We all have things we want for our children. I want mine to realize their own potential and use that for whatever reason they deem “right”. However, a close second is my want for them to understand that the most important things in life are not derived from material or wealth. I am not a cultured person who as been around the world, so there may be a million ways for a person to come to this realization, but I know how that truth came to me, and it was from growing up in these mountains.
When I remember growing up, a lot of imagery rushes to my mind. A slight breeze brushing through the mountain pine. The smell of freshly mowed grass in the summertime. The wafting aroma of fried-something seeping out of a window in my Grandmother’s house, pulling children to the kitchen way before the parents had need to stand on the porch to yell for us. Sweet cherries and wild strawberries eaten ripe and dirty, straight from the tree and vine. Taking a salt shaker to a garden tomato patch, wiping off a dusty heirloom and taking a ripe, juicy bite right off the plant. Rough, dirty feet from running barefoot on gravels and wading through cool, clear creek-water. The smell of bug spray (preferably Skin-So-Soft, if you had an Avon lady in your family), and citronella candles on a back porch at dusk. The sound of a Caywood Ledford or Tom Leach blaring from a television set on a Saturday night, coupled with the randy, hostile, and sometimes poetic cuss-word- laced shouting of adult cousins, Aunts, Uncles and even parents that accompanied any call deemed “not in the favor of the CATS”. Even though those may be some major memories that have been burned permanently in the back of my brain, it’s more than just that. My mountain raising has continually cast an enveloping state of consciousness on the way I hope to raise my kids. The way I AM raising my kids. It’s heritage. It’s a way of living. It’s a lifestyle.
I look back at a childhood unmarred by the presence of social media. A childhood where if you wanted to speak directly to someone you had to call them on a landline and go through the unspeakable horror of hearing their parents pick up first, and then put them through. We actually had to speak to our friends in person by going to their home. A childhood where there was no such thing as “cyber bullying” and the only real worry we had was that the street light would come alive on too early an evening and we’d all have to go on home without finishing our game of “Annie over the mountain”.
A childhood where you crowded around the kitchen table with Mamaw or Pap and listened intently while you were taught how to roll out a dumpling, or can a quart of berries. A childhood where you learned to peel an apple with a Case knife when you were 12, the peel curling in an unbroken chain. You were proud to be able to shoot a pop ( or occasional beer) can dead-eye with your Red Ryder BB gun.
I hope my kids appreciate growing up Appalachian. I hope they look at these green hills with a sense of reverence and pride, just the same as my parents and Grandparents taught me to do so many years ago. I hope they fly down gravel roads with scraped knees and dirty bare-feet and revel in the raw and rowdy beauty of a summertime spent picking black berries and killing copperheads with garden hoes. I hope they relish that same sense of freedom. I hope they are poked with briars, and pick fresh mint from the garden to put in their peach sweet tea. I hope they help their Grandparents mix the perfect sugar water concoction to pour in red hummingbird feeders, and watch in awe as they flutter their wings, sip after sip. I hope they stay up late on a porch swing and hear the howl of coyotes, screeching hoot-owls and shrill-toned whippoorwills.
I hope they learn how to grow an heirloom tomato, and recognize ginseng root. I hope they love going dry land fishing, and learn to soak them in a salt water bath before cookin’ em up right. I hope they walk into the woods and feel a sense of kindred appreciation and awe for these mountains, but at the same time, fear and respect. I hope they love these hills for what they are, beautiful and mysterious, fabled and completely mystifying.
I hope they grow up to brag about being sons of Appalachia. I hope they roll in dark kudzu, and catch a lot of craw-dads. I hope they climb under sounding rocks and find arrow heads, fossils, and brag about how they (not so accurately) have “Cherokee” blood running through their veins. I hope they love this land they were raised on, and never forget it.
I want my children to have this same care-free childhood. I want them to revel in the kind of freedom I experienced as a barefooted, stringy headed, hill-baby in the mountains of East Kentucky. Just a simple kid who enjoyed the finest, but simplest pleasures that life had to offer me. The cool creek bed, the itchy grass, and the pleasure of roaming an Appalachian mountainside unrestricted with limitless possibilities. I want them to remember their heritage, and pass it down. It feels like a simpler time, but I look around and many of my Appalachian brothers and sisters are finding the joy and beauty in teaching their children to appreciate, value and respect their heritage. To not only cherish it for themselves, but to be proud of it, and to advocate for their towns and region. To me, an Appalachian upbringing in not complete without a sense of pride, and an urge to defend the region we call our home.
When they are grown and possibly move away, I want them to feel excited at the first glimpse of those mountain ridges when they are coming home. I want them to feel relieved when they see those soft, rounded hills and lush green valleys. I hope they never lose their ability to see the beauty in how life is lived here. I hope they tell stories to their friends of life “back home”, and how there’s not another place in the entire world like Appalachia. Because there isn’t. I hope they remain stubbornly proud to be privileged enough to have been raised in an area where you’re taught to work hard, respect and love people, and enjoy the life you’ve been given.
Words were not made to truly convey these feelings. I believe that being apart of it is the only way to experience Appalachia. My only hope is to provide the roots for my children and trust they will one day understand how important they were to their fruit. Even for me, it has been an idea that has been so ingrained that it took quite a few years for its true importance to finally dawn. My feet have been so connected to these hills for so long that their own heartbeat has harmonized with my own; slowly, unknowingly, but detrimentally, to the point that I often have the fleeting feeling that should my heart not beat with these hills, that it may not beat at all.
“God knew that it would take brave and sturdy people to survive in these beautiful but rugged hills. So He sent us His very strongest men and women.”-Verna Mae Slone