RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Appalachia

Appalachia and Bee Keeping

I grew up with a Mom who could make the most delicious biscuits. They were always topped with butter and something sweet falling off the sides. Strawberry, blackberry, or peach preserves were my favorites, but molasses, sorghum, or honey were not to be turned down.

The biscuits were never big enough. When no one was looking, my brother and I would catch any of those toppings with our tongues or our fingers. It was all too good to waste.

These biscuits make for a perfect snack throughout the day or as a sweet side for a savory dinner.

English settlers moving into our country brought the practice of bee keeping with them. Long before sugar cones were in the Indian traders’ wagons, honey was always on the table for cornbread, oatmeal, or a drizzle for pancakes. Most Appalachian farms had several hives making honey to eat at home, share with friends in another holler or mountain top, or bartered for other necessities. Tulip poplar, clover, and sourwood became the most popular.

Image result for photo of 19th century bee hives

Image result for photo of 19th century bee hives

Since we had family in Hendersonville, NC, Mother made trips to the farmer’s market there to buy our honey. Labelled and sold in pint or quart jars by the beekeepers themselves, our family treated the honey like the prize it was. She always bought two quarts. Safely stored in a corner cabinet, it was a celebration to bring the jar to the table.

Since the study of science is not part of my background, I have been surprised to learn the usefulness of honey.

Albert Einstein once remarked, quite seriously, “If bees vanished from the face of the earth, mankind would only exist for four more years. Without bees, there’s no pollinating, no grass, no animals, no people.”

bee on butterfly weed

Several traditional Appalachian folk-remedies support medicinal effects of local honey. One is that honey prevents or lessens the severity of seasonal allergies. It is suggested that individuals that swallow a tablespoon of local honey every day (which contains trace amounts of local pollen) boost their immune system and have greater resistance to the allergens produced by local flowering plants. (It makes sense that the honey is akin to an allergy shot and certainly more appetizing.)

As a sleep aid, cough suppressant, or a treatment for burns or wounds, honey is effective medicine. Some people refer to it still as liquid gold. Since it is been used for over 2,000 years, it seems that it has earned this name. To raise bees is to live close to nature and savor its bounty.

In one of the stories in Tales of a Cosmic Possum (release date October 14, 2017), I wrote about John’s great grandfather, William Gaither Ingle, and the bees he raised on Green Knob Mountain in Erwin, Tennessee, in the early days of the twentieth century. Living off the land was a hard struggle. Every bee hive was important; bears were unwelcome intruders.

 

WilliamGaither&lizziewith Fannie.jpg

Above is a photo of William Gaither, his wife Jane Elizabeth, and their daughter Fannie. Perhaps the intensity of their stares speak to their beautiful, but harsh, geographical location. Or they are telling of their hard-working and self-sufficient lives where they are beholden to no man. Then look at how close they are to each other – almost squeezed together. Whether child or adult, Appalachian members stay bound to their family. They are proud of their family.

Vince Havner, a North Carolina minister and author, said, “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.”

So what is your vision today? Are you going to follow through? Mine was to unjumble some thoughts about Appalachia and make a peach cobbler. It is now to time for the peaches!

 

Focus on the Family

I enjoy writing about families; my first books were about strong SC women and their families during the Revolutionary War. Researching that era made me realize the hard lives of two hundred years ago, and walking behind them at their home sites was a pleasure.

Then I wrote a piece about my dad’s years at the Citadel and how his junior class was sent to WW II. Interviewing him and his class mates taught me much about that Greatest Generation. Their tightness as friends in their 80’s was forged in their 20’s by their war experiences.

Next was an article on two audacious sisters in Greenville, SC who drove to ask Frank Lloyd Wright to draw the blueprints for their new house and he did. Being able to walk in that house and sit in the living room opened my eyes to an architecture that I had previously not appreciated. Having lunch with their contractor  and listening to him describe the materials he used gave an invisible depth to this home.

I have finished eight short stories about past generations of women in my husband’s family that worked in the cotton mills in SC. One will be published in the Savannah Anthology next month. Though I had met several of them, I had no idea of their challenges as mill workers; this was eye-opening.

After writing about John’s third great grandfather and three brothers who fought in the Battle of Fredericksburg, I learned much about their Appalachian history. I now have a visual of those tall, lanky, bearded, and blue-eyed men who wore slouch hats and ran into that bloody battle. Last summer, we walked along the Sunken Road where this grandfather died.

Looking back on these past ten years of retirement, I can see that my focus continues to stay on the same page, as my muse works with me to keep writing family stories.

Whether it is my family, your family, or a stranger’s family, they are all going to be a mixed bag of personalities and characters. One of my ancestors is the most famous thief in America, Jessie James. My grandmother always proclaimed he was maligned and more like Robin Hood. I am ready to discover his back story and maybe prove Lulu accurate.

We need to share our stories with the next generation. Seven years ago, I found myself the matriarch on both sides of my family. It was not a position I chose or was ready for. When my cousin Bobby accurately dubbed me the matriarch, I refused the title. Now I am intentionally sharing our stories, and they are my gift to the next generations.

Today, as I answered in an author’s site about what drove me to write, I realized again that my writing is a tribute to my family and other families. Can I suggest you tell your stories, too?

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”– Mother Teresa

“Do Lord, Do Lord, Do Remember Me”

On our summer vacation trips, Daddy taught us lots of songs. “Do Lord” was one of those that we enjoyed singing and clapping our hands to. The melody and lyrics are simple, but it is one of those tapping-the-feet songs.

There were times that we sang it at family reunions and in Sunday School. Unless you’re in a car, a person has to stand to sing, because sitting just won’t do. “Do Lord” is such a fun song. Adults also liked it; their smiles, hands, and feet proclaimed their enjoyment.

John’s family used to sing it in church and on the porches as a family.

In 1925 Garner Bros. released the first recording of this song. Johnny Cash made it famous. Even though an author isn’t clearly identified for this gospel song, it is attributed to Julia Ward Lowe, speaker, author, and promoter of women’s rights.

Image result for julia ward howe

“Do Lord” also falls into the category of a camp song. At camp, children sing songs that are fun, upbeat, harmonious, or inspiring. Most of all, the songs are easy to sing and remember.
They sing folk songs; spirituals; patriotic songs; religious songs; fun, nonsense, novelty, action songs; and melodious (rounds, partner songs).

I have seen “Do Lord” listed as a spiritual, along with “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and “When the Saints go Marching In.”

Songs are universal. I can remember at church camps one of the favorites, accompanied by a guitar, was “Kum Bah Yah, My Lord, Kum Bah Yah.” Just recently I found out there were other versions: French: “Venez par ici, mon ami,” Spanish: “Venaca, amigo, venaca,”Russian: “Prihadi, moi druk, prihadi,” and
Japanese: “Wareno, motoni, kitare.”

Folk song writer, Pete Seegar, pronounced the importance of song with these comments.

“Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in the world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives, once more, all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And as one person taps out a beat while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”

The floods in Kentucky, my dad’s home state, have shattered both homes and communities this week of July, 2015. Pictures of houses floating in flash floods have been terrifying. Acts of nature debilitate and destroy on one hand and give joy on the other; the weather is fickle. The regions of Appalachia have given us so many songs through the years: soulful melodies and lyrics that look backward and forward. With the inborn strength of preserving their culture, I know they will build again. I am sorry they are faced with another endurance test.

Let’s hope together and sing along,
/www.youtube.com/watch?v=plA2vi7mWc0

Cosmic Possum

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!