Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

The Train that I Ride – –

Jack is jumping in here so Wendy can write something else –

I had the great pleasure of visiting with Wendy up in Fayetteville WV a few days ago and found it to be a charming place, about the same size as Big Stone Gap. The biggest difference was the group of writers and artists I met who are re-inventing the place and promoting it as a welcoming haven for such folk (but that’s for another blog post).

On Thursday we drove out into the surrounding area and explored out of the way places. We stumbled on the most amazing thing. We had heard there was an old abandoned coal-town that you could wander round called Thurmond. My goodness!

We traveled along a narrow winding road and came to what might have been the place, but there wasn’t much to see. So we carried on just out of curiosity to see where we’d end up. A few miles further on we came to a scary narrow bridge and essayed across gingerly and found ourselves at an abandoned railroad station with a sign saying Thurmond. The depot had been restored as a visitor center by the National Park Service and there was a street of empty impressive looking buildings. The buildings had big posters mounted inside explaining their history and that of the town.

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As we wandered round we stumbled across a very modern Amtrack signboard and discovered to our amazement that the station was on the main line from New York to Chicago and a train stopped once a day in each direction.

thurmond 4

It turned out that the nearby New River Gorge area is a big tourist destination in Summer, so we suppose that people come there by train then, although how they get any further can only be on foot as I doubt there’s any bus or taxi service.

 

That said, it is a destination worth getting to, especially for outdoorsy types into hiking, biking, and kayaking. Wendy and I can watch people like that for hours.

While we were there, a train came through, hauling empty coal cars. The L&M may not stop there anymore, but at least in the summer, people do.

 

 

 

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What You Wish For – – –

Jack is off the hook this week as Chelsie Dubay takes on the guest post –

I decided when I was eight years old that I was going to be a chemist. I asked for a chemistry set for Christmas that year. I hung a massive copy of the periodic table of elements on the back of my bedroom door, right next to the posters I’d ripped out of the latest Tiger Beat magazine. After about a week of trying to sift through that chemistry set I realized that sodium bi-whatever-it-was did not inspire me like I thought it would. So, I boxed up the test tubes, experiment manual, and mortar and pestle and stuffed it in the back of my closet along with all of the other hobbies I’d abandoned over the years. Then, in high school, I accepted my fate and resolved that I was destined to be a mathematician. I really don’t know why I felt so certain about that career path but I knew how to solve for X and use a graphing calculator so I accepted that math would then be my destiny.

I’m notorious for that – building unfounded dreams in the sky and then letting them sink down to the ground.

It’s taken me almost thirty-five years to discover my passion. I can remember the first day I realized what it was that I truly loved. I was an undergraduate student at UVa-Wise. College was the first time I’d ever really been around people who weren’t from my tiny town in Lee County, Virginia. We were given a writing prompt in one of my classes. We were told to write about something that we had experienced during our first few days as college students. Most people wrote about how terrible the cafeteria food was or how far away student parking was from the dorms and classroom buildings. I wrote about how surprised and fascinated I was with how students from other parts of Virginia didn’t talk like I talked and how different our worldviews were. Needless to say, my essay was a bit heavier than some of the other submissions the instructor received in class.

From that day forward I charged myself with being an advocate for the region I called home. I was flooded with emotions – mostly regret. I had taken years of amazing memories, stories, and people for granted. I wanted to rewind time so that I could go back and appreciate the days I spent at my Mamaw and Papaw’s old general store in Hubbard Springs. Instead of complaining about Mamaw and Papaw not having MTV, I should have been relishing in all of the things that made my childhood and this area great. I needed to bottle the quirky way my Mamaw refers to herself in the third person, “Lord, Chels. Don’t look at Mamaw. Mamaw’s been weedeatin’.” I wanted to record the way my Papaw, with an eighth grade education, worked out complex math problems aloud, ending each solution with, “why, hell, Chels. At’s simple math!”

I can’t go back so I choose to go forward and to be thankful for the opportunity to reflect on those memories and relive those moments I’m afforded through the cannon that is Appalachian literature.

This semester I have the distinct pleasure and honor of teaching my all-time favorite class, Appalachian Literature, for the local community college, Mountain Empire Community College. The chain of events that landed me here is as poetic as the literature my students will enjoy over the course of the semester. Together, we’ll laugh and we’ll cry but most of all, we’ll reflect. I hope to expose each of my students to the beauty of the things they, like me, may have ignored or underappreciated. My hope is that, at the end of the semester, each student will walk away inspired to go out and capture the beauty that surrounds them – through oral history collection, through participant-observation, but most of all, through just being present in the things that make this area, these people, and this body of literature great.

Won’t you join us?

This course will be a great way to expose yourself to works of and about our region, as well as to build a solid foundation in some of the significant historical movements that have impacted and continue to impact this body of work.

During this course we will read works (both fiction and non-fiction) set in or about the Appalachian region. The works will range from ballads to novels and hit almost everything in between.

This course is not exhaustive; it’s a sampling. Also sprinkled throughout the 15 weeks we’ll talk a little about history, culture, religion, and the land itself. This course is discussion heavy, which means that your participation in the discussion board, contributing to our conversation, is crucial for the course’s success.

In addition to weekly discussions, the class will require 2 major projects and 2 short essays. Remember, too, that senior residents of Virginia may be eligible to audit the class for free!

Apply here: http://www.mecc.edu/step1/

Questions? Contact Chelsie Dubay, cdubay@mecc.edu

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Caption Contest Time

It’s time to vote on the best meme –

They are numbered, so just vote for your favorite by its number.

glass 1

Number 1

glass 2

Number 2

glass 3

Number 3

glass 4

Number 4

 

glass 5

Number 5

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

A Lad o’ Pairts – –

Jack’s Wednesday post is on time for a change –

I suppose everyone, when they reach my advanced age, looks back and is surprised (even amazed) at where their life has taken them.

Here I am in southern Appalachia, in the midst of a glorious and so important region in the history of American traditional music.

When I first got interested in folk music when I was in my late teens and early twenties back in Scotland, I was singing mostly American songs and it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered my Scottish musical roots.

But I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would end up living here, where many of the songs I was singing back then originated.

Yesterday was pretty crazy in many ways. It was election day here and I was standing for county supervisor (regional councillor in Scotland) and then it finished with Wendy and I performing at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol Tennessee. Of course, I was roundly defeated in the election, but that gig – – –

BCM-Museum-Full-Screen_Malcom-Wilson

I actually thought that appearing on a CD along with Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and Dolly Parton might be the highlight of my musical journey, but perhaps last night might just equal that.

The concert was well attended by a very enthusiastic crowd and I got to sing The Carter Family’s song ‘The Storms are on the Ocean’ which was recorded close by in 1927 and has fascinated me for years, not least because it contains two verses straight from an ancient Scottish ballad and another that has a strong similarity to one by Robert Burns in ‘Red, Red Rose’.

But, really – the idea of a guy from Dunfermline playing that venue – whodathunkit!!

Wendy and I were very worried beforehand how the audience would react to a program of Scottish songs and ballads, particularly as the promoters were a local arts organization more usually concerned with chamber music, opera and the like. But, we needn’t have been concerned – they were engaged and enthusiastic from start to finish and (not surprisingly) the sound system was really excellent.

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The Monday Book: REQUIEM BY FIRE, a novel by Wayne Caldwell

requiemSorry so many Mondays have slipped past. I have started many books that didn’t make me want to finish them, this past month. And then came REQUIEM, a story so enticing it makes me go to bed early just so I can read.

The book is set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and focuses on what the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park did to the people it bumped.

I know these people – Jim the local boy who wants to return home and work, the successful man; his wife Nell who wants to follow in the footsteps of her overbearing mother and get the hell outta there to a place with electricity and running water; Silas the contrarian who will be carried off the mountain feet-first, one way or another; the lawyer who turns on his own people and gets over his regret. They sound like stereotypes, but these folk walk, eat, and most definitely talk like real North Carolinians.

The tension between the people who live on (and off of) the land, and the government officials, some clueless, some very clued up indeed, flows under the rest of the action. Actually, this book is less action than scene by scene contacts between people, dialogue sent against lightly descriptive background. I am a sucker for well-drawn characters having pithy, realistic conversations, and this book is that in spades. Not a fan of a lot of description myself, I nevertheless was hooked by the opening scene of the novel, depicting an act of benevolent arson.

The ending will not be given away in a spoiler because I haven’t finished it yet. This is a book to savor. I’m so glad to have found something that restores my faith in Appalachian fiction!

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King’s Mountain?

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is, OF COURSE, late again –

A Dance called America – James Hunter

This isn’t really a book review, but I thought I’d better head this post that way, as much of what will come next is from my reading of this excellent and informative book.

The Battle of King’s Mountain is seen in this area and taught in US schools as a pivotal event in the American War of Independence. While that is certainly true, there is another way of seeing it that has a lot to do with centuries of Scottish history.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the ‘Scotch Irish’ and their settling in Southern Appalachia. These were the children of lowland Scots who themselves had moved to the north of Ireland and established plantations there. These children grew up to find they were unpopular in Ireland and with little economic prospects. So they moved to the ‘New World’ and specifically to Appalachia.

However Gaelic speaking highlanders from Scotland had already emigrated to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia earlier. These were relatively wealthy ‘tack men’ very high in the clan pecking order and just below the level of clan chief. Once in the Americas they established cotton and tobacco plantations (which is why Glasgow and Paisley became the tobacco and cotton ‘capitals’ of Europe).

The forces that met at King’s Mountain in 1780 comprised a loyalist army led by a professional British soldier – Major Patrick Ferguson, who was a Scots highlander, and a contingent of patriots who were mostly drawn from the Scotch-Irish immigrant population. On the British side, apart from Ferguson, the army was all volunteer, and they were mainly Gaelic speaking highlanders from the coast. The patriots were all volunteers and their leaders included many with Scots names.

Patrick_Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson

It should be noted here that back in Scotland there had been centuries of clashes between the northern clans and the southern folk – a fault line between two distinctly different cultures!

I could never understand, however, why two lots of Scots that had been, effectively, forced out of Scotland would end up on opposing sides in what was at that time pretty much an English colony. It seemed odd to me.

But, as Hunter points out, the highlanders considered themselves ‘upper class’ and aristocratic before all else and saw the patriots as lower-class peasants who needed to be put in their place. So they aligned themselves with their ‘peers’ in London rather than their fellow countrymen. In doing so they inadvertently simply continued a long tradition of Scottish history – albeit in a foreign land.

Footnotes –

When the war ended with victory for the patriots, a great many of the highlanders who had been captured didn’t return to the Carolinas and Georgia. Instead they made new lives in Canada. At the present time there are more native Gaelic speakers in Canada than in Scotland.

The last native Gaelic speaker in North Carolina died in the late 1800s. He was a Presbyterian Pastor and an African-American!

Shortly after these events the highlands of Scotland suffered ‘The Clearances’, and this resulted in a much stronger feeling of solidarity between the Gaelic and Scots cultures, which has continued to strengthen down to the present.

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Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

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Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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