I finished reading Sharyn McCumb’s book, The Songcatcher, this morning. As in all of her writing, I learned more about the Appalachia land and people.
When I was reading yesterday, she introduced the term “cosmic possum.” I laughed out loud when I read it, as one of the characters was called by this name. Yes, it tickled my funny bone, and I didn’t know why.
Then today she defined it on page 218, and I realized I am thirty-five-years married to a cosmic possum. Then I really laughed knowing that my husband John has a new nickname.
He is a child born to parents who are first-generation out of the Tennessee hills. His grandparents lived in a cabin on Green Knob Mountain before they moved to South Carolina. They traveled in a wagon headed for work in an upstate mill.
John, his brothers, and cousins were raised in Ingle Hollar. Grandfather Ingle bought land outside of Union, South Carolina and sold plots of it to his family.They were a tight clan.
He listened to his father and uncles make music on the porches with fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and dulcimers and still remembers those family songs. John didn’t live in those mountains around Erwin, but he heard the life stories. He grew up churning butter, and we have his grandmother’s butter mold and his mother’s dough bowl.
His mother taught him how to shoot a rifle, and she was a crack shot. She practiced her marksmanship by lighting matches stuck in a chopping block outside. As they did in the mountains, John’s father, uncles, and grandfather built their homes.
Last summer, I started interviewing John about the women in his family. I had been listening to the stories of his life growing up in Union ever since we met. He is the keeper of the family stories and enjoys sharing them. I am writing short stories about this bye-gone time in the mill villages of South Carolina, as the Ingle family transitioned into an unknown textile community away from the support of the land.
That first generation passed on a love of home to their children. They literally moved away from the Appalachian mountains, but they brought parts of it with them. Even as they quilted, smoked their hand-rolled cigarettes, and enjoyed beans and cornbread, they also listened to the radio, bought cars, and wanted education for their children. They kept the best of the past and moved into the future.
Heritage is lost when the storytellers are no longer with us. If you are the storyteller in your family, it might be time to write down those stories.
Do you have a cosmic possum in your life? Then you have a treasure-trove waiting for you!