I came across a family snapshot recently. It dated back to my childhood and was of my aunt, grandmother, and great aunt. Floodgates of memories came rushing to the surface. The photo was taken at the family cemetery in eastern Kentucky. I did not grow up in Appalachia. I watched it from the outside. It flows through my veins and is a part of me, but I am not a part of it. I admire her from afar, breathing in her beauty until it is deep within my lungs wrapping my heritage around me like a warm blanket on a snowy night. I experienced her. On weekend visits, family reunions, and funerals of loved ones, I got to be a part of her beautiful way of life. I give Appalachia a feminine pronoun because it holds you like a mother, makes sure you are fed, and comforts your soul. She is beautiful, and I love her.
I was raised here in Clark County. Born at the Guerrant Clinic in 1970, my birthplace is now a museum. A sure sign that I have been here too long. I have argued with many that Kentucky is definitely not southern. Kentucky is Appalachian from the eastern border until Lexington. Then, as far as I’m concerned, you are just Kentuckian, with some being, dare I say it, Midwestern. When I traveled up north, no one had ever accused me of being southern; they had asked me if I was from Kentucky. We are unique with a unique dialect and culture that I am not willing to share. Winchester is considered the Gateway to Appalachia, so we get a pass as the welcoming committee to Her Majesty.
Both of my parents are from Wolfe County, Kentucky. My Granny lived in a holler, while my Mamaw lived atop a cliff. Neither had indoor plumbing, with my Granny having a two-seater outhouse for conversations, of course. My Mamaw had a fancy single-seat outhouse complete with wallpaper, a toilet paper roll, a seat cover, and a fly swat. Life was simple there, but it was magic! There were natural rooms to play in made by tree branches. My Mamaw would hang spare items within them like a storybook hideaway. Birds and pretty plastic baubles floating above our little heads. They would add old toys found around the house or at the junk store for our enjoyment.
Granny’s house was heated by a potbelly stove. A large pile of coal and wood would be out front to get them through the winter. We would sit outside and make mud houses in the summer. Granny would take cigarette butts left in the yard by visitors and make chimneys. I would laugh, and so would she. My Granny and those like her could grow anything, anywhere. Summer visits included a tour of the garden. The garden was grown on a hillside of clay dirt. Completely unforgiving in the hot summer sun, she was always able to harvest a bounty.
Granny was a true mountain woman, seeing the spirits of those who moved on. The story was told to me many times about the death of my Uncle’s ex-wife in another town. Granny could not go to pay her respects, and she grieved greatly for this beloved friend. As she stood by her kitchen window staring at the sky, wishing she could be with her daughter-in-law’s family, she saw her floating by in the clouds. Believed to be on her way to her final destination, Granny felt at peace.
Granny also possessed the art of being both a wart and a water witch. She passed the gift of finding water onto my Uncle. I attempted once without success, but I will try again now that I am older. Wish me luck. Granny could remove a wart with a bit of twine and a piece of driftwood. “Tie the twine to the driftwood and throw it into the creek. When the twine rots, your wart will be gone.” These were the instructions given to my mother as a young girl. She did as she was told. After some time had passed, she noticed that the wart was gone.
There is a romance to Appalachia. A bygone era still exists amongst cell phones and the World Wide Web. A time that I still love to visit and am glad to have been a part of. I may have never lived under its cover, but it flows through my veins and is in the marrow of my bones. I love you, Mother Appalachia, always and forever.