves and getting ready for hard times – we’ve been doing these things in one form or another since the first settlers walked onto the Plateau.  Of course things are a little different, these days we need to ensure gas tanks are filled (both automobiles and LP tanks) and not too many of us still have a well with a bucket so if you aren’t on city water you have to fill bottles and buckets like me. 

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There’s a whole movement in our time of “preppers” – they’ve even had their own reality TV shows.  These people are preparing for various disasters and sometimes they’re pretty funny.  I tend to listen to them and think, “We’ve always done these things.” Well we’re farmers and Proverbs 28:19 tells us that if you till your land you’ll have plenty of bread – so every spring we fire up tractor or tiller and turn the ground for taters and beans.  When the snow comes that’s food that will see you through. 

Proverbs 6:6-8 directs our attention to the ants that have no one to tell them what time to clock into work, still they gather food in the harvest; we take that instruction and every summer we pick beans, dry apples, bale hay and fatten a calf, hog or flock of chickens.  These things we lay by for the winter months that will produce nothing but empty stomachs.

The predictions were a little off last week but my preparations were not wasted.  Wood stacked in the dry will be burned another day and the water uses the same out of gallon jugs as it does from the spigot.  I’d always rather be over-prepared and use up the supplies in good weather.  And while I cannot explain some of the decisions King Solomon made in his time, The good Lord chose to record Solomon’s lessons for very good reasons and if I can only apply and practice them then I will be prepared for hard times – whether bad weather, poor economies or spiritual trials – and can survive those times is relative comfort.

The History behind Margaret’s Faith

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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!