Daddy built the house that we lived in when we were in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. I was far too young to remember a lot of the particulars, but some things stood out more than others.
Like the way Mom use to pull her old ringer washer out the kitchen door and into the yard with an extension cord to use it. She would put a metal washtub up in a chair to sit underneath the ringer and fill it with water to rinse the clothes in as they came out of the ringer.
I remember the big upright canisters of propane that we used to run our stove that Mom cooked on. I can’t remember what kind of cook stove it was, just that it ran on gas and sure did a fine job cooking a meal.
I remember exactly where everything sat, and how simple it was…
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I’m so very glad I had the years that I had growing up in the mountains. It’s such a different world, that I don’t think I would have gotten the same thing anywhere else. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pets, for instance…of course, every child has a puppy or kitten, and I did have my fair share of those. I had a black and white border collie named Duke that I’ll never, ever forget. That dog loved and protected me like no other since then!
I remember one time, he was tied to his dog house – we must have not wanted him to run off for some reason, maybe mountain cats had been spotted in the area, I can’t really remember – and I was sitting close to him, playing in the dirt. I must have been maybe 4 or so.
Duke had been running around me and wound up getting the chain lapped around my neck a few times and was choking me. Mom saw – it was one of the many times I nearly died but God gave her an urgency in her spirit to find me – but all she could do was get her hand between the chain and my throat, enough to let me breathe. Duke was just far enough away at the end of his chain so that she couldn’t get hold of him, and she said she kept wondering what in the world she was going to do. I think it was Audie, my brother, who came walking up the holler, and was able to help her get me loose.
Another “Duke and Audie” story: one time Audie had come home and, as was often the way he greeted me, he grabbed me and threw me up into the air, laughing and growling. Well, Duke thought he was going to hurt me and very nearly ate him up! Luckily, Mom wouldn’t let him kill the poor dog, however much he wanted to.
Then we had a pair of black and tan coon hounds, they were brother and sister. The boy’s name was Moonshine and if memory serves me correctly, the girl’s name was Annie. Talk about some smart dogs!
We were sitting in the kitchen one evening and Annie came running down the mountain, barking, and ran right up to the door. She looked through the screen door, barked and then turned and ran back in the direction from which she’d come. She would turn then and look back towards the door and come running back, repeating the same excited bark, and then running back up the holler.
After several times of this happening, Mom said, “I swear, Junior, I believe she wants you to go with her.” So Daddy got up and went out the door, following her. She seemed content with that and led Daddy to where Moonshine was, trapped in a steel trap that he had set for coyotes! He was hurt, and Annie had saved him! Daddy carried him back down the holler and Mom fixed him up – one of the many times she’d done it, for one reason or another.
The one cat I remember, more than any other, was Midnight. Of course, she was solid black, but she has no amazing stories behind her existence, save for loving us more than cats usually love people. Well, that, and she always managed to have her kittens in the house, even though she was an outside cat, and more often than not, in Mom’s yarn bag.
Then there were my groundhogs. If I ever named them, I sure don’t remember it, but I do remember them. And how I came to have them. I was probably 4 or 5 years old, and I had seen a mama groundhog so I watched her until I saw where she was coming and going from…a hole in the ground, not far out front of our little log cabin.
I waited until she was out of sight, hunting or whatever it is they do when they leave their home, and I sat up Mom’s washtub, with a Y-shaped stick that I had found and sized just right for the job to hold up one side. I put some food underneath and I tied some string (or maybe it was yarn) around the stick and unrolled it as I backed away, and up over a rise in the yard, just behind a tree, where I sat relentlessly waiting for her to come back.
She did, and she noticed the food, but went back into her hole instead. I was about ready to give up by this time, but then, out she came with 4 babies! I guess she had wanted them to have the food because they all started for it. I waited, as patiently as a child can, and when most of them were under the tub, I pulled the string!
Mama groundhog had escaped, and some of the babies, and my heart was racing so fast I could hardly stand it as I went over to see what I had caught. Sure enough, two babies were there, and I packed them up and took them to show Mom.
One was a boy and one was a girl, and that boy was mean as sin! Daddy said I could keep them, but if they ever bit me, they’d have to go. Sure enough, a few days later, that little boy groundhog bit me. Every time I saw Daddy, I’d stick that hand behind me. Of course, a child’s mind doesn’t realize that a grownup is going to figure that out pretty quick, and he did. So the boy groundhog was shipped off. I think he was passed around to some family members and apparently he was still just as mean. I don’t know what ever happened to him.
As for the little girl groundhog, I kept her for a long time. She would stay right with me, and we would eat fruit cocktail together, and she was especially fond of watching me color in my coloring books. Come to think of it, I don’t really know what ever happened to her either, but I’m pretty sure Mom and Daddy probably figured she’d be better off in the wild with the rest of them.
Over the course of those years we were there, I wandered those mountains and carried back all kinds of critters. I packed home birds, chipmunks and Lord knows what else, so excited to show Mom, who would always be just as excited as me.
Sometimes, they would be injured and I would beg Mom to save them. Sometimes she could, and sometimes she couldn’t, and that’s just how it goes. We had always heard that foxes could never be tamed, but yet Mom got one to eat right from her hand! I didn’t realize then how amazing that was, but it sure is sweet to reminisce!
Now, all these years later, I’m still collecting critters. We currently have Sam, one of many European Starlings we have rescued. All the others, we’ve rehabbed and set free, but Sam has refused to leave. He lives with us and seems quite content here with our little “flock” and every time I look at him, I’m reminded of what Mammy use to say…”How the Lord must surely love us, to send us such beautiful creatures to look at.” Only, when I look at Sam, I think how much more He must love us to let us keep them!
My Mom’s Daddy, Jim, died in a mining accident in June of 1946, when Mom was only seven years old. I always loved hearing the few stories she had about him… like how vividly she remembered him carrying her to church on his shoulders and how the sun would shine through his straw hat and make shadow patterns on her arms, or how he got saved late one night and shouted up and down the holler, waking people up.
She said when he would get his pay at the end of the week, he would simply bring it home and toss it into Mammy’s lap, knowing that she would get it where it needed to be. From the pictures I’ve seen of him, I know what a strikingly handsome man he was.
Dad’s Daddy died in a mine that he owned himself in January, 1949. Daddy had only just turned 14 years old and was already working along side him in that mine, and was actually with him when he passed away. It’s a horrific story that I might delve in to telling at some point, but I won’t go into it now.
So I never got to address anyone as Pappaw.
But there was Uncle Ross…
He was actually my great-uncle – my Daddy’s uncle. He was a World War II veteran that never married and, except for his service to his country, never left the mountains he called home his whole life. He lived at the foot of the holler and was a constant in my life as long as I could remember.
He sort of took on the role of a Pappaw and spoiled me every chance he got. Every Wednesday, as due as Wednesday would come, he would walk up the holler to our house with a six-pack of Coke and a six pack of Hershey bars, and he’d tell me if I ate only one candy bar and drank one Coke a day, they would last until he came back with more. So I was very careful.
I remember a set of toy dishes he bought me once, that resembled silver. There were plates and utensils, a tea-pot and cups. And then there was a beautiful necklace that I still have to this day, although I don’t wear it. It was a gold heart with decorative red inlay and a single stone in it.
The house he lived in, the one in this very picture, he shared with his mother until her death. She died there at home. We lived with him for a time while Daddy built our house. I was so young that I don’t have a lot of memories of it, just some faint still-picture type memories of the inside of the house.
It seemed very old, even then, like something out of an old movie, with the wall papered walls and the pull chain single light bulbs, and it seemed to just smell old. Not bad, just old, in a very comforting sort of way. I loved it there and felt like nothing in the world could ever come close enough to hurt me.
Uncle Ross was an avid gun collector. He was very proud of them, and it was a common thing for him to bring them to our house and show them to Daddy and make Mom read on them that they were “made in America”.
He use to come to the house sometimes to play cards with Daddy and a handful of others. I remember once, I was sitting on his lap and they were playing cards and talking about guns and I asked him if he had one bullet in his shirt pocket. I was obviously thinking of the Andy Griffith Show and how that’s how Barney carried his ammunition, but Uncle Ross cussed everything all to pieces and assured me that he most certainly did NOT carry a bullet in his pocket, that they were in the gun, where they belonged! We still laugh to this day about that.
Another time I remember he had just gotten a black and tan coonhound pup. He brought it up to the house and I absolutely fell in love! He told me that was going to be his new hunting dog, but I hardly paid any attention to what he said. I was playing with the pup and had already named him Copper, thanks to my attentiveness to the Fox and The Hound. Finally, after watching me and the pup for some time, he told me he would put him down on the ground and he would call the name he’d chosen for the dog (I can’t for the life of me remember what that was), and I could call the name Copper and whoever he came to could keep the dog. Well, it came to me and so began a lovely friendship. I always figured he’d actually meant to give the pup to me to start with, but I was never a hundred percent sure.
I remember when one of his brothers died and we made the trip back home for the funeral. The procession went up the holler, past Uncle Ross’s house up towards the family graveyard.
Uncle Ross walked up the mountain, in the very back, behind everyone else. He was wearing what he always wore, but his face was more solemn than I’d ever seen it and I remember how, during the service, he looked around at the surroundings more than anything else. To know what he was thinking at that time, I’d give almost anything.
Uncle Ross took his final trip up that mountain in 2004. I was unable to be with the family at that time, stuck almost 400 miles away with a car I couldn’t trust to get us there. But my heart was there. And he was in my heart, where he’s always been and where he’ll always stay.
For a man that had no children of his own, he leaves an amazing legacy in the hearts and minds of those of us that loved him so much.
I cannot begin to try to count the times I’ve closed my eyes and thought back, with the most peaceful recollection, to the little mountain holler where I spent the first several years of my life. Well, not several in a row, as we were constantly moving and back and forth between the mountains and our other home in Central Kentucky, in Hardin County.
And yes, I know the word “holler” is actually supposed to be “hollow” but you’ll never hear me call it that. That may be how it’s written, but it certainly isn’t how it’s spoken. Not by anyone that’s actually from there, anyhow.
I took my children up there for the first time not long ago, and I have to laugh when I think back on it. As we started up the mountain, it was so steep that the things I had laid on the dash slid off and hit me right in the chest and my daughter cried out, “Stop! I think the truck’s turning over!” I took her mind off of that though, by telling her stories of my going up that holler when I was her age and before you know it, we were all laughing.
I could go on and on about how beautiful it was, especially to me, as a child. Of course, I didn’t have the grown up worries that my parents did, so it was a little easier for me to see the beauty, I suppose. The “mouth of the holler” (where the road started up the mountain) opened up into a very small little neighborhood of a few houses. My cousins lived on one side of the road, at the foot of the hill, and my great-uncle on the other side.
Going up the holler, about halfway up on the left side, there was a creek that ran parallel to the road. It came from a spring at the top of the mountain and was the coldest, sweetest tasting water I’ve ever had! Daddy and I would often walk down the holler and he taught me, when I was very young, how to drink from it. He showed me how to get down and put one hand on each side of the little stream – it was very small, so even at the age of three or four, I was able to do that – and then gently sip from the fast-flowing water. If you crossed that stream and went on around that side of the mountain, that was my great-grandmother’s home place. The snowball bushes are still there to this day, if I’m not mistaken.
On up the holler was somewhat of a flat place where Daddy built our house, and off to the side, a small log cabin for storage. He put a porch, as long as the house (which was built long, like a mobile home) and that porch is where I would sit and stare down the holler. Every once in a while, you would see family walking up to visit. And if someone happened to have a Jeep or some other four-wheel drive – preferably with “bulldog” in it – they could drive up. Nowadays, though, you can get up it with pretty much any vehicle, unless it sits low to the ground.
On up the holler from the homeplace is the family graveyard. Of course, unless you ARE family and know where to look, odds are you wouldn’t even know it’s there. It’s where I have a handful of cousins laid to rest, some LONG before their time. It’s where some of my great uncles are resting. Off to the right, there is a huge dropoff that over looks Jone’s Creek, where many of my family still live to this day. Standing there on the edge of that mountain is one of the most beautiful sights I believe I have ever had the fortune of seeing with my own eyes…
You can go further on up the mountain, but the holler ends there, at the graveyard. I don’t get to go back nearly as often as I want, but when I do finally make it, this holler is the place I want to be the most, and it’s the place I want to stay the longest.
Even when the sun starts to set over the mountains, long about three or four o’clock in the evening, and the mountain cats start hollering and sounding like a baby crying, it’s all that I can do to turn and leave.
There are SO many memories and SO much love for this land in my heart, that I’m probably four counties away before the tears dry on my cheeks. Do I miss it, or the memory of it? It’s hard for even me to tell. But it’s a kind of feeling that words don’t do justice.
As you may already know about me, I am the fourth of five children. All of them, except me, were born in Eastern Kentucky, in the Appalachian mountains, that – even though my birth certificate does not state that I was born there – I call home. Always have, always will.
My oldest sister is 18 years older than me, my brother 16 years older, and my next oldest sister, 15 years older. My youngest sister is five years younger than me. So it’s always been jokingly stated that my younger sister and I were Mom and Dad’s “second” family.
The older three were married off and gone from home by the time we came along. Well, my brother kind of came and went, but doesn’t every family have one like that? He passed away in the late ’80’s, the result of a motorcycle wreck, and he is sorely missed. He was more of a character than any of the other four of us, and people who knew him remember him as someone who always had a smile on his face and would literally give you the shirt off his back. There’ll be more about him to come in future posts.
We never did stay in one place very long. We had a home in Eastern Kentucky, and another in North Central Kentucky, and we moved back and forth so much between the two that I never finished a year of school in the same place until I was in the sixth grade.
I remember asking Daddy about it one time and he said that his family had always been like gypsies, always moving around from place to place and never staying long once they got there.
I found this to be exactly the case while researching my family history over the years. His family has always been the hardest to trace. I’ve found them in Eastern Kentucky – very, very briefly – and in Eastern and Central Tennessee, in North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Colorado, and several more places.
That always seemed odd to me, because usually, in Eastern Kentucky, families stayed together, or at least had adjoining farms, and helped each other out. Farms and belongings would often be left to children or siblings, and grow in size, and they just stayed and flourished on that land.
Dad’s mother’s side of the family was like that and they had been in Harlan county for many years, but his daddy’s side was another story. I still have my brick walls in searching that line!
Well, It’s Home…
We stayed in Eastern Kentucky long enough for me to form most of my values from that style of life, and all of my thick Appalachian accent. The accent, I’ve managed to simmer down to at least fit well in any part of Kentucky, but my husband always laughs when we take a trip back home. He says it gets thicker and thicker the closer we get.
I have to admit, it also does that when I’m talking to relatives from there. It slips out sometimes when I’m very tired, or sad or angry; it’s always there.
From what I’ve seen, being “from” the mountains is something that always stays with you, from the accent right down to the family and core values, and the love of the earth. Many people from the mountains trace their heritage back to the Cherokee tribe of native Americans, and sometimes Cree, Blackfoot and a bit of Choctaw, though the latter is rare for the area, so a lot of those values come from that.
Native Americans have a relationship with the earth and the land they live on that few can understand, unless they share the blood AND the beliefs. I think it’s something that, while hard to explain, is harder still to get away from. I believe that’s why, no matter where in the world two people meet, if they are both from the mountains, they immediately have a bond.
There’s nothing quite like being a “mountain girl” and I wouldn’t change it, even if I had the chance. I’ve been laughed at for my accent and some of the strange words we use that, apparently, no one else uses. It would be called bullying in this day and age, but back then, we just had to “suck it up” so to speak, and we did. For me, it helped to know that we’d be going back soon. Of course, there came a time when Mom and Daddy finally did settle down, in Central Kentucky, and we learned to adjust. But my heart is always at home.
If you’ve read this far, know that I appreciate it. If you’d like to hear more, please come back to my blog again, as I will try to share even more in the days to come. Primarily, I’m trying to put down some things in a “safe place” for my children, and maybe for me to put together in print someday for family members that have asked for it, but if others enjoy my stories, then it’s for them too, for you, because every story needs to be told.