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.


I am always amazed at how quickly the weeks and month speed by me.  Well now it’s graduation season again!  I have already received three invitation (all for the same day at different schools of course!) for my cousins’ children and I’m so proud of them for reaching this milestone.

But it’s really a modern milestone for our region, isn’t it?

A couple of years ago I introduced you to Mr. Elbert Hall who overcame a lot of obstacles in order to earn his high school diploma.  In fact this man, as did most others  of his pre-WW2 generation, had to earn a lot more than the grades to finish high school.  

Most recently we’ve talked about Clyde Whittaker who graduated from Monterey School in 1943 and was probably the first in his family who could claim this accomplishment.

None of my grandparents finished high school.  Of their combined37 siblings, only 3 finished high school.  Over the years I’ve asked the family why they didn’t go to school and the answers varied.  For some it was all about money – either not having enough to buy books and such, or needing to earn money for the family.  Many, many male relatives went to work either in the fields or mines at a very young age.  Then there was a matter of location.  I don’t want to minimize Clyde’s accomplishments, but he did live within walking distance of the Monterey School.  His aunts and uncles growing up in Martha Washington didn’t have the same advantage.  Still, we know that where there’s a will there’s a way and as we talked about here the whole community worked together to keep their high school and therefore many families took in student-boarders who didn’t live close enough to get to school everyday.

When I was in high school in the 1980’s I boarded a bus at the end of my driveway.  My books were provided by the state and while my parents didn’t promote idleness, neither did they expect me to leave school to contribute to the family budget.  Yet with all of that convenience the National Center for Education Statistics reports that the rate of graduation in 1980 was just 74% and in 1995 it was down to 71%.  In fact, they report that the percentages have been generally declining since the 1960’s. 

Do you suppose that my generation and those that followed me did not hear stories like Elbert Hall’s or Clyde Whittaker’s and therefore couldn’t really appreciate the blessing and privilege of compulsory state-funded education?  Winston Churchill predicted, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 

So as you watch a sea of mortarboards stream toward a stage laden with diplomas in the next few weeks, remember the hard fought victories for education and literacy.  Say a prayer of thanks for your own diploma or GED.  And even if you have neither, you can read – you just read this!

Cooking Trends and Convenience Foods


This is a history blog.  I love history and I love learning about and even practicing the way my ancestors lived.  In fact, have I told you that I grind my own flour and bake bread a couple of times each week?  We’ve talked many times on this blog about the modern conveniences that I also enjoy and would really hate to give up.  Well have you ever thought about the modern conveniences your grandmother may have enjoyed?

I’m sure every busy woman was thrilled when she could throw her family’s clothing into an electric washer and stop scrubbing them on a board.  It was a universal relief to turn a knob on an electric stove and start cooking without having to build a fire.  And we won’t even start talking about refrigeration.

But have you ever thought about the nature of the food they were cooking? 

I’ve been assembling family favorite recipes as a gift for my niece’s upcoming wedding.  I specifically asked everyone to share recipes they’d gotten from our older relatives and my aunts really came through for me.  They gave me recipes from my Great-great Grandmother and my Great-great Aunts as well as distant cousins.  And I know these were favorite recipes or they would not have been saved so long.  So you can imagine my amazement at seeing boxed cake mix and packages of Jello among the ingredients. 

Like I said, I enjoy baking my own bread but somehow I always know that in a pinch I can run get a loaf off a shelf.  Those packages of sliced bread have only been available since 1928.  You know my grandmothers never made their own loaf bread despite baking cornbread or biscuits for almost every meal.

Baking a cake with sifted flour, adding in the baking powder and salt, then folding in the eggs seems nostalgic and is actually the healthiest way to get a dessert.  But when boxed cake mixes became available in 1947 they must have seemed miraculous.  And we’ve passed down a lot of recipes that start out with one of those boxes.

Just having self rising flour was a convenience.  While this baking combination was created way back in 1845, somehow it wasn’t readily available in rural areas for many years after that.

As we’ve become more aware of the impact that chemical preservatives have on us we seem to be cycling back to more basic foods and the old-fashioned cooking-from-scratch.  Yet I can’t help but remember that the quick trip to the store when I run short of time is a modern luxury in itself.

Now, I’d really love to hear what “convenience foods” you remember your grandmothers relying on.

Clyde’s Career

For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing stories from Clyde Whittaker’s life.  This local boy had an amazing career serving his country and I wanted to wrap up this series with a summary of that work, in his own words.

I applied to the graduate school in physics and was accepted at Florida State University.  I graduated without a job offer.  I thought I wanted to be a college teacher.  At the time there weren’t many physicists available with advance degrees.  The first offer I got after looking for two months was with the Navy Mine Defense Laboratory in Panama City, Florida.

A week or so after I started working at the Navy Lab I got an offer from Virginia Tech as an assistant professor.  At the time I would have liked to get the job but the Navy people had gone to some trouble to hire me so I couldn’t quit after such a short time.  A couple of weeks after that I got the same offer from Louisiana Tech.  Then after two years I got a call from the ex-principal of my high school who had become some sort of manager at the Tennessee Tech University.  He offered me an assistant professor job at Tennessee Tech.

A few weeks after starting working at the Navy Lab our branch was working on some problem.  I don’t remember what it was.  I thought of how to solve it and told the fellow, Art, I was working with.  I drew and electronic schematic in explaining it to him.  About that time our boss was coming down the aisle.  Art grabbed the schematic and rushed down to meet the boss.  I heard him telling Dr. Elliott he had figured a way to solve the problem.  His MS was from famous Cal Tech, mine was from a school with no reputation at that time.

I got to be friends with the lab’s commanding officer, Captain Anderson.  On Fridays we had a meeting after work at the Officers Club for the upper level people.  When I went in Captain Anderson would be talking to a group of managers above me.  He always left them and came to talk with me.  I had gotten two patents and two superior achievement awards.  Each of them resulted in a picture with the captain, I think he liked that.

I worked ten and a half years at the Navy Lab.

Near the end of 1960 six or eight people from the Lab left to join an Army group testing the Pershing short range ballistic missile.  They asked me to join them.  I did mainly because their grade structure was higher than the Navy Lab.  I was with the Army test group for less than two years.  We lived in Cocoa Beach, Florida then.  In late 1962 the manned space group had moved from Virginia to Houston, Texas.  The Mercury program had just one mission left and they were increasing their manpower to work the Gemini and Apollo programs.  I knew a few men from the Army group who had gone to Houston, one of them asked me to join them.


There was interesting work going on in the Apollo Project Office where I worked.  My job involved making sure the electrical and electronic systems on the spacecraft would work properly when the spacecraft was mated with Saturn Launch Vehicle which was managed by Marshal Lab Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  It is difficult to make a significant contribution in a program which has many thousands of workers including both NASA and contractors.

After about a year the air pollution seemed to be causing trouble for [my son] Craig’s sinuses and throat so I asked a friend to get me back to Florida.  W came back to Florida in October 1963 after a year in Houston.

In Florida I started in an integration group.  After a few months I headed a branch with flight control, guidance and navigation and electrical systems.  While I was in that position I was assigned as chief engineer for the checkout of Gemini VI in St. Louis at the McDonnell plant.  There was around twenty people in the checkout crew.

Not long after coming back to Florida my boss asked if I would make a talk to Stetson University students.  When Apollo first started there was a lot of interest in hearing about the program.  I made a few other talks but the student body at Stetson was the largest.

Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford

Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford

We got ready to launch Gemini VI.  It was sitting on the pad with Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra on board.  The switch was thrown for lift off.  Nothing happened.  The engineers in the control room and those in Houston were trying to figure out what went wrong.  No one knew if the rocket was going to explode or what was happening.  One thing of interest was the heart rate of the waiting astronauts.  Many astronauts would go up to near 200 beats per minute but here was Tom and Wally on rocket that had an unknown problem with heart rates in the 70’s.  Gemini VI was launched about 2 weeks later and rendezvoused with Gemini VII.

After about 3 years in that branch head position I was moved to assistant to the division chief.  I didn’t like the change, but it turned out to be interesting.  I got the tasks that Sasseen didn’t want to do… I had to sign off on any changes to the ground support equipment and any software changes on the Apollo checkout computer.  Someone found that x-rays could destroy transistors so I had to look at proposed x-rays, usually looking for potential leaks in fluid lines to see if any electronic devices would be in the x-ray beam.  I also became the engineering division expert on lightning.  We put a large fiberglass tube on the service structure with a lightning rod on top maybe forty feet above the spacecraft.  One spacecraft on the pad was slightly damaged by lightning.  The lightning rod would prevent that.  During this period I also spent a lot of time making charts showing how much manpower would be needed in each engineering area in the future.  Each branch chief helped supply figures of their area.

One time we had eleven people going to St. Louis.  To save travel money I arranged for the NASA executive plane, a Grumman Gulfstream, to take them there.  I was told we could get a ride back on the plane but Dr. Debus the center director pulled rank on us to go to Washington.  Marshal Center in Huntsville, Alabama had a DC3 so I asked them to bring our people home.  I had eleven people mad at me.  There was no heat and it was rough.

Maybe three years before my retirement I was made head of the digital equipment branch.  There was a hardware section and a software group.  I didn’t know very much about either one but I had some very good people.

The Apollo fire which took the lives of three astronauts made everyone working at Kennedy Space Center feel terrible even if you had nothing to do with the test of the oxygen filled spacecraft.  When the fire happened we were in a motel on the coast south of Tallahassee.  When I got in the next day there was a discussion about whether or not the suited astronauts could store static energy charge enough to ignite something in the space craft.  Another physicist, Risler, and I spent several days investigating the energy level that could be expected.

It was decided there was a more likely source of a spark than static charge.  It was, however, and interesting investigation.

I retired in 1979 after approximately 34 years in government service including almost 3 years in the Navy.

Mountain Fun


Clyde Whittaker remembers some of the fun he had growing up in Monterey, Tennessee

In mid and late April when it got warm, my friend, James Way, and I started thinking of playing in a small creek about a mile away.  Every year James and I with sometime help from James’ brother Ray would move logs and rocks in place to make a crude dam.  It was not very good, but it raised the water in the hole several inches and made the hole wider.  When James and I were about 13 years old we learned to swim in that little hole.  The following year we started going to the Monterey Lake.  We usually walked almost three miles to the lake.  Soon both of us were good swimmers.  A fellow later told me that when they got to the lake if they saw two heads out in the middle of the lake they would say, “Well I see that James and Clyde are here.”

In winter James and I couldn’t afford store bought sleds.  We made our own.  The city dump was near our house about a half a mile.  We found short pieces of lumber and made a sled.  You couldn’t steer it but it would go fast downhill.

[One time} Ray Way and I were taking a long walk in the woods.  We went up a mountain and decided to go a different way back to town.  We didn’t usually use that trail.  We saw ahead of us an old man with a rifle in his arms blocking the trail.  His name was Ike Buckner, a distant cousin of mine.  He asked who I was and I said Frank Whittaker’s son.  Ike said he didn’t know Frank had a son as young as I was.  I realized he was thinking of my great uncle so I said I am Tommy Whitttaker’s grandson.  When I mentioned my grandpa a large grin came on his face and he said, “Do you want a drink?”  I was about 13 so I declined.  Ike and my great Uncle Frank made moonshine together.

There is a story about Uncle Frank Whittaker and Ike Buckner making whiskey together.  They had two barrels of mash ferment and it already had some alcohol.  Uncle Frank noticed Ike using a wheat straw taking a drop from the barrel.  He figured Ike would drink up their profit.  When they put the sprouted corn in the barrels some corn was left on the ground and rats were eating.  Frank used his pistol and shot one of the rats and put it in the barrel Ike was sipping.  Ike started sippin’ the one with the rat.  He moved to the other barrel and started sipping.  Then he went back to the barrel with the rat.  He looked at Uncle Frank and said, “Frank the one with the little rat in it is the best.”