Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Duality of Appalachian People


My favorite pictures. James W. Stinson and his wife Nannie Virginia Hale Stinson of Princeton West Virginia, I like these two photos because they show the ability of the Appalachian people to be.....I'd call it multi-cultural. We have ways rooted in the past while adapting to living in the present that make us seem to be two types of people.

  Well I was so excited, I sent out my blog to everyone I knew of kith and kin. But right off the bat, I was criticized for the stories of my dear sweet great-grandparents, who taught me so much, as putting a "redneck backwards identity" to our family.
  My first reaction was, "Oh for Heaven's Sake, get a grip!" But then I pondered on this for a bit and yes to me there were two types of people in Appalachia as there are throughout the world or in every community.   Appalachian people have survived through many changes since the Revolutionary War. The industrial revolution as with all economic upheavals, did not necessarily bring everyone prosperity. But there were always prosperous Appalachian people that never lived like my Grandfather and Grandmother Burress.
  Our family is a microcosm of people some always better off than the others. Rich vs Poor and the effect that had on both living in Appalachia. We had ancestors in just about every occupation and level economic standing. We have farmers, railroad workers, miners, loggers, teachers, military men and a couple were rumored to be "wood's colts" of a doctor and the other a judge. Underneath all of this we were mountain people shaped by the area we lived in.
  The one thing I can say is regardless of our stations, most of us were handed down knowledge about how to live in these mountains and could carry on the "old ways" to survive when times were tough if we needed to.
  Grand pa and Grand ma Burress surely would have loved to live in a really nice big house. But instead they lived in a small four room house they built themselves with gravity flow water and an outhouse on 26 acres. They raised a cow, chickens, a pig or two and a garden. Both of them worked outside the home. They used the old ways out of necessity. They lived this way in the 1960s.
  On the other hand I had a Grandfather that was listed as a farmer that lived in a five bedroom Victorian house with two staircases and a chandelier. He used the old ways because he could. This is the duality of Appalachia. Something all of us of Appalachian heritage must accept to understand who we are as a people.
  I've been researching my family history for over 25 years. I was struck once when looking at census records that I had people in this one family in 1860 who began with a mother, father and siblings that could all read and write. Some of the children had actually gone on to higher education. But by 1930 their grand children could read but barely went to the 2nd grade in school.
  My grandmother and her sister Callie were two of these folks. Why? Industrialization! You didn't need an education to work on the railroad or pull mules in a mine at the age of 11. You didn't need an education to work in a factory or as a waitress.
  The couple in the picture are James W. Stinson and his wife Nannie Hale Stinson who lived at the intersection of where 460 and Interstate 77 meet in Princeton, West Virginia today. That was their farmland long since sold for economic growth and prosperity. Now there is an Outback Steakhouse, a Walmart, Appleby's, Hotels, and the only thing left with the family name is the Stinson Methodist Church and a cemetery in the middle of all that.
  I have a letter from 1916 posted from Hallie Stinson to her sister Maggie Stinson Imhoff. In the letter Hallie states that Papa (James) was serving on a jury and Uncle William had died. His sons Coon and Carl, who ran the Klondyke Saloon in Bluefield WV were hand digging the grave.
  This couple along with their son Coon are buried behind Appleby's in a graveyard that is so overgrown. We believe Hallie and Uncle William are there too but can find no markers. Hallie died in 1918 during the flu epidemic.
  We are afraid to clear it off the graves because the area is so developed with businesses, especially catering to people from out of town, we are afraid people will see it and vandalize the grave stones.
  Today we still in some sections "hand dig" graves in family plots. My brother hates when it's on a steep hillside,
  The highway systems in Appalachia were designed in the 1940s as population centers. The idea was to get the mountain people out of the mountains into "growth centers." And it has worked. Nothing is crazier to some of us as our people selling off the farm to move to town. Or tearing down the old homeplace to replace it with a double wide trailer.
  But we each had to do what we needed to do to survive and we are STILL HERE. Many have moved away and stayed gone never to return. Many have moved away, made their fortune and returned "up home". Many have moved in not from the area at all, but love it for it's scenic beauty and charm.
  I began this blog to share the Appalachia I knew, I know and hope to see in the future. I began this blog to share with my grandchildren. They are in the new computer age. We are beginning to talk like everyone else because of Television. Even our speech dialects are seeming to die out.
  I miss the old dialect. They will never hear my grandparents voices or my Great Aunt saying "If 'n ye a mind to, you can do just bout in'er thang" I miss it and I celebrate who we were and the resourcefulness of our people in the past. I celebrate who we are and who we will become. If it is stereotypical well .....just get over your perception and understand the different cultures of the people who called themselves Appalachian and call ourselves Appalachian today.