Friday, January 10, 2014

Appalachian Heart Wood Blogger Musings

Oh how I have neglected my blog! Many thoughts to write but I was dealing with illness and holidays. The holidays were awesome spending it with my family but very busy. I used all my energy with all my chronic health problems screaming complaints in the form of all sorts of crazy symptoms. But I made it.

We just had a cold snap. It was a balmy -28 degree wind chill at the house Monday night. It prompted my Ed to say sarcastically, "We should have a naked porch party. The weather's perfect!"  Just that thought made me extremely glad to be inside, not naked, and next to the wood stove, warm!

The hot water lines froze and are still frozen. We spent the day under the house trying to figure out where and how to thaw it out. First time in many years it has been frozen this long. I put water to heating on the stove in large pots to fill up the bathtub to bathe and wash my hair in the sink. That brought back some memories. At least the cold water is working and I didn't have to haul water from a spring. I'd like to have a quarter for every pail or jug of water we had to haul from a spring when I was young. I'd probably have enough to live on for a while.

I have been thinking about this blog, the writing I have to finish, the look of it all and where I want it to go. What I want to share and write about. I love history of our Appalachian mountains and our people. Having family from here helps to write about that history. I have so many family stories yet to write about.

But my profile says I want to talk about our place into the future. That is the conundrum I'm having. Should I write about more modern day issues? There are issues today that are so divisive and Lord knows we don't need to be divided any more than we are.

I am a Face book person. I love Face book. I keep track of my family that way.
Today I was on Face book and saw a couple of shared posts that set my mind to really thinking. If you are on Face Book you should follow Dave Tabler. He shares great articles about Appalachia. Like this one on hemp.  Also this one on on poverty and religion in Appalachia.

This last article just got my dander up. The reason why? It is written to "help" volunteers to the region understand the people here, it still places the Appalachian people in this mythical, we are in a world of our own, victim status.  I could not believe they were using Francis Asbury and Horace Kephart as a resource on how to think about and to converse with Appalachians!

I graduated from Emory and Henry College which is a Methodist college in Southwest Virginia that began in 1836. In college, I worked at the Holston Conference Archives of the Methodist Church. My dad's people were Methodists, my mother's people were Baptists, Lutherans and a few Presbyterians, but we don't hold that against them.

I know about Francis Asbury, because as a history buff of Appalachia, he was considered such an influential person in getting "an organized Methodist religion conference", in our area. The Holston Conference of the Methodist Church at one time spread from what is northern West Virginia today to Southwest Virginia, parts of Eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, South Carolina to Northern Georgia. Truly an Appalachian conference and its history is well written about.

Richard Nye Price wrote a five volume history of the Holston conference. The entire national Methodist church split in 1844 (long before the Civil War) into Methodist church South and Methodist Episcopal church North over the Bishop of the Holston Conference owning slaves and they did not reunite until 1939. The church split not over a Bishop from the lowland south, but from Appalachia! Doesn't that blow your mind? Did me when I first read about it.

Although Asbury converted many to Methodism he didn't have to convert everyone. There were Methodist, Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians already living here on the frontier.  Many times these groups in the early years of settlement shared meeting houses.
This is from an old postcard. It is an "artist concept of Page's Meeting House, situated 1 mile north of US 11 and 2 miles west of Radford VA., was built in 1773 by the Rev. Edward Morgan. It was the first Methodist house of worship west of the New River and thereby the first of the Holston Conference. Bishop Francis Asbury preached here in 1807 and 1805."  Pat Murphy

Asbury was really a little late to the party. When Asbury roamed these mountains it was still considered a "wilderness" with Indians fighting over the territory and his views I believe were ones of any minister in newly settled areas anywhere on this continent. Think of the Wild West. But for some strange reason...it's Appalachia and we are still considered a people set apart and this is the wild west.

So I am astounded that here is this article using Asbury as sort of an example on how to think about Appalachians training volunteers coming to the mountains to help our people. This one quote out of Horace Kephart's book really got me.
"One instructional text Morgan and the other VISTAS were not offered - but which would have benefited them - was Horace Kephart's "Our Southern Highlanders," particularly the chapter entitled "The Outlander and the Native." In it, Presbyterian minister Warren H. Wilson, known as the "Bishop of the Mountains," advised any missionaries, secular or religious, with ambitions to uplift the Appalachian mountaineers to proceed with caution - and respect. A mountaineer, Wilson cautioned, would "refuse even what he sorely needs if he detects in the accents or the demeanor of the giver any indication of an air of superiority." See more here. 

Yes, because it really pisses us off when you are told something that is not true and treat us as if we are children and think that we are in this shape due to ignorance. Instead volunteers should understand our way of life has much to do with geography, economics and politics as any other place on earth. We who live here understand that as much as anyone.

Please don't interview a drunk in the poorest county in Appalachia and say that represents Appalachia as this man did in this article published in the National Review! He even went so far to call the entire area of Appalachia the "Big White Ghetto".  You can go in any major city and any part of rural America and find these same people down on their luck he said comprised Appalachia. The finger is just being pointed this way. We have always been an easy target.

Photo of a homeless man with his sleeping bag over his grocery cart outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. several blocks from the White House when I visited a few years back. Should the journalist interview him and say that represents the majority of everyone in D.C.? 
In this article he also asks for directions from a lady to a town that is suppose to be very close by and she replies she doesn't know it. The man assumes she is so isolated and never been out of her own holler. But Ed and I have encountered the same problem and know about this first hand. About 10 years ago they put in 911 systems all over Appalachia....and they renamed places!! Especially areas known by two names locally. Usually renamed after some important person, coal or railroad person in their honor. But we have been here so long we still know areas by older names.

A 911 map renamed an area we called Craw fish to something I can't even remember now and Craw fish they put in the wrong place. Ed says he's not sure which of our "Einsteins" are responsible for that one but now it's written in stone because it's on a "new" map.

I went to several meetings on deciding the new maps for the 911 system. They encouraged public participation. For example in Bland County we have a place that was called "Rabbit Squat".  The people who lived in that area did not want that name, did not want their area to any longer be called by that name, nor have it on the map, so today the area is called something else. Today if you ask me by the new name where that is, I won't know what you are talking about. You ask me where Rabbit Squat is I can tell you where that is as well as "The Skillet" and "Pumpkin Center" (though I think they left the last two on the map and you can find it yourself).

Now I'm not sure if that is what happened or who this lady was but what we know an area as, if you ask what they call it on many recently revised maps, we may not know it by that name....it may be different. My grandfather used older known names for areas long since changed for years!!   The journalist should have shown her a map instead of assuming she had never been out of the holler...ever... and did not know her own local area. The man who wrote that article needs to be taken cow tipping and snipe hunting...he is that gullible.

So if you are visiting the new Appalachia and you have one of these new fangled maps, don't assume the names on it the locals are aware of.  Show us what you are talking about on the map and we might be able to help you get there.

It also angers us to be told that others know how we should solve our problems rather than funding and letting us take that initiative ourselves. Telling us that this is what we will do, without consulting or asking. That doesn't fit and usually never works here! God knows the money and resources we have watched going down the drain on that one!! It gave someone outside the region a job!

Then I read another article that hit me, about the coal industry from Appalachian Voices. This one is on the demise of coal. Though this article hits upon the "outsiders" of our region exploiting the resources, what we know is that it could not and would not have happened without powerful "insiders" and their interests in seeing that expand. We know people of our own communities have played a larger part in our economic history, our advances and our own problems. The outsiders could not have taken what they have without inside help.

It goes back to the memory I have shared before on this blog of my Aunt Florence. A missionary told her once, "We have come to save the Appalachian people." My aunt asked her, "From what?" She never got an answer.

We have always had issues to deal with in Appalachia just like the rest of the world. This perception and BIG myth that the mountaineers are so different and a peculiar people from the rest of the world has hampered not helped us at all. The fact they are still repeating it today is just appalling!! Our geography more than anything else is what is different. It determines our way of life, creates transportation problems, effects our infrastructure and how we economically develop.

Before the timber, coal and gas industries moved in Appalachia was once the bread basket of the lowland south. While the south grew cotton, we raised everything from hogs, sheep, chickens, cows to growing apples to buckwheat and traded that for what we needed. We had wineries in every community. That land is still here. With the internet our world is expanded even more with possibilities to develop a diverse sustainable economy.

We are not that different from any other area in the country. For example, I have always had family and friends I love dearly that are gay. My family always referred to it as being, "light in the loafers." The issue of gay rights and gay marriage has hit the mountains just like everywhere else. I have family and kin that are working on strip mines and mountaintop removal sites. It's alarming to them what is happening to the landscape but they have to make a living. It has some crying in their hearts to see the mountains flattened and know they are contributing to that.  You have to question our state, regional and national energy policies that even allow this. We also have to see that Appalachia is in transition. We have to look for more viable ways of sustainability for our people. Like this video proclaims.

So please forgive me when I get a bit aggravated when I read about volunteers willing to come to the mountains to help and folks advocating using untrue, stereotypical examples from Francis Asbury and Horace Kephart to train them on how to treat Appalachians today.

 The writers and photographers visiting the region writing articles and taking pictures whose focus represents people whose bad economic or health situation could be repeated in any area of the country does not help. We call it, "Poverty Porn". Usually portraying Appalachia in a really bad light by using a portion of our people in the most dire of straits. But then I guess misery sells a bit more than the good in people.

Do we need and want outside volunteer assistance? YES, we still have some of the most economically depressed areas in the country. Glad to have their assistance, but please get rid of this old notion that the reason we are in this shape is because Appalachians are peculiar, clannish, crazy, ignorant, people. Some of the most powerful corporate lobbies in the world have come against us and we have fought to survive. We may talk with a twang in our voice but we do have brains.
Bluefield Daily Telegraph March 1, 1905  Fits with the demise on coal article above.

Most folks write on their blogs daily or at least weekly. I am sorry I am just not that well to do that. But I hope to strive to write more in the future.  I have many stories to finish the drafts on. How far I will go into the modern day issues remains to be seen as to what gets my dander up again.

Took me so long to get this post written the hot water thawed out.

Thanks to you who read this and blessings to all in this glorious New Year of 2014.