Back in July last year I shared here a couple of newspaper article written by Mrs. Callie Melton. Mrs. Melton had the same passion for preserving our history and culture that drives me back to this keyboard week after week. She had the foresight to record some of the tales she’d always known and publish them back in 1979. This self-published book is no longer available so I want to share some of it with you over the next few weeks. Today we’ll start with the preface of the book in which she shares her love of the heritage and reasons for writing.
‘PON MY HONOR is a book of folk tales collected in and around Overton County, Tennessee. Since I am a Tennessee Hillbilly born and bred, I have been familiar with these stories since the moment when I first saw the light of day. But, unfortunately, it was not until 1933 that I started writing them down.
This book was undertaken for the sole purpose of preserving for our children and our children’s children a small part of this wonderful heritage that is theirs, for nowhere else in the world is there a richer vein of stories or better story tellers than right here in the mountains of Tennessee. It’s always been that way, for whenever or wherever at least two people get together, there’s sure to be a tale of some kind told. The first of the Long Hunters who came into this area regaled each other with just such tales as these around their campfire after a long day of hunting. Today the Atomic scientists at Oak Ridge always tell each new-comer the stories of old John Hendrix, the Prophet of Anderson County.
The stories I have included in this collection will fall roughly into four types.
The stories that are based on actual facts and have a definite time and place are in the chapter HIT HAPPENED HEREABOUTS. Here I have sometimes, and sometimes not, changed only the names of some of the people involved, relating the main facts just as they actually happened. Of course these stories have naturally picked up a little color here and there. But doesn’t’ a good cook always add a dash of spices and herbs to perk up stew?
Haint tales and the ones with a hint of the supernatural are covered in the chapter I WOULDN’T A-BELIEVED HIT IF I HADN’T SEEN HIT MYSELF. This is a favorite kind of story around here, and rare it is to find a family that doesn’t have its very own haint tale to add to those of their neighbors and friends.
The CHILMEY CORNER TALES are the old, old stories that must have come to us from far away and long ago. Research has shown me no stories like them. But they are stories that I grew up with, and I always told them to my school children wherever I taught. And the high school students loved them just as much as the little ones.
In the chapter ONE FER THE ROAD, you will find “jest tales”. These are the old ones that nearly everybody has heard in one way or another, for they had been handed down and passed around for generations before they ever reached me. And I just up and put them down on paper the way I had always heard them. There’s no moral, not much point, but they are always good for a laugh when a real story teller gets hold of them.
In all of these stories I have tried to tell them word for word just the way I have always heard them. It hasn’t been easy, this task I set for myself. The folk speech has been most difficult…it has been hard to write, and I found that it was harder for the present generation to read. So, sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t! But I got in enough to give the true flavor. Before and up to World War II, we through this area spoke almost pure Elizabethan English… words, terms, expressions and what have you. But the English teachers in our schools, bless their dear hearts, have just about rooted it all out! And it is our loss.
So, if I have succeeded in any small measure in this task I set for myself, I must give the credit to the greatest story teller of them all, my Grandpa Smith. Whenever possible, I have given the source of each story in the story itself. That’s always the custom around here… when you tell a tale, you start off by telling who it was that told it to you. That’s the way Grandpa did, and he ought to have known for he told his tales not only to us young’uns but to anybody who would come in and set a spell.